Lil’ Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin

Back To Baton Rouge
Lil’ Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin

Leon Atkins got a cigar box guitar at six, after already playing harmonica. After subbing when blues legend Jimmy Reed was too inebriated to play a Louisiana juke joint in the ’50s, the Louisiana-born Atkins earned the nickname Lil’ Jimmy Reed. Lil’ Jimmy gigged locally, but didn’t record until he was 58. The intervening years were spent running his own barber shop and serving in the military for 20 years.

For his fourth album, the 85-year-old is accompanied by producer Ben Levin on piano, with Lil’ Jimmy playing harmonica on a rack and expertly supplying guitar fills and rhythm, a la his idol. On three Reed covers, he does his hero justice, more homage than impersonation, and Slim Harpo and Joe Liggins are also represented. Also shining are the original slow blues “They Call Me Lil’ Jimmy” and talking blues “Engine Light,” with Jimmy’s guitar imitating a car’s temperamental starter. The loping, spare title cut carries an effective string-snapping solo.

Levin, who is 60 years Reed’s junior, does a fine job, but it’d be nice to also see a project featuring veteran blues and boogie pianist Bob Hall and bassist Hilary Blythe, who constitute Atkins’ overseas touring band.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

No posts to display