Benoit native Eddie Taylor, an architect of the post-World War II Chicago blues genre, was renowned for his work both as a bandleader and accompanist. He was best known for shaping the distinctive sound of Jimmy Reed, a childhood friend with whom Taylor reunited in Chicago. The Benoit area was also the birthplace of James DeShay, a mainstay of the St. Louis blues scene; James “Peck” Curtis, famed for his work on “King Biscuit Time” radio; and southern soul star Nathaniel Kimble.
Taylor (January 29, 1923 - December 25, 1985) is revered as one of the most influential guitarists in Chicago blues history, known for his versatility, impeccable timing, and consummate musicianship. As a child Taylor was influenced by Delta bluesmen Charley Patton, Son House, Big Joe Williams, and Robert Johnson, but learned to play guitar from a musician named “Popcorn.” Taylor performed in local jukes around Leland and Clarksdale and taught guitar to Jimmy Reed in nearby Meltonia. In the 1940s he moved to Memphis and then to Chicago, where he helped pioneer the city’s new electric blues style.
During the 1950s and ‘60s Taylor and Reed collaborated over dozens of sessions to create many of Reed's hits for Vee-Jay Records, including “You Don’t Have to Go,” “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” “Honest I Do,” and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.” Taylor also recorded “Bad Boy,” “Bigtown Playboy,” and other singles for Vee-Jay as a solo artist, followed by albums for a number of different companies. Always in demand for studio sessions and nightclub dates, Taylor recorded and performed with John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and his Broomdusters, Carey Bell, Sunnyland Slim, Homesick James, Big Walter Horton, Johnny Littlejohn, Snooky Pryor, Floyd Jones, and the Aces, among many others. He began to tour internationally in the late ‘60s and remained active in music until his death. Although never as well known to the public as many of his comrades in the blues, Taylor was rated so highly by critics, historians, and musicians that he was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987.
Taylor’s wife was blues vocalist Vera Taylor (1943-1999), a native of Dublin, Mississippi, and the niece of bluesmen Eddie, Jimmy, and Willie Burns. She often appeared on stage with her husband. Their children, Eddie, Jr., Larry, Milton, Tim, Demetria, Brenda, and Edna, all became singers or musicians, and Vera, Eddie, Jr., and Larry Taylor also recorded CDs of their own.
Benoit has been home to several other performers of note, including Nathaniel Kimble, James “Peck” Curtis, James DeShay, and Jessie Clay. Music from Benoit was also featured in the 1956 movie Baby Doll, which was filmed at the antebellum Burrus house and other local sites. In the film, a harmonica player sings the blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go" and a woman at a cafe sings the traditional spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved." The cast credits in the film acknowledged the singers and most of the other local extras simply as “Some People of Benoit, Mississippi."
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