The Vee-Jay singles of Jimmy Reed, with their wonderful combination of his nimble guitar work, distinctive Southern accent, appealing vocal style and decorative harmonica, are surely among the most seductive R&B releases of their day. Elsewhere, we note that 1955’s “You Don’t Have To Go” marked the start of his remarkably productive run of R&B chart entries, which ran to 20 over the next 11 years. Today we turn the spotlight on another highlight among them, “Hush Hush,” which entered the countdown on October 24, 1960.
Recorded in the summer of 1959, the typically slinky track was a Reed original, and was lined up by Vee-Jay as his third single of 1960 after one of his signatures, “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” and “Found Love.” Those 45s had reached No.10 and No.16 respectively on Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides listing. “Found Love” was the title song of the current album by the dapper bluesman from Dunleith, Mississippi, which also featured “Hush Hush.”
That album was advertised in a full-page Vee-Jay ad in Billboard’s August 22 edition alongside new releases by such labelmates as Dee Clark, John Lee Hooker, Lee Morgan, the Staple Singers, and newcomer Wayne Shorter. “Fall Festival of Teen Delights,” ran the headline. “Pop, Jazz, Folk, Spirituals, Blues Albums.”
The new single, backed by “Going By The River (Part II),” entered the chart at No.24, as Brook Benton continued an epic nine-week run at No.1 with “Kiddio.” Other new entries that week included Jerry Butler’s splendid “He Will Break Your Heart” and, auspiciously, an 18-year-old Aretha Franklin, making her first-ever national chart appearance with her debut Columbia single “Today I Sing The Blues.”
“Hush Hush” climbed to No.18 for Reed, also making No.75 on the Hot 100, one of Reed’s dozen entries there. The song later inspired covers by the likes of Luther Johnson in 1975 and Etta James in 2004, on her Grammy-winning Blues To The Bone album. Reed was only 50 when he died in 1976, but he was rightly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
‘Jimmy Reed was a very big model for us’
Later British rockers with blues in their bones, like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, were at home admiring his every move. “Jimmy Reed was a very big model for us,” wrote Richards in his autobiography, Life. “That was always two-guitar stuff. Almost a study in monotony in many ways, unless you got in there. But then Jimmy Reed had something like twenty hits in the charts with basically the same song. He had two tempos.
“But he understood the magic of repetition, of monotony, transforming itself to become this sort of hypnotic, trancelike thing. We were fascinated by it, Brian [Jones] and I. We would spend every spare moment trying to get down Jimmy Reed’s guitar sounds.”
Buy or stream “Hush Hush” on Mr. Luck: The Complete Vee-Jay Singles.