Standard Sounds

Eli “Paperboy” Reed: How Memphis Inspired Him

<p><span>After a decade of cutting records and performing everywhere from the Juke Joint of Clarksdale, MS to the Chicago congregation of blues legend Mitty Collier, Eli “Paperboy” Reed returns on April 12 with&nbsp;<i>99 Cent Dreams</i>—a raucous, horn-drenched love letter to the timeless American music that’s influenced his sound. Our East Village music maven, Annie O, caught up with Eli ahead of the new album and his show at The Standard, East Village’s Penthouse on Monday.&nbsp;</span></p>

Tell us about your new album 99 Cent Dreams—how is it different from your last record? 

I’d say the key word is thoughtful. The last record (My Way Home) sort of emerged fully formed as a response to personal circumstances. It was more like just pure emotional catharsis and release for me. This album is a little bit more measured. I’d say it’s back to what I know how to do and have always done, which is write and perform Soul music that can grab the listeners’ ears and make them dance and singalong. 

You’ve been making music and touring for over a decade now. Are there any particular shows, artist collaborations, etc. that stand out as highlights in your career?

I’ve been so blessed to have been able to work with so many of my idols including Roscoe Robinson, Barbara Lynn, Otis Clay, Betty Harris, Harvey Scales and more! It’s a dream that the 16-year-old me, listening to Soul records in his bedroom, would never have thought was possible. Recently though, working with Big Daddy Kane on his version of the title track “99 Cent Dreams” was amazing! I’ve never worked with anyone in hip-hop before despite being a fan so being able to start with someone who people have called the greatest MC of all time was pretty great. 

You recorded your new album 99 Cent Dreams in Memphis; an area rich with musical history that's clearly influenced your work. How has the classic sound of Memphis inspired your songwriting? Are there any particular artists (from Memphis?) who inspired you to make music, or that you currently look to for inspiration?

I was incredibly inspired by the vocal group The Masqueraders who sang all the background harmonies on this album. They’ve been singing together for more than 50 years and their blend really just brought these songs to a different place that I never thought possible. It was less that Memphis inspired my songwriting since the songs were composed before I got there and more that the place and the musicians inspired the recording sessions and shaped the arrangements. 

Who are you listening to these days? 

Pretty much same as ever, Gospel 45s. Oh, and Lizzo. 

What can people expect from your performance as part of The Annie O Music Series?

A lot of stuff from the new album and some of the old “hits” as well!


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