The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black, White, and Blues

I became a teenager in 1953. That year and on through high school in 58, I listened most every night to 50,000 watt WLAC radio in Nashville. They had these 4 DJ's, "the 50,000 Watt Quartet," who played black R&B records everynight. I listened to all of them, Gene Nobles, Herman Grizzard, John R. (Richbourg), and Bill "Hoss" Allen, but I especially like Hoss because he played a lot of the stuff I liked. Especially Jimmy Reed.

Jimmy Reed was the first bluesman I ever heard and took notice of.

And the guitar line he plays on many of his songs, which is especially clear on "Baby What You Want Me To," is the first thing I learned on the guitar. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at all on the guitar, but I can still knock that one down.

One writer says that there's simply no sound in the blues as easily digestible, accessible, instantly recognizable, and as easy to play and sing as the music of Jimmy Reed. In my case, the operative word here is "accessible."

Most of the radio ads on the WLAC R&B shows were for products with a Black appeal. One I remember was Royal Crown Hair Dressing. It's still being produced, only now it's hyped as the "Legendary R&B Pomade," probably because of its association with those old radio shows on WLAC. My high school friend Jimmy D and I used to cat around in his powder blue 53 chevy Bel Air convertible singing the ditty they used. We even improvised a few other lyrics that implied other uses for the pomade.

Hoss Allen, who was from Gallatin, TN, was raised by his grandparents and a black woman who worked for them. The black woman took young Allen to church with her every Sunday. He also had as playmates several black kids from her community; this eventually led to his love affair with black gospel and R&B.

When he retired in 1993, Allen said, "We also initiated a new sound to white kids who probably never would have heard it if it had not been for the power of WLAC."

Yeah. Blues. Emanating from Nashville. The birthplace of country music. So, there's more than one reason our town is called "Music City."

But back to Jimmy Reed and the Blues. The following passages about Reed are from the site:

*Blues music has had its individualists--performers with powerful, poetic feeling, tremendous instrumental virtuosity, or a unique sound. But the tradition has also had its Everymen and Everywomen, and one of these was Jimmy Reed, the most popular Chicago blues performer of the 1950s and early 1960s. Reed had a guitar technique that rarely varied, and his vocals were relaxed to the point where hearers couldn't always understand the words he sang. Yet Reed found a groove and stuck to it, creating a sound that any blues fan could identify after hearing only a few seconds of his music. That sound, moreover, influenced nearly every rock music ensemble that had a blues element in its style. Reed's music distilled the essence of the blues.

*Reed was a major player in the field of electric blues, as opposed to the more acoustic-based sound of many of his contemporaries. His lazy, slack-jawed singing, piercing harmonica and hypnotic guitar patterns were one of the blues' most easily identifiable sounds in the 1950s and 1960s.

*Reed placed 18 singles in the Billboard rhythm-and-blues chart between 1955 and 1961, more than any other musician. Well in advance of the 1960s blues revival, Reed's records crossed over to white audiences, and 12 of his records made the pop charts. His single biggest hit was "Bright Lights, Big City" in 1961, but several other Reed releases became blues standards almost from their dates of release. "Big Boss Man," "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," and "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" were universally known among blues listeners and fans, as well as among the white rock bands who began to emulate Chicago blues in the 1960s.

Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To."

And "Big Boss Man." The sentiment in this song is something almost all of us have felt at one time or another.


  1. Ah. This post is "news I can use." You prolly know I'm reading Keith Richards memoirs at the moment; Keith discusses his blues-roots influences quite a bit in the book... and Jimmy Reed figures prominently.

  2. I used to work for a jerk! First job out of H.S.
    For lunch I would go to Aunt Minnies Kitchen in Vicksburg, play Big Boss Man over and over on the Juke box!
    Also big fan of those low down delta blues. Talk about hard times, those guys were keeping it real!

  3. Buck, glad to be of service. Overall, do you like reading on the Kindle as well as in hard copy?

    Hey Scooney, I've worked for several jerks too. Aunt Minnies Kitchen! Boy, that sounds like a great place for some good old down home cooking.

  4. Overall, do you like reading on the Kindle as well as in hard copy?

    I like it BETTER. The Kindle has a built-in dictionary so when I encounter an unfamiliar word I just place the cursor next to it and Walla!: instant enlightenment. I also like the excerpt function... once again just a matter of highlighting passages and exporting them to the peesee.

    I liked the thing so much I bought one for my grandson for Christmas and gave it to him early. Both he and SN1 have been fighting over it for a week now, Christmas having come QUITE a bit early (they were here for Thanksgiving, so we moved when we could).

    I asked both of them the same question you just asked me and got the same response: "It's a wonderful thing."

    My. I DO go on now, don't I?

  5. Thanks for the info Buck. I may purchase one of these soon. Feel free to go on as much as you want here at the old Cumberland Post.