Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: James "Jimmy" Mathis Reed

James "Jimmy" Mathis Reed Jimmy Reed

Major Works


  • 'Baby, What You Want Me To Do' (covered by Elvis Presley)-1960
  • 'Honest I Do' (covered by Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones)-1961
  • 'Knocking At Your Door'-1966
  • 'You Don't Have To Go'- 1955
  • 'You've Got Me Dizzy'- 1956
  • 'Ain't That Lovin You Baby'- 1955
  • 'Bright Lights Big City'-1956
  • 'I'm Gonna Get My Baby'- 1957
  • 'Honest I Do'- 1958


  • 'I'm Jimmy Reed'- 1958 Photo from cover of CD The Best of Jimmy Reed
  • 'Rocking With Reed'- 1959
  • 'Found Love'-1960
  • 'Now Appearing'-1960
  • 'At Carnegie Hall'-1961
  • 'Just Jimmy Reed'-1962
  • 'I Ain't No Big Thing...But He Is!'- 1963
  • 'The Best Of The Blues'-1963
  • 'The 12-String Guitar Blues'- 1963
  • 'Jimmy Reed At Soul City'- 1964
  • 'The Legend, The Man'- 1965
  • 'The New Jimmy Reed Album'- 1967
  • 'Soulin'- 1967
  • 'Big Boss Man'- 1968
  • 'Down In Virginia'- 1969
  • 'As Jimmy Is!'-1970


Jimmy Reed: A Biography
By Jackie Myers (SHS)

Jimmy Reed (Mathis James Reed) was born on September 6, 1925, in Dunleith, Mississippi. He was a blues singer and songwriter who played the guitar and harmonica. When he sang, he would slur his words. He produced a series of hits in the 50's that made him the most successful blues singer of the era. Reed sang in church and played the guitar with his friend Eddie Taylor. He left school in 1939 in  search of work. He found a job farming around Duncan and Meltonia, Mississippi.Jackie Myers, SHS

However, between 1943 and 1944 he left the south to head to Chicago to find a job because there were more  job opportunities available there due to the war. He was drafted into U.S. Navy while there.  In 1945 he was discharged and returned home to Mississippi briefly before once more traveling to the Chicago area. While working in the steel mills, Reed spent his leisure time with a friend named Willie Joe Duncan, who played the one-string guitar, or Diddley-bow. He also re-established contact with Eddie Taylor, who had moved north to try his luck. The two played together;  Reed on guitar, harp, and vocals, and Taylor on guitar.

Jimmy finally got the break he had been hoping for in 1953 when he secured a recording contract with VeeJay Records. Finally, he got his first hit  in 1955 called  "You Don't Have To Go."   From then on,  his success was incredible. "You Don't Have to Go," was followed by "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby," "You Got Me Dizzy," "Honest I Do," "Baby What Do You Want Me to Do," "Big Boss Man," and "Bright Lights, Big City."   Much of his success can be credited to his friend Eddie Taylor, who played on most of his sessions, and his wife, Mama Reed, who wrote many of his songs and even sat behind him in the studio reciting his lyrics into his forgetful ear as he sang. His hits appealed  to blacks and  whites. Many of his blues songs were even adopted by white R&B groups during the early 60's.  He was the first of the Chicago electric bluesmen to break through to the pop/rock market. Reed  had fourteen  hits for Vee Jay on the R&B charts between 1955 and 1966.

Reed was an epileptic and this fact, plus his fascination for the bottle, constantly undermined his work.  In the early 60's he visited Europe, but it was obvious that he was not well. Reed often appeared on stage drunk. Jimmy Reed died on August 29, 1976, in Oakland, California, after suffering an epileptic seizure at age 51. He was buried in Chicago. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Steve Miller, The Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, and Grateful Dead acknowledge a considerable debt to him. Jimmy Reed was an important figure who influenced many artists. 


TimelineJimmy Reed, Photo from Axionet web page

1925- Jimmy Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi
1939- Jimmy left school in search of work.
1943- Reed left the south for Chicago. 
1944- Served in the U.S. Navy.
1945- Jimmy was discharged from the Navy.
1953- Got his first contract with VeeJay Records.
1955- His first hit took off. ('You Don't Have To Go')
1970's- Performed concerts and recorded in California.
1976- Reed died in California 


Related Websites

Reed was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Jimmy Reed was one of the most influential bluesmen of the post-World War II period.

List of Jimmy Reed's albums.

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Clarke, Donald. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Penguin Group, London, England. 1989.

Larkin, Collin. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Guinness Publishing, New York. 1995.

Williams, Michael. African American Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York. 1993.



Updated October 08, 2008




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