One of the first great electric blues LPs is titled I’m Jimmy Reed, and it’s loaded with twelve songs from one of the 1950s only true blues crossovers. Over half a century later it still holds up spectacularly well and additionally provides a solid contrast to the electrified delta sounds that poured out of the studio Chess during the same period.
Jimmy Reed’s blues is amongst the most accessible ever recorded in either the acoustic or electric permutations of the form. Master of a relaxed, natural style lacking in the rough edges that his contemporaries Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker utilized with prideful relish, Reed’s stellar run of sides for the Vee-Jay label displayed how in the bustling post-WWII urban environment the blues could represent more than the power of the plantation transmogrified after traveling up the Mississippi River (Muddy, Wolf, etc.) or the horn-laden high strains of citified sophistication (Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, Tiny Bradshaw, Willie Mabon).
In contrast to Muddy, who instigated a booming ensemble sound that while impressively groundbreaking completely on its own terms would also prove an essential component in rock music’s ‘60s growth spurt, Reed was somewhat closer to the norm of a “folk-blues” player, offering up simple and often insanely catchy guitar figures and an unfussy, plainly sung (some might say sleepy) vocal approach with accents of trilling rack harmonica.
This shouldn’t infer that Reed engaged in any forced gestures of aw-shucks down-home authenticity, at least not in what’s considered his prime. Hell, one glimpse at the picture on I’m Jimmy Reed’s back cover presents a man of top-flight refinement and truly choice threads, and his image intersected with the sound of his records extremely well.
To some extent less celebrated than those abovementioned Chess bluesmen as a key factor in the development of rock, Reed appears in retrospect to be equally if not more influential, both in terms of the user-friendly simplicity of his template, for he was adapted by blues rockers, garage bands, folkies, psyche merchants, and even a few punkers, and in the sheer number of prominent covers; Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Them, Grateful Dead, Steve Miller (no surprise), and four times by Bill Cosby (a surprise), and that’s just for starters.