BIG JACK REYNOLDS
The reason Third Street is here, the patron saint of Ohio blues.
The blues world traps some of its legends. Sometimes, a singer will have all it takes. They'll have the personality, the songs, the experience. But they're snagged by circumstance. Their chance to make it big passed them by and they never knew it was there in the first place. But those who do discover them quickly find out how special they are. Big Jack Reynolds was one of those. A giant living in a shadow.
About Big Jack Reynolds
Writing a biography of Marshall “Big Jack” Reynolds could be a moving story about a gifted musician who meant an awful lot to the musicians and local fans who knew him. Or it could be a complete fabrication. Jack wouldn’t mind a bit.
Even after completing an 80-minute documentary about Jack, released by Third Street Cigar Records as a companion to Jack’ music, director Glenn Burris says he can’t fill in all the blanks. “Different people have different origin stories for Jack. He might have come north from Georgia, where he worked the fields with mules. Or it could have been Arkansas. He might have actually grown up in the Midwest… Those who knew him never got the same story twice. Nobody knew everything about Jack.”
What they did know was that Jack Reynolds could sing and play harmonica with the best of them. He led bands, played numerous instruments, and put on a show with jokes and dancing. And the few songs he wrote and recorded, like “Had A Little Dog” and “Made It Up In Your Mind,” became the stuff of legend among hardcore blues collectors. Had he been a Chicago musician, there is every chance his boat would have been lifted by the great tide around him. And we might think of Jack now like we think of Champion Jack Dupree: A classic artist standing just to the left of the very greatest blues stars. Even without the break that never came, he remains a blues connoisseur’s delight.
Jack made his start in Detroit, where he cut those elusive songs for labels like Fortune and scrapped with Sonny Boy Williamson. Always irascible, Jack one day found he’d overstayed his welcome in the Motor City. Again, few knew exactly why. But he headed for open pastures in Toledo in the late sixties. There, though he was not the only bluesman in town, he quickly became known as a performer without peer. Guitarist Larry Gold, who would go on to back Jack and produce his Toledo recordings of the 1980s, says “His blues just ran so deep… It hit me like a freight train.”
Before Jack passed away in the early 90s, his effect in Toledo was such that he inspired not only local musicians, but entrepreneurs. Booking Jack, promoting Jack, and recording Jack became a cottage industry, and eventually led to the launch of Third Street Cigar Records (we might also be the only label in the world with one of our artists’ remains enshrined at our headquarters). The first project on the list was to collect and clean up Jack’s best recordings and get them to CD and the Internet for the first time. The documentary, which really profiles the blues community Jack galvanized as much as it does Jack himself, was a natural result of the effort to present Jack’s music to the larger world.
Big Jack Reynolds is always described the same way by those who knew him either as peers, like Detroit’s Harmonica Shah, or those he mentored into being fine musicians, like bass player Johnny ‘Hi-Fi’ Newmark. He was real, they say. As close to the Mississippi-Chicago vein as you could get. His grumpiness, eccentricities, complaints, and lies were all forgotten the moment he opened his mouth to sing or play his harp. He was just like the blues itself… Worth the pain for the chance to sing about it.
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