Jimmy ReedJimmy Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi in 1925. His full birth name was Mathis James Reed. His friend Eddie Taylor taught him harmonica and guitar. In 1943 he moved to Chicago after several years of busking there. During World War II he served in the US Navy. In 1945 he was discharged and he briefly returned to Mississippi, where he married his girlfriend Mary. She would become Jimmy's background singer on many of his songs, using the name Mama Reed. Hits with her vocals include "Baby What You Want Me to Do", "Big Boss Man" and "Bright Lights, Big City". Jimmy moved to Gary, Indiana, where he worked at a meat packing plant.
By the 1950's Reed had become a popular musician He joined John Brim in the Gary Kings and performed on the street with Willie Joe Duncan. He signed with Vee-Jay Records through his association with Brim's drummer Albert King, after failing to sign with Chess Records. Reed would be joined again with his Eddie Taylor whilst at Vee-Jay and he released "You Don't Have to Go", which became his first hit of many.
Reed would suffer from alcoholism and his wife had to sometimes help him remember lyrics whilst recording.
In 1957 he developed epilepsy.
Vee-Jay Records closed and his manager signed a contract with the ABC-Bluesway label. Reed though was unable to repeat his previous success.
In 1968 he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival.
Reed died in 1976 of respiratory failure in Oakland, California.
In 1991 he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.