JIMMY REED / Jimmy Reed Mixtape
This is classic music. The majority of our BoL audience has probably never before heard many, or even any, of these songs. How then can Jimmy Reed be a classic artist? Brother Reed represents the black generation that in the early part of the 20th century moved from the country to the city. Jimmy Reed sings out of that experience, an experience most of us have no knowledge of, nor do we have any desire to bring back those times. But beginning in 1927, or very soon thereafter, following the mighty flood of 1927, black folk began moving in earnest, in droves leaving behind plowing on the plantation to labor in the plant. Without going too deep into the economic underpinning of the American experience: the 30s = great depression, the 40s = America's involvement in World War 2—there were armaments to be manufactured: tanks, planes, ships, guns and bombs, the 50s = the high point of the American manufacturing industry (#1 in technology, #1 in quality of manufacture, #1 in worldwide exports—seems like, regardless of where on the planet you went, from cigarettes to automobiles, movies to airplanes, folks wanted items that were stamped "made in America"). Need I point out how the plantation morphed into the plant (the foundry, the factory, the assembly line, etc.)? Jimmy Reed was born in the tiny town of Dunleith, Mississippi, September 6, 1925. Jimmy was the son of sharecroppers in a family of ten children. Sometime around 1943, a teenaged Jimmy Reed lit out for Chicago, and shortly thereafter enrolled in the U.S. Navy. After the war he moved back to Dunleith and got married to Mary Lee Davis, who eventually also became his songwriting partner. In 1948 they moved to Gary, Indiana. By 1950 Jimmy Reed decided to leave hard labor behind and make a living as a professional musician. The 1950's saw the rise of city blues, electrified but still very much rough and tumble. You probably know the major names: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton and the like. Even though he wasn't the biggest name of all, you couldn't tune into black radio in the fifties and not hear Jimmy Reed. I know I heard him and remember some of his iconic songs. Reeds paeans seem to encapsulate a lot of what hung in the air of our neighborhoods, especially the aura surrounding hard working black men who were determined to rear families and see that their children good a good education even though many, if not most, of these black men never finished high school. They were one of the real glues of the Civil Rights movement, these hard working black men who did back breaking labor on the chain gangs in the thirties and forties, in the foundries and factories of the fifties, these men who were determined that their offspring would not have to go through what the average southern born black man had endured. The driving wheels of desegregation were black men who had been sharecroppers and soldiers, undereducated but dedicated to advancing themselves and their families. These were the men (and women) who sent school children off to battle murderous crackers who wanted to lynch pre-teen black kids because these kids wanted a quality education (when really it was the parents of the children who wanted a quality education for their children). If you don't know this history, the attraction and accuracy of these Jimmy Reed songs will be lost on you. All you will hear is songs sung in the same key in one of three tempi: fast (i.e. "jump"), mid-tempo (i.e. "shuffle"), and slow (i.e. "slow drag"). The seemingly simple lyrics will probably bore you. The talk-sing/shout approach to vocals might even cause you to question whether this should really be called "classic" music. I understand why you don't understand what "big boss man" refers to or the portend of "Mr. Luck," not to mention the near universal, at that time, serious observation inherent in "bright lights of the big city." If you weren't alive to experience the black side of fifties life in America, all of this technically rudimentary but emotionally rich blues music will seem to be a gargantuan but insufficient effort to make a lot out of a little bit. You probably really enjoy somebody like Otis Redding (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967), who in many, many musical ways is Jimmy Reed's son, except Otis sounds positively sophisticated next to Jimmy's thick drawl. Listen to the first two songs on the Mixtape, "In The Morning" and "Oh John." Someone counts off the opening song but Jimmy stops it before it gets going good and instructs the fellows on how the song needs to be done. It may sound simple but there was expertise involved. On the second song, the engineer requests Jimmy to sing whatever, anything that comes to mind. Jimmy chortles an a capella fragment before launching into the song. Jimmy had said, you call it, I'll sing it. There was confidence there. These were men who knew what they were doing, knew what they were capable of doing. I'm not going to argue that this is the greatest blues in the world, but I do believe that Jimmy Reed is one of the best examples of the then newly emerging genre of city blues precisely because Jimmy Reed is singing about the country to city transition, a transition that Jimmy Reed had actually lived. —Kalamu ya Salaam Jimmy Reed Mixtape Playlist
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 at 9:10 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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