by Will Romano
Backbeat, 360 pp., $17.95 (paper)
Fifty-one was a helluva age to go considering the tremendous influence Jimmy Reed's simple, solid blues had on modern music. Big Boss Man shadows the Mississippi-born guitarist's life through the recording and drinking years and medical and money woes to his last dry days. Romano relies on guitar geek-speak notes, chords, mic brands, and chart action which isn't a complaint, even if it sometimes reads repetitively, because the author deftly explains the mojo of blues and how Reed worked it. And work it he did: From Chicago to the Chitlin Circuit, Reed cut a smoky swath of hardcore blues with "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," and "Big Boss Man." Those songs are still guitar-and-harmonica staples of Blues 101, rendered by Reed and his partner Eddie Taylor to eager imitators including Elvis and the Rolling Stones. Romano's emphasis on Reed's one and only gig at Antone's will warm local hearts. Clifford Antone not only brought Reed to play Antone's, he was responsible for bringing Reed and Eddie Taylor back together after years of estrangement. The weekend after Reed's 1976 death, a huge funereal wreath hung behind the bar. The ribbon read, "Jimmy Reed RIP ."
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