A Walk Down the Delta with Eli Paperboy Reed

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Listening to Eli “Paperboy” Reed And The True Loves is a bit like taking a journey through the Mississippi Delta to the sounds of classic rhythm and blues. The first single off their new album, set for a January release, includes the soulful “The Satisfier” and “It’s Easier,” and pays homage to old soul greats like Sam Cooke and Al Green. Keeping it authentic, the packaging harkens back to vintage 45s.

A nice Jewish boy from Brookline, Massachusetts, Reed spent hours of his youth listening to classic gospel, soul and rhythm and blues — records owned by his father, Howard Husock, a writer of music reviews. In search of both himself and the history of the blues, Reed moved to the heart of the Mississippi Delta the summer after his graduation from high school. He stayed for a year. Reed relates, “I didn't go there for any particular reason other than I just wanted to move away and see what was out there. I ended up learning things I never thought I would about performing and music, and just about living on my own.”

On his return, Reed entered the University of Chicago and began to play piano at gospel services in a church on the south side. His first album, the 2005 mono recording Eli Paperboy Reed Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ and Other Smash Hits, was recorded during Christmas break. “I got some friends together just to do some recording. I was all over the map at that point listening to very down-home Blues as well as Southern soul and gospel and wanted to record all of it,” states Reed. “I listened to what we had and decided it was worth the investment to put the record out on my own.”

Reed the put together a band with some of the guys from the first session. “After the first combination of True Loves lost its drummer and trombonist I was ready to quit. But then one of the saxophonists at the time found a new drummer and trumpeter and convinced me to keep going.” The band’s roster continues to be fluid, with musicians moving in and out. “The group right now is really together and I think tighter and more energetic than any so far,” Reed says.

Reed’s vocal style harkens back to the greats of classic soul and rhythm and blues. “As a singer, I think gospel singers are my biggest influence.” Reed loves the sounds of Johnny Jones, the lead singer for The Swanee Quintet and Joe Ligon of the Mighty Clouds Of Joy. In addition, his sound is heavily influenced by the Chicago soul of Syl Johnson and Tyrone Davis. “If you listen to ‘The Satisfier’, I wrote that in pretty much of a strict Syl Johnson kind of style along the lines of his records like ‘Dresses Too Short’ or ‘Different Strokes.’ I also love O.V. Wright's style and Sam Cooke is everywhere in my singing.”