Journey To The Soul Of Eli 'Paperboy' Reed Upon the release of Come and Get It, NPR's Jacki Lyden talks to the neo-soul singer about his musical roots. Reed's story has found him in Mississippi Delta juke joints, at Chicago's South Side gospel churches, and now fronting a hot live band, The True Loves.

Journey To The Soul Of Eli 'Paperboy' Reed

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Eli "Paperboy"�Reed - his vibe, his beat, his soul all feel familiar. But make no mistake, he's his own man.

(Soundbite of song, "I Found You Out")

Mr. ELI 'PAPERBOY' REED (Singer): (Singing) But listen girl, no need to front, because I know just what you want. Oh, it doesn't matter what you say, 'cause your eyes just give it away. I found you out. I know you love me.

LYDEN: That's Eli "Paperboy" Reed with his band the True Loves, playing "I Found You Out" on their third album, "Come and Get It."

nd while Reed may be reminiscent of another era, it's more like he was born at just the right time to absorb all of his influences - Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and O.V. Wright - and then make his own mark in music.

Eli "Paperboy" Reed joins us from our New York bureau. Hi there.

Mr. REED: Hi. How are you?

LYDEN: You are now 26, and after high school you had what seems like this great opportunity to work down in the Delta. And I can remember my first visits down to the Mississippi Delta and trying to find what Robert Palmer, the former New York Times critic, had written about. Tell us about your experience.

Mr. REED: That is a great book, by the way. I think you're talking about "Deep Blues."

LYDEN: "Deep Blues."

Mr. REED: Yeah. I mean, I'd never been out of my parents' house at that point so - I was 18, you know. So I learned a lot about living on my own, in addition to other things, you know?

LYDEN: I read somewhere that you had a gig the end of your first day there. Is that just some kind of music apocrypha?

Mr. REED: No, that's true. No, that is actually, really true. I...

LYDEN: And who was it?

Mr. REED: I met this guy who said he had played guitar in a band, which turns out to be the Wesley Jefferson Band, and he was going back to play in church. So the band needed a guitar player. So I ended up stepping in and found out that being the guitar player also meant that you fronted the band and sang all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REED: So I ended up singing the whole show and playing from like, whatever, 9 to 1 or whatever it was, for like, $8.

And that was - but that really happened. That was my first week there. Yes.

LYDEN: And you know what? You're dining out on it ever since.

Mr. REED: Exactly.

LYDEN: Not a bad investment of your time.

Mr. REED: Not too bad.

LYDEN: Let's hear another song. Again, it's "Name Calling," where you have some real fun with turns of phrase.

(Soundbite of song, "Name Calling")

Mr. REED: (Singing) A long time ago, when we were in school, you used to laugh at me, call me a fool. And I dreamed of the day that you would change your tune. I never thought that day would come so soon. You went from name calling, name calling, to calling my name. You went from schoolyard teasing, schoolyard teasing, to all night pleasing.

LYDEN: Now, I know you gravitated early to R&B. And I want to talk - you then wound up at the University of Chicago. And I'd love to talk about some of the people who were big influences on you. But I also know that you spend a lot of time in places I spend time in - South Chicago, Hyde Park - such a great blues town and some great record stores.

Mr. REED: Definitely. I loved living in Hyde - I mean, I lived at 60th Street and Cottage Grove, so it was like, right at the tip of Hyde Park - between Hyde Park and as you get into the deeper South Side. So I got to go...

LYDEN: Woodlawn, South Chicago - because you were going to UC.

Mr. REED: Yeah, exactly. Well, I mean, nominally going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, I ended up playing in church, which was sort of more of an education, because I had spent all this time playing in bars in Mississippi. And I feel like the bars in Clarksdale actually aren't that different from the bars in Chicago. But playing in church was something I hadn't done at that point.

LYDEN: Tell us about that. You found a female minister who sort of took you under her wing.

Mr. REED: She did. Yeah. She - her name was Mitty Collier, and she'd actually had had hits in the '60s on Chess Records. And I had found out from a friend that she was supposedly working at the University of Chicago.

So I found her name in the directory and called her up and said, hey, would you want to come on my radio show - because I had a radio show on the school station at the time. And she said, well, no, I'm not really interested in rhythm and blues or soul music anymore. But I'm, you know, I just found my calling in the ministry, and I'm starting a church.

