Mathis James Reed (September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976) was an American blues musician and songwriter. His particular style of electric blueswas popular with blues as well as non-blues audiences – Reed’s songs such as “Honest I Do” (1957), “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1960), “Big Boss Man” (1961), and “Bright Lights, Big City” (1961) appeared on both Billboard magazine’s rhythm and blues and Hot 100 singles charts.
Reed influenced other musicians, such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., and the Rolling Stones, who recorded his songs. Music critic Cub Kodadescribes him as “perhaps the most influential bluesman of all” due to his easily accessible style.
Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi, in 1925. He learned the harmonica and guitar from his friend Eddie Taylor. After several years of buskingand performing there, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1943. He was then drafted into the U.S. Navy and served in World War II. He was discharged in 1945 and returned briefly to Mississippi, marrying his girlfriend, Mary (henceforth known as Mama Reed). He then moved to Gary, Indiana, to work at an Armour meat-packing plant. Mama Reed was an uncredited background singer on many of his recordings, notably the hits “Baby What You Want Me to Do“, “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City“.