A 'Stone Pleasure' to Play Jimmy Reed
In the 1950s, no bluesman was more popular than Jimmy Reed. He played guitar and harmonica with his childhood friend Eddie Taylor, who laid down the beat on the bass strings of his guitar. Reed had a slew of hits on the pop and R&B charts, including "You Don't Have to Go," "Hush Hush," "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Big Boss Man."
The music was intensely straightforward: One reviewer even called it "delightfully nasty." Reed's tunes were covered by The Grateful Dead, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones.
Now a couple of Texas bluesmen, singer Omar Kent Dykes and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, are paying tribute to the musician, who died in 1976 from complications of alcoholism and epilepsy. The pair's new CD is titled On the Jimmy Reed Highway.
Both musicians have had a long history with Reed — one that defines not only the trajectory of their music, but also their outlook on life.
"Being a kid and hearing Jimmy Reed was just the blueprint for my life, you know? I was thinking I could play guitar and get that thump going and sing some Jimmy Reed songs," Dykes says.
As with many young aspiring musicians, that "thump" was the first sound Vaughan learned to play on the guitar; that riff appears in pop and rock music from the '50s to the present.
"As far as I can tell, Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed made that up," Vaughn says.
A number of seasoned blues musicians contribute to The Jimmy Reed Highway, including singer Lou Ann Barton and harmonica aces Kim Wilson, James Cotton, Gary Primich and Delbert McClinton.
"It was just so much fun," Vaughan says. "We got in there and it was like a gravy sandwich — it was smooth."
Vaughan and Barton got to see Reed in one his last concerts: In 1976, they went to Antone's in Austin, Texas, and were floored by Reed's performance.
"Everybody almost fell over on the first note," Vaughan says. "It was just fabulous. Jimmy Reed said, 'It's a stone pleasure to be here before you.' I'll never forget his shoes. He had the greatest shoes you'd ever seen: cream and tan, tweed loafers. We were all just staring at his shoes trying to figure out what to say to him, you know? What do you say to Jimmy Reed?"
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