Here’s a clip of Blues and R&B giant Jimmy Reed with his 1963 song ‘Shame Shame Shame’, which like so many of his other tunes became standard set favourites during the British R&B boom in the 1960s.
Reed’s voice is a quite idiosyncratic sleepy mumble, making him instantly recognizable. And his delivery here is perfect. This is the tale of a man done wrong by his woman, and clearly the worse for wear because of it. Of course, Reed’s own state of being probably helped the performance quite a bit.
This is one of his least successful singles, yet it’s one of my favourites. By ’63, Jimmy Reed had a string of big hits including ‘Bright Lights, Big City’, ‘Honest I Do’, ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do’, and many others, having made a name for himself on the Vee-Jay label and being, for a time, a big seller on both the R&B and pop charts. But, his success would never match that of other blues artists in the long-term, possibly due to health problems and personal issues which included alcoholism. At one point, his memory for lyrics became so bad even during recording sessions, that his wife had to whisper the words in his ear as the tape rolled. On some cuts, you can hear her.
Yet Reed had a tremendous impact, not only on British groups like the Rolling Stones (who modeled, some might say stole, this very song for their own under the title, “Little By Little”), but also on early rock ‘n’ rollers, including Elvis Presley who recorded Reed’s ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do”. Even country artists like Charlie Rich and Hank Williams, Jr. had a shot at some of Reed’s songs, once again proving that the barriers between R&B and country aren’t really that insurmountable. And this ability to put across accessible, and highly interpretable R&B might be more true of Jimmy Reed than most.
By the mid-70s though, he was ravaged by health problems, including epilepsy. And even though he had changed tracks and was on the road to making a comeback on the blues revival circuit, his years of hard living and chronic health issues besides caught up with him in August of 1976. Yet, he’s made his mark as a purveyor of accessible-yet-authentic and highly appealing blues that has inspired multiple generations of players.
For more music, check out this Jimmy Reed MySpace page.