Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jimmy Reed – The Best of the Vee-Jay Years

I never knew much about Jimmy Reed other than the ubiquitous “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City”, but this man is another true blues genius and cross-over artist.

I’m currently reading a biography on the man, as well, (Big Boss Man, The Life and Times of Bluesman Jimmy Reed by Will Romano) and never knew the extent of his hits, his influence and even all of the songs that he has written that have been covered by millions of other bands.

This seems to be a solid collection of some of his biggest tunes. Of course, there is the afore-mentioned “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City” – both of which you’d have to have never listened to music in the last 50 years to be unfamiliar with. But there are so many other songs that I didn’t realize were his.

“I Ain’t Got You” is an early one that nearly every band in the 60’s and 70’s covered (two diverse groups just off the top of my head are the Animals and Blue Oyster Cult! And, of course, the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton recorded the version that most rockers are probably familiar with) and as simple as Jimmy’s music is, there are nuances here that I’ve never heard in any other version. There is a brilliance to his simplicity. His guitar playing is rudimentary and while his harp playing is more complex than you would expect considering that he was playing it in a rack while playing guitar, he is not a virtuoso. But man, could he write and he had the right feel for each song!

Another tune covered more times than anyone could count is “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, which became his tag line and answer to just about anything, according to the biography. (Apparently, if someone got mad at him, he’d just say “ain’t that loving you baby?”)

He moves into almost doo-wop/ballad territory with “Honest I Do”, which you may be familiar with from the Rolling Stones version. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” also has countless remakes – from the Shadows of Knight to Wishbone Ash! – but the funny anecdote that is told in the book is that Jimmy never sings that line – he instead says something like “baby why you want to let go” – and his producer changed the name! He probably misunderstood what Reed was singing as everyone else has through the years!

There’s plenty more on this compilation – as I said, some of which I’m told were hits, though I couldn’t vouch for that – and it is solid through and through. The Jimmy Reed sound was a slow-to-mid-tempo dance groove and the fact that he was able to write so many memorable tunes around this base is a testament to his talent!