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Eli 'Paperboy' Reed - Soulman

Author: Cyclone
Monday, 5 January 2009

Eli “paperboy” reed, along with his band The True Loves, makes music that makes us wish was lived along the Mississippi during the ’40s, skipping dinner to play rounders with our mates. On the eve of Reed’s debut Oz tour, 3D’s Cyclone spoke with the bluesmith that’s captivated a new generation of soul lovers.

2008 saw a succession of ’60s-inspired neo-soulsters emanate from the UK in the wake of Amy Winehouse. Adele. Duffy. The country-esque Beth Rowley. Even Australia entered the fray with Gabriella Cilmi. But, while Eli “Paperboy” Reed, frontman of The True Loves, is compared to Winehouse, he has his own sound – a reincarnation of vintage RNB and soul. The American could almost be a soulful time traveller, lost in modernity.

About to tour Australia for the first time, Reed can reflect on a triumphant year.
The Bostonian’s album Roll With You has been named as one of 2008’s best by the UK’s discerning Mojo magazine. However, Reed has other things on his mind. He wants to go surfing in Oz. (The singer visited at 12.)

The mild-mannered Reed is tired after a rousing London show. “It’s been quite a long tour but, you know, that’s all right,” he says.

For a 20-something to be so enamoured of ’60s music, Reed must have an old soul. But, as he gets his Otis Redding on, Reed doesn’t consider himself a soul revivalist. It’s about expressing real emotion in music.

Raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, Reed was exposed to the expansive record collection of his music critic father. “It started with my dad. He has a lot of records and would play me country music, blues, gospel, RNB and stuff growing up. The first records that I remember listening to when I was really young were [things like] The Coasters, Chuck Berry... and that was my favourite music when I was five and six.”

Reed picked up different instruments – guitar, piano, even harmonica. He busked as a teenager to fund his music habit. On the cusp of adulthood, Eli moved to the blues heartland of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta to work for a radio station. That didn’t pan out but Reed gigged – and it was here he developed into the showman he is today. Eli also found a mentor in blues drummer Sam Carr.

Reed wound up at the University of Chicago, studying sociology and anthropology, and, while in Chi-town, served as music director at the Baptist church ministered by onetime Chess Records artist Mitty Collier – an amazing feat for a white Jewish boy.

In 2004 Reed returned to Boston and conceived The True Loves. He issued a covers album, Eli “Paperboy” Reed Sings Walkin’ And Talkin’, independently. Roll With You surfaced earlier this year.

Reed’s band has undergone the inevitable personnel changes. “It’s hard to keep people interested sometimes, especially when you’re working with really talented musicians,” he says. Some months ago Eli lost a sax player who accepted a scholarship to further his jazz studies. “I can’t begrudge people for that.”

Ultimately, The True Loves are Reed’s friends. ”We spend so much time together, if you can’t be friends, it would just be impossible,” he says. If they challenge him, all the better. “I try to work with people who I know are very open-minded musically and not cut from the same cloth as me, ’cause then people can provide different insight and we can create a different kind of sound because they’re not playing the same old cliché things.”

Reed believes that The True Loves have become “more refined” with constant touring. Nevertheless, he’s wary of falling into routine. “It’s hard to play the same songs night after night.” And so the band “switch up” their sets, adding unique covers such as Merle Haggard’s country I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can. They’ve just begun tackling Bob Dylan’s The Man In Me. Most bizarrely, The True Loves have rearranged Motorhead’s heavy metal anthem Ace of Spades, which is materialising soon on 45.

And work has commenced on the next True Loves album. “I’m pretty excited to make a new record and make a better record and write better songs,” Reed enthuses. “I think really trying to push myself as a songwriter is the important thing – and to work hard to really expand upon what we’ve already done.”

Reed, who’s moonlighted as a soul DJ, isn’t inclined to lament that in the 2000s young music-makers prefer computers to traditional instruments, with sampling rife. Ask him how crucial it is for kids to learn instruments and he demurs. “I don’t know – I don’t think I’m the one to judge! It’s always great people try to play music. [But] I think that listening is just as important, if not more important. So many people who start playing don’t spend enough time listening to what they like and what they think is good and figuring out why they think it’s good. That’s really important – spending your time analysing what’s good and what’s bad about music and then picking and choosing what you like. Then you can use that to create a particular style of your own. You can be the worst guitar player in the world but, if you know what you like and you know what you wanna sound like, you can still be very effective in what you do.”

Reed’s influences are old, yet he does listen to contemporary music – and occasionally digs hip hop.

A sticker on the local edition of Roll With You quotes a review from the Village Voice: “Amy Winehouse better watch her back”. Reed is baffled over comparisons to Winehouse – and the other Brits. “I like Amy Winehouse – I think she’s the best of the lot by far,” he says. “But [Roll With You is] a different kind of record – I’m a different singer and a different kind of songwriter. But, then again, if somebody says, ‘Hey, you should check this out, it sounds like Amy Winehouse’, that’s fine with me. If that gives people something to relate to, it’s great.”

As with Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, Reed is bound to be embraced by Australians, traditionally tough live audiences. He’s performed to all kinds. “We get such a wide swamp of everybody. I love it when 16-year-olds come to the show and they love it, and then you’ll see middle-aged people and older people who love it, too. Every show there’s always such a mixed group of people that I’m never surprised any more.”

WHO: Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the True Loves
WHAT: Play Falls Festival / Days Like This! at Entertainment Quarter
WHEN: Tuesday 30 December & Wednesday 31 / Sunday 4