Big Jack Reynolds – That’s A Good Way To Get To Heaven – Album Review

Big Jack Reynolds – That’s A Good Way To Get To Heaven: The Music and Life of Big Jack Reynolds

Third Street Cigar Records

20 tracks; CD and DVD 1:21:24

Big Jack Reynolds is a little-known blues man who hopefully gets noticed with this great CD and DVD package. A collection of 20 of his best songs and a DVD about his life and music make this a superb package to listen to, watch and appreciate. Born in 1931 in Detroit or Arkansas, he was brought up in Albany, Georgia. He moved to Detroit for work and then he first recorded in 1962 for the Mah’s Label in Detroit and then Hi-Q/Fortune in 1965. In the 1980’s he also recorded with Blue Suit, Highball, and Two Aces And A Jack. He passed away in Toledo, Ohio in 1993 as a blues-man few had heard of.

Reynolds was a deep and passionate blues man. His music was phenomenal yet mostly undiscovered. He played the hell of of his harp and was also a darn good guitar player. His life is filled with mystery; he had kids but never introduced them to others. He lived in Detroit and later in Toledo, but facts about his life are sketchy, mostly because he told a lot of tall tales. He made his Mark in Detroit, a hotbed for blues. Fashion was something Jack might not have completely understood but he always wanted to look good on stage. It might mean three different kinds of plaid but it was all his own style.

Reynolds was a guitar and harp player. He plays all the harp parts and sings on all the tracks. Larry Gold also plays guitar on 11 of the first 12 tracks. Johnny “HiFi” Newmark plays bass on most of those tracks, too, while Slim Galhagan is on drums for most and Chad Smith is on piano. Joel Hazzard (bass) and Chris Arduser (drums) are on the other two). The horn section The Cobra Twist Horns on track 12; they are Brad “The Razor” Sharp on trumpet, Randy “The Slider” Knisely on trombone, and Kevin “Nationwide” Maude on sax.

The first twelve tracks are with his 1980’s band. Cuts like “honey I Do,” “Scratch My Back,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Rock Me Baby” and others are familiar but hearing Jack gives them an edge worth hearing. The horn section on the latter is quit good. The harp work is great throughout.

The last eight songs have some solo work included; “She Moves Me,” “Gonna Love Somebody,” and “She Must Be A Millionaire” are just Jack and his harp. These are quite cool and interesting. Old recordings like “I Had A Little Dog,” “You Won’t Treat Me Right,” “Going Down Slow,” and “Make It Up In Your Mind” hearken to days gone by and what could have been. This is music the world should have heard and embraced.

The DVD is rich on stories and info about Jack. It is not a rehash of the music on the CD, which is cool. We get to hear and see a lot about Reynolds from the film. He played and recorded with a bunch of local Detroit musicians like Bobo Jenkins and John Lee Hooker and competed with Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson) who thought he “owned” the blues harmonica business in Detroit. He used a “Kilroy Was Here” logo as his symbol/trademark for his show posters. His song “I Had A Little Dog” was used in the Jimi Hendrix biography movie.

Reynolds left Detroit after a divorce and costly settlement for the safe haven of Toledo where he continued to play and work. Locals Art and Roman Griswold and others and he played together and that is where he met up with Gold, Newmark and the others. They recorded Hot As You Get as Two Aces and a Jack with Reynolds and the Griswolds. The Dynatones went to Toledo a lot and loved Big Jack. Tommy Castro was in the band for awhile and he fell in love with Jack and his music. Ronnie Earl sat in with him at some festival and Jack tried to throw him off the stage for his regular guitar player. Earl asked him what was the matter; he could play blues in C, too.

Broke and Disgusted was released in 1990. Gold and others found funding for him to put this one together. This was his second album. Jack focused mostly on harp later in his life as the guitar began heavy for him. He loved Jimmy Reed and his style and also Sonny Boy Williamson; the harp really was his forte. He began with drums and added guitar and harp, but harp was his true calling. It was discovered late in his life he could play piano, too. He remained a demanding and sometimes hard to get along guy on stage because he wanted perfection. But he as also adored by his band-mates and friends.

Eddie Burns, Chicago Pete, Honeyboy Edwards, Eddie Shaw, Sir Mack Rice all hung out and played together with Reynolds later in his life. Reynolds plays on Rice’s 1992 version of “Cheaper To Keep Her.”

He had been a plasterer in his younger days, but relied on handouts and gigs in his older days. His illiteracy, drinking, chasing women, poverty, and inability to handle money all worked against him and prevented hi from making it in the music world. His kidney disease was an issue most of his life, but he did not care for himself as he should have. He passed away from kidney failure, heart failure and a punctured lung in 1993.

Locally, Jack was a musical legend. Hopefully this CD and DVD will help him to take his place as a force in the blues. I loved this CD/DVD set and enjoyed it thoroughly. I most highly recommend getting a hold of it to learn about this master blues man, his life and his music. You will not be disappointed.