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Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed (September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976) was a blues musician born in the United States. Reed meant a referent of the electric Blues, and a great influence on several rock and roll musicians like Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Hank Williams, Jr., Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Garcia and The Rolling Stones.
Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi, in 1925. He learned to play the harmonica and the guitar thanks to his friend Eddie Taylor. After several years giving concerts and playing in the street, he moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1943. He was recruited by the North American Navy and served in it during World War II. A graduate in 1945, he returned briefly to Mississippi, marrying his girlfriend Mary (hereafter Mama Reed). He moved to Gary, Indiana, to work at an Armor and Company meat processing plant. Mama Reed was a chorus singer without credits in many of her songs, notably her hits “Baby What You Want to Do”, “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City”.
In the 1950s, Reed had established himself as a popular musician. He joined the Gary Kings with John Brim and played in the street with Willie Joe Duncan. Reed did not get a record deal with Chess Records, but signed with Vee-Jay Records thanks to Brim’s drummer, Albert King, before the latter also achieved fame as a guitarist and bluesman. In Vee-Jay, Reed started playing again with Eddie Taylor and soon released “You Do not Have to Go”, his first hit, which was followed by many more.
Reed maintained his reputation despite his alcoholism; his wife sometimes had to help him remember the lyrics of his songs while he recorded them. In 1957, Reed began to suffer epilepsy, although the disease was not correctly diagnosed for a long period of time, since Reed and the doctors assumed that it was delirium tremens.
Despite his many successes, Reed’s personal problems prevented him from achieving the same level of fame as other popular blues artists of his time, although he was more successful than many others. When Vee-Jay closed, his manager signed a contract with the new label BluesWay Records, but Reed was unable to produce another hit.
In 1968, he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival.
Reed died of respiratory failure in 1976, in Oakland, California, just eight days after his 51st birthday. He is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, in [Worth (Illinois) | Worth, Illinois]].
In 1991, Reed was inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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