Jimmy Reed Highway
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Jimmy Reed Highway Biography
“It was time for an Omar record,” muses “Omar” Kent Dykes. “While thinking about what I wanted to do, I talked with a friend who suggested, ‘why don't you do the tribute?' I'd been planning on a Jimmy Reed record for years and years. Now it was the right time.”
On the Jimmy Reed Highway is the project Omar Kent Dykes was born to make. The Mississippi-born guitarist and blues shouter grew up with Jimmy Reed's stripped-down, harmonica-driven blues all around him. He's plied that influence for more than three decades with his band Omar & the Howlers, one of the premiere blues bands in the world.
“‘Baby, What You Want Me to Do' and ‘Big Boss Man' were all over Top 40 radio,” Omar remembers. “The first time I went into Hinton's Music in McComb, Mississippi, and took a Telecaster off the wall, I hit those chords and tried to play ‘Big Boss Man.' Everyone wanted to play ‘Johnny B Goode' but that was so fast. But we could all play ‘Big Boss Man.' With Eddie Taylor's guitar … whew!”
The recording of On the Jimmy Reed Highway took an unexpected turn when Jimmie Vaughan entered the project. “I cut a few songs with Gary Clark, Jr. and Jay Moeller first, but once Jimmie came on, the songs took on their own life,” laughs Omar. “I figured he'd come in and play a couple of solos and that would be it. But he got so excited about it he stayed for the rest.”
Reed hailed from Dunleith, Mississippi, and cut a smoky swath of hard country blues from Chicago through the chitlin circuit during the ‘50s and ‘60s with hits such as “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 eager imitators over the decades, including Elvis and the Rolling Stones.
“Jimmy Reed was huge in Dallas,” Jimmie Vaughan enthuses about listening to Reed as a teenager. “Even Top 40 radio played Jimmy Reed. Every high school band and dance band played Jimmy Reed. I learned how to play him listening to the radio, that Eddie Taylor style guitar – learned that early on.”
Vaughan certainly knows the turf. As one of Texas' finest guitarists, he founded the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the mid-‘70s and helped spearhead the Texas blues explosion of the ‘80s. Today, he often tours with Lou Ann Barton, the Fort Worth-born chanteuse whose sleek vocals are also featured throughout On the Jimmy Reed Highway .
Eddie Taylor created the earthy beat so often characterized as the “Jimmy Reed” sound. Taylor played and recorded alongside Reed on most of his Vee-Jay Records output and that was the vintage sound Dykes sought. Omar's vocals were cut live in the studio - without overdubs - as the instrumental tracks were recorded. Omar's muddy growl, Vaughan's sublime soulfulness, and Lou Ann Barton's slinky twang are matched by a stellar roster of harmonica players including Kim Wilson, Delbert McClinton (who also sings co-lead with Omar on “Hush Hush”), Gary Primich and James Cotton. Guitarist and bandleader Derek O'Brien arranged rhythm sections with himself, Dykes, Vaughan, and Gary Clark, Jr. on guitar and featuring drummers such as George Rains, Jay Moeller, Wes Starr, and Omar's son Jake Dykes, while Ronnie James and Barry Bihm provided the bottom line on bass.
“His lyrics are easy, like Hank Williams' lyrics,” says Vaughan, dissecting Reed's appeal. “Almost country but it's blues and it's rock and roll. People think it's easy to play and the notes aren't difficult, but the phrasing and the feeling is what's hard. The way to screw up Jimmy Reed is to put electric bass - it's all about guitar playing the bass. Eddie Taylor made that up while playing. He gave Jimmy the beat showed, and showed him how to play.”
Jimmy Reed played one of his last gigs in Austin before his 1976 death at the original Antone's location in downtown Austin. Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton were among the wide-eyed blues fans in attendance. It's fitting then that the first tribute to the great Big Boss Man and his musical partner comes from the capitol of the Lone Star State, the place where Reed and Taylor were reunited after years of estrangement.
The twelve songs lining On the Jimmy Reed Highway light his career brightly, yet Dykes adds a couple of curves of his own. The opening track, “Jimmy Reed Highway,” is his paean to Reed but it almost didn't make the record. “I wasn't sure about ‘Jimmy Reed Highway,'” confesses Omar. “I was timid about playing it for Jimmie because it could have gone either way. It might have come off corny.”
The song drew Vaughan in. “‘Jimmy Reed Highway' could be Jacksboro Highway, outside Fort Worth,” Vaughan explains. “That song had a deep meaning for all of us who grew up around Dallas. It's sexy and smooth and no one's in a hurry. It's flat-out cool. If you want to slow dance or swing dance, there it is. I'm not kidding, this record is a dream come true. It was a no-brainer I didn't have to think of.”
Not all of the tracks on On the Jimmy Reed Highway are Reed's familiar ones. “Baby, What's Wrong,” “Hush Hush and I'll Change My Style” nestle comfortably with “You Upset My Mind,” “Bad Boy,” “Caress Me, Baby,” and “Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth.” Longtime Barton fans will welcome her smokin' duet with Omar on “Good Lover.”
“That medley of ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do' and ‘Bright Lights, Big City' is my favorite, but tomorrow I might have a different one,” Omar joked. Yet it is the closing track, “You Made Me Laugh,” that brings together not only his love for Reed but the poignant memory of his wife Lyn, who lost her battle with cancer in 2004. “I wrote it about her, and it had a Jimmy Reed feel to it,” he offered. “I didn't write it to share her passing, but it's something you deal with.”
“The big boss man is still the man today!” shouts Omar on the title track.