Big Boss Man: The Life & Music Of Bluesman Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed was a musical anomaly. His skills on guitar and harmonica were rudimentary, but the commercial success of his singles exceeded those of fellow blues singers Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Reed was barely literate yet his songs would be recorded by the Rolling Stones, Charlie Rich, Elvis Presley and Neil Young.
Will Romano sheds new light on Reed with the first in-depth biography of the influential bluesman. He traces the Mississippi native’s life through a series of backbreaking jobs (sharecropper, steelworker, slaughterhouse worker) that served as a catalyst for his musical ambitions and provided the inspiration for his song “Big Boss Man”.
Reed’s collaboration with guitarist Eddie Taylor gave his music a career-defining sound on such hits as “Bright Lights, Big City”, “Honest I Do” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do”. His basic melodies and slurred vocals made him a crossover success with blacks and whites.
In an ill-advised business deal, he signed away his song copyrights. He battled epilepsy and alcoholism that made him an erratic performer and contributed to his death at 50 in 1976.
Romano is a dogged researcher who brings Reed to life, particularly his relationship with his wife, known as Big Mama, who sang on his records and whispered lyrics to him on recording sessions.
Occasionally Romano lapses into stilted language, and some extended quotes from his interviews could have been edited. Overall, his diligence outweighs the shortcomings.