And I had told her I was a musician, so she came and met me in my dorm room, and we played songs on - I played piano and she played...

LYDEN: Gospel?

Mr. REED: Gospel - James Cleveland and Alex Bradford, and all this kind of stuff. And from that point on, every Wednesday for choir rehearsal and every Sunday morning.

LYDEN: You were there. And what was the name of the church?

Mr. REED: It was called the More Like Christ Christian Fellowship Church.

LYDEN: I love it. I love it.

So here is one of the songs. I guess you sort of owe a spiritual debt, if you will, to that experience. We're listening to "You Can Run On."

(Soundbite of song, "You Can Run On")

Mr. REED: (Singing) You're gonna need, you're gonna need, you're gonna need, you're gonna need - oh, you're gonna need me baby. Oh, after, after, after, after a while. You're gonna need, you're gonna me after a while.

LYDEN: Wow. Did you ever perform that in a church?

Mr. REED: No, no. I mean, it's not really a gospel song if you listen to the words. But you know - but obviously, very inspired by gospel music. Gospel music is something that continues to inspire me every day.

LYDEN: When you do perform, though, you're talking about churches that are predominantly African-American. How have you been received?

Mr. REED: I have been very fortunate in that people are very - open-minded, I guess, is the word, but mostly they just didn't care about race, I mean, whether it was playing in clubs in Mississippi or playing in black churches or whatever. People were just happy that I was excited and interested in the music. Especially in the church, there is definitely a want for young men to be inspired - interested and excited about gospel music, 'cause you don't see that a lot. So they were just happy to have me - which is, I think, great, you know?

LYDEN: Yeah. Nobody is pointing a finger at you for doing it. We should point out, though, that you are from Brookline, Massachusetts - not a place that I, you know, identify as blues town.

Mr. REED: Well, you know, I mean, I had very, very supportive parents and my dad was, he wrote music reviews for the Boston Phoenix and stuff like that, and was an avid collector and played guitar, so - and stuff like that, so it was a very supportive and very musical household that I grew up in.

LYDEN: And you've got grown-up songs. Let's hear one of those. This is "Come and Get It."

(Soundbite of song, "Come and Get It")

Mr. REED: (Singing) If you want the love of a real good man, come on and find me. I'll make you understand. Don't just look. Come on and take it. 'Cause what I've got, you know that you can't fake it. 'Cause if you want the love of a man, come and get it. Oh, if you want the love of a man, you've got to get with it...

LYDEN: Boy, that must get them going in the clubs.

Mr. REED: Definitely. You know, it's funny, people ask me all the time, you know: We're living in such troubled times, why don't you write songs about politics and war and all this stuff? And for me, love is a serious business, and love songs are serious business and are just as affecting and profound - if not more - than any social protest songs you could write.

So for me, I think that those are the songs that stay with people, and those are the ones that can help lift people out of troubled times.

(Soundbite of song, "Come and Get It")

Mr. REED: (Singing) I know you want it, all this good love I've got, all this good love I've got, baby, oh yeah...

LYDEN: The reviews say that you could play with anybody you wanted to, from Jay-Z to Michael Buble. Is there anyone that you'd like to perform with that you haven't?

Mr. REED: Whew. You know, I would love...

LYDEN: About a hundred people?

Mr. REED: ...I'd love to work with some - to tour with some country artists. I really like country music. And I think that, you know, especially 'cause, you know, the songs continue to be very honest and very truthful, and I think that country audiences are very appreciative of honesty and truth and emotion in their music. So it'd be great to play for those audiences.

LYDEN: Is there a song you'd like to go out on?

Mr. REED: I think my favorite song on the album is probably "Time Will Tell." I'm a big ballad singer, and I love ballads. So if I could make an all-ballad album, I would, but the record label wouldn't be happy.

(Soundbite of song, "Time Will Tell")

Mr. REED: (Singing) Time will tell who is right. Time will tell who is wrong. Time will tell who is weak. Time will tell who is strong. It will tell...

LYDEN: I got to tell you, Eli Reed, this song gets me right here.

Mr. REED: Thank you, thank you.

LYDEN: The new album is "Come and Get It," and we've been talking with Eli "Paperboy" Reed in our New York bureau. Thank you, and we wish you so much good luck.

Mr. REED: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

(Soundbite of song, "Time Will Tell")

Mr. REED: (Singing) It was written long ago, that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But time will...

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