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“Down In Virginia”

August 7, 2022

Mathis James Reed (September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976) was an American blues musician and songwriter. His particular style of electric blues was popular with blues as well as non-blues audiences. Reed's songs such as "Honest I Do" (1957), "Baby What You Want Me to Do" (1960), "Big Boss Man" (1961), and "Bright Lights, Big City" (1961) appeared on both Billboard magazine's rhythm and blues and Hot 100 singles charts.

Reed influenced other musicians, such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., and the Rolling Stones, who recorded his songs. Music critic Cub Koda describes him as "perhaps the most influential bluesman of all," due to his easily accessible style.


The Rolling Stones have cited Reed as a major influence on their sound, and their early set lists included Reed's songs "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby", "The Sun Is Shining" (played by the Stones at the 1969 Altamont concert), "Bright Lights, Big City", and "Shame, Shame, Shame". "Little by Little", the B-side of their February 1964 UK hit single "Not Fade Away" was a pastiche of "Shame, Shame, Shame". "Honest I Do" was included on their first album, The Rolling Stones (subtitled England's Newest Hit Makers in America), in 1964 (the U.S. edition also included "Little by Little"). For their 2016 release, Blue & Lonesome, they recorded a version of Reed's "Little Rain".

The Yardbirds recorded "I Ain't Got You" for the B-side of their second single "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" with guitarist Eric Clapton. With Jeff Beck, they recorded the Reed-inspired instrumental "Like Jimmy Reed Again", which was released on a reissue of their album Having a Rave Up. The Animals considered Reed one of their main sources of inspiration and recorded versions of "I Ain't Got You" and "Bright Lights, Big City". Van Morrison's group Them covered "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Baby, What You Want Me to Do", both of which are on the album The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison. "Big Boss Man", sung by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, was regularly performed by the Grateful Dead in the 1960s and early 1970s and appears on their live album Grateful Dead.

Elvis Presley recorded several of Reed's songs, having a hit with "Big Boss Man" in 1967 and recording several performances of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" for his 1968 TV program. (Presley's 1964 hit "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" is a different song from that recorded by Reed.) "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" was also covered by Wishbone Ash on their 1972 album Live Dates. Johnny and Edgar Winter performed it live in 1975 and included it on their album Together. Omar Kent Dykes and Jimmie Vaughan released the album On the Jimmy Reed Highway as a tribute to Reed. Bill Cosby covered four of Reed's songs, "Bright Lights, Big City", "Big Boss Man", "Hush Hush" and "Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth", for his 1967 album, Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings.

The Steve Miller Band covered five of Reed's songs: "You're So Fine", on the 1968 album Sailor, and "I Wanna Be Loved (But by Only You)", "Big Boss Man", "Caress Me Baby" and "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby", on the 1986 album Living in the 20th Century.

Bob Dylan paid tribute to Reed with the song "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" on his 2020 album Rough and Rowdy Ways.

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