Lil’ Jimmy Reed lines up WemsFest warm-up

Lil Jimmy Reed
Lil Jimmy Reed

A pre-WemsFest concert offers a rare chance to hear one of the last of a generation of classic blues artists.

Lil’ Jimmy Reed will be performing with the Bob Hall Band at the Tuppenny Barn on the A259 between Emsworth and Southbourne on Tuesday, September 22 at 8pm. It’s only in the past five years that Jimmy has been touring over in the UK, since meeting up with Bob in Scotland: “I thought he would make a good manager! And he certainly knows how to play that piano!”

Jimmy, who turned 77 in the summer, has been in the business more than 60 years. He was 15 or 16 when he started: “There was no music in my family, but my daddy got hold of some money somehow, and he said ‘What do you want?’ And when he got to me, I said I wanted a guitar. I don’t know why I said I wanted a guitar. I was never interested in playing the guitar until I got one, but then I learnt to play it in five days.”

The truth is that it was always in the background for young Jimmy: “We were raised up across the street from a nightclub, and they were always playing Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and people like that. And I just fell in love with the music of Jimmy Reed.”

In the year 1957, Jimmy turned 18 and went to Barber College in Little Rock Ark. He continued to pursue his musical talent as he quickly advanced with simple jobs such as playing in the local juke joints and blues alleys.

“When I was at university, Jimmy Reed came to the university, and he got drunk when he was supposed to play. So they took him out the back and they brought me in the front and I played and no one knew the difference. I don’t know what Jimmy Reed knew, but that’s when they started calling me Lil’ Jimmy Reed. If Jimmy knew, then I don’t know that he knew, but I suppose he must have done because I was playing with his band!”

For Lil’ Jimmy this was the blues – and he’s particular about it: “I was playing the other night, and I had two blues bands supporting me, but they weren’t blues bands. It has got to be slowed down. They were just all doing their own thing. The thing is that the blues have got to come from the soul. You have got to feel it. That’s what makes the blues the blues.”

Lil’ Jimmy’s point is that it is about the emotion: “If you get angry with your wife or your kids, you go and write a blues song!”

Since those early days, he’s done opening acts and performed with artists including Bobby Blue Bland, Ike Turner, Little Milton, Marvin Sease, Shirley Murdock, Clarence Carter, Tabby Thomas, The Love Doctor and Willie Clayton.

“But the bands that supported me last night weren’t blues bands. The blues has got to be low down and dirty!”

Lil’ Jimmy was across in the UK in July; he’s back in September; and he’s coming back again in November.

“I love British audiences. I just love to play for them. What I ain’t used to is they don’t get up and dance. They don’t holler during the songs. You have got to wait until the end to know whether they like it, and then they holler and clap. But during the song, you just don’t know whether they think what you are doing is good or bad!”

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