Goodbye Jimmy Reed (2020) part 1: huge thanks to our friend Charlie Sexton

Goodbye Jimmy Reed (2020) part 1

by Jochen Markhorst

I           A HUGE thanks to our friend Charlie Sexton

“I just hate the phrase yacht rock. I hate being put in that bag or categorized in that way,” Boz Scaggs says when asked by Rolling Stone journalist David Browne (28 November 2018). Understandable, Boz’s distaste for such a condescending yuppie disqualification, but to be fair: he mostly has himself to blame, of course. After the worldwide success of Silk Degrees (1976, the record featuring “We’re All Alone”, “Lowdown” and, above all, “Lido Shuffle”), he voluntarily converts to the slick, overproduced R&B that dominated the clubs and the charts deep into the 1980s, making both his sound and his songs on the two albums that followed more and more sterile. Shifting his oeuvre, by extension, into the record bin with Steely Dan, Toto and Hall & Oates, yes. Which Scaggs also acknowledges, in that same interview:

Silk Degrees was a big blast, and the records that came after followed the same track in a way, but I just felt I lost my way. It became a career, an exercise — the publicity, the fame, the trappings of all that. The music just kind of got lost to me. I wanted to take some time away, and that time away turned out to be six or seven or eight years. I just didn’t feel like going back to it. The music had left me. ”

It takes eight years before the music returns, and from then on (Other Roads, 1988), we see and hear a gradual return to the roots – the blues, the Americana and the soul of his first American record Boz Scaggs (1969), the wonderful, somewhat forgotten record featuring that beautiful blues marathon “Loan Me A Dime” with Duane Allman on guitar, recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

In the second decade of the 21st century, Boz picks up this return to roots in an explicit and structured way. The trilogy Memphis in 2013, A Fool To Care in 2015 and finally Out Of The Blues in 2018 is actually set up as a trilogy indeed; three records full of respectful covers of often less obvious songs from Curtis Mayfield, The Band, Al Green, Willy DeVille and Moon Martin (“Cadillac Walk”), rootsy own work with strong Chuck Berry and Bobby Bland echoes, traditionals like “Corrina, Corrina” and surprising choices, such as Neil Young’s shelf warmer “On The Beach” and Steely Dan’s half-forgotten gem “Pearl Of The Quarter”.

Result of a lengthy, well considered selection process, as Scaggs explains: “I’m a list person.” He loves exchanging forgotten or undiscovered song titles with colleagues like Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald. “It’s really fun when you’re talking to someone who’s an aficionado,” he tells, “it’s fun to track all that and to share notes with other people.” He owes the introduction to the Neil Young song to his son Austin, for instance, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos draws his attention to Jimmy McCracklin’s, “I’ve Just Got to Know”. And then, after much toing and froing and inching and pinching, Scaggs ends up with about forty songs that could probably get a place in that roots trilogy. On the Deluxe Editions we hear some examples of songs that were chosen, but were nevertheless dropped in the very last selection, including an attractive demo of Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh” (last song on Memphis Deluxe Edition, 2022). Which, by the way, closes a circle; his very, very first record, the Stockholm and only European-distributed record Boz (1965) is already a mix of traditionals (“C.C. Rider”), roots classics (“Baby Let Me Follow You Down”) and a Dylan song (“Girl From The North Country”) as well.

Boz needs no insider tips for Jimmy Reed, though. Reed has been on a pedestal since his first guitar lessons, and has always remained a hero. And is subsequently the only songwriter honoured twice on the trilogy: “You Got Me Cryin'” on Memphis, and on Out Of The Blues the song that provides the template for Dylan’s “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”: “Down In Virginia”.

“Down In Virginia” is not really an outlier in Reed’s oeuvre. The song has nowhere near the status of evergreens like “Big Boss Man”, “Bright Lights, Big City”, “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, songs with which he himself scored hits and made immortal by names like The Stones and Elvis, nor the reputation of crowd pleasers like “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “I Ain’t Got You” or “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”, which have been in the repertoire from Bryan Ferry to Van Morrison and from The Yardbirds to Jerry Garcia. No, “Down In Virginia” is mostly ignored. Even on Ronnie Wood’s very loving and respectful Mr Luck – A Tribute to Jimmy Reed: Live at the Royal Albert Hall from 2021, tellingly; eighteen Reed songs, but no “Down In Virginia”.

