Born 6th September 1925 Died 29th August 1976
Born on a plantation near Dunleith, Mississippi into a large sharecropping family. During his childhood he formed a friendship with a boy called Eddie Taylor, that was to last his whole life and prove important in his musical career. The two boys developed a first interest in music singing first in church and then learning the rudiments of guitar and harmonica playing in their early teens. Eddie progressed quickly leaving Jimmy trailing and soon taylor was performing on a semi professional basis on the usual party and juke joint circuit. Meanwhile Reed left school in 1939 working on farms around Duncan and Meltonia around 1943 he decided to move north to Chicago, where there was the promise of work due to the war effort, but was quickly drafted into the Navy and served two years. On discharge he briefly returned to Mississippi before moving to Gary, Indiana where worked at Armour Foods meat packing plant and began breaking into the growing blues scene around Gary and neighbouring Chicago. During the early 50’s he was playing sideman with John Brim’s Gary Kings ( he plays harmonica on Brim’s classic ‘ Tough Times’) and playing for change with a friend Willie Joe Duncan who played a one string instrument called a ‘Diddley Bow’. Around this time Reed met up with his childhood friend Eddie Taylor who had moved to Chicago after the war to develop his musical career, they regularly played together something they did on and off until Reeds death. While working with John Brim, Brim’s drummer at the time was future guitar legend Albert King and he introduced Reed to the newly formed Vee-Jay records. He recorded a number of tracks although they were highly regarded performances hits weren’t being produced and the label were considering dropping him when in 1955 ‘You Don’t Have To Go’ made number five in the Billboard R&B charts. From this point and for the next decade, hits kept tumbling out such as ‘Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby’, ‘You’ve Got Me Dizzy’, ‘Bright Lights Big City’, ‘I’m Gonna Get My Baby’ and ‘Honest I Do’. Many of his blues hits of the fifties were adopted by most of the white R&B groups of the 60’s
By the mid sixties Vee-Jay records were in decline, eventually to go under and Reed moved to Bluesway, but he was by now in the grips of alcoholism and proving increasingly unreliable and incapable of playing, often having to be prompted when he lost his way or forgot lines. He finally managed to give up alcohol and was attempting to make a comeback on the blues festival circuit, but died shortly after of respiratory failure on 29th August 1976.
While blues historians like to criticise his lack of variety, in his day the public loved him, he placed eleven songs on the billboard Hot 100 pop charts and fourteen on the R&B charts, figures that even B.B. King couldn’t manage!