Jimmy himself, however, seems to have something of a weak spot for the song. In 1958 he chooses the song to be released as a single, but it is not really a success: “Down In Virginia” is in the Billboard Hot 100 for one single week, at number 96 (11 August 1958, the week Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” is still clinging to 1, just before “Volare” hits). Still, the song remains on his setlist, and in 1969 he even names an entire album after it. Incidentally, a weird album with a not too impressive performance of the title song. All 11 songs on Down In Virginia begin with a fade-in and end with a fade-out; it seems to be a hotchpotch of live recordings from which any evidence of audiences has been erased (the liner notes merely say: “recorded in Chicago, late 1968”). Lacking that unique, irresistible 50s Vee-Jay sound anyway.

That 1958 recording also seems to be the source for Boz Scaggs’ second Reed cover, on 2018’s Out Of The Blues, the third album of the trilogy. In many ways, that album is similar to its two predecessors. Boz is still supported by giants like Ray Parker Jr., Willie Weeks and Jim Cox, for example. But there is at least one big, sound-defining difference: Dylan’s guitarist Charlie Sexton has just a few more days off in March 2018 (he is expected back in Lisbon on 22 March, when Dylan resumes his gigs with a Europe tour), so he is able to accept Boz’s invitation to contribute to the album, and things click well between Boz and Charlie. In September, between Dylan’s Far East Tour (ending 28 August in Christchurch, New Zealand) and the US Fall Tour starting in Phoenix on 4 October, Charlie is happy to oblige again, and plays a few concerts as a guest guitarist in Scaggs’ band. Which Scaggs appreciates with elegant gratitude:

“Thank you Temecula! A HUGE thanks to our friend Charlie Sexton for sitting in with us these last few shows. See you tomorrow LA!”
(@bozscaggs tweet, 29 September 2018)

Number 7 on both the record and the setlist then is “Down In Virginia” – the song that, incidentally, is not on the setlist on nights when Charlie Sexton does not play. Justifiable, as the performance is indeed carried by Charlie. From the introductory, splashing intro and the smooth licks under the verses, the fills in between and the subservient struts under Jack “Applejack” Walroth’s harmonica: Charlie Sexton.

“Charlie, though, creates songs and sings them as well, and he can play guitar to beat the band. There aren’t any of my songs that Charlie doesn’t feel part of and he’s always played great with me. […] He inhabits a song rather than attacking it. He’s always done that with me.”
(Dylan on Charlie Sexton, New York Times interview 12 June 2020)

… and vice versa, we might add. Charlie’s and Boz’s “Down In Virginia” is, in any case, a song in which Dylan moves in headlong. Fully furnished as it is.


To be continued. Next up Goodbye Jimmy Reed part 2: All songs lead back t’ the sea


Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:




  1. Good article, but – Steely Dan does not fit in the same sentence with Toto and Hall and Oates. I like Hall and Oates, but Steely Dan is a monumental band that a lot of people don’t get, and only see the jazz and the shining production. I put Steely Dan in the very top tier of musical artists of the 20th and 21st century. And anyone who recognizes great music would do the same.

  2. William I find the notion that there is a concept called “great music” and that all the people alive today agree on what it is, so far removed from anything proveable or even consistently arguable, that I can’t even join in a debate on that, any more than I could join in a debate which suggested anyone who had studied the Iron Age would agree it was a universally good or bad thing. An individual being able to define what is great and what is not and having every one else agree with him or her is not just something I don’t subscribe to, but actually utterly frightening.

  3. Merci William,
    I see that I unintentionally gave the impression of looking down on Steely Dan. I most certainly don’t – any major dude will tell you that I cherish Steely Dan as much as the next guy, and the band’s oeuvre has been a regular on my turntable for over forty years now. I am unable to do any cleaning without humming “Dirty Work” and I think few guitar solos are as deep under my skin as the one in “Your Gold Teeth part II”.

    Still, I’m fairly certain that even Donald Fagen himself wouldn’t object if his music were classified as “sterile”. For sterile it is – under all its outright beauty. And that’s the similarity to Toto, to Hall & Oates and to Boz Scaggs’ late-70s output I was trying to express.

    Nor will Fagen find any comparison with Boz Scaggs offensive, come to think of it – they do respect each other, and even play and perform together, after all.

    Anyway: thanks for your comment William, and I hope I turned the heartbeat over again.

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