126: Eli "Paperboy" Reed
Eli Reed took a trip. It started in a Boston suburb with a cheap suit and a paperboy cap. He took his suit, cap and guitar to Clarksdale, Mississippi. He stayed there just long enough to become a local musician. They called him “Paperboy” because of the cap. Then he headed up to Chicago and pretended to study sociology at the University of Chicago. While he was pretending to study, what he was really doing was looking for old records to play on his radio show, and becoming the minister of music at a church on the south side. After a while, he went back to Boston. Then he turned 21.
What was it like to be a Jewish suburban kid living in the deep south, playing in Black church in Chicago, singing soul music? Eli tells me “The juke joints and the black church are the most accepting and welcoming places I’ve ever been. They loved having me there because I wanted to be there and I loved them.”
In his early 20s. Eli “Paperboy” Reed started making records that sounded like they could be from another era. He wrote soul music, sang with a sweet and powerful voice, and performed with a frenzied energy. He found success, especially in Europe, and started to ride the “album cycle” life of writing, recording, touring, rinsing and repeating.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed says that “authenticity is a trap.” But he also says “If you’re not thinking critically about your work you’re not doing it right. And be adamant about what you like and don’t like.” And he clearly walks the talk. Eli is incredibly thoughtful and has clearly considered the choices and the work that he’s made. “Stand behind your choices,” he says. “Be present with it. Be interested.”
Before he was 30, he had become a record industry veteran, signed and dropped by both Capitol and Warner Bros., without a recording contract and and wondering what to do next and where to turn. In this episode, he tells the story of where he turned.
Along the way, he talks about surviving in the record business, standing behind your choices, grappling with ambition, whether or not an artist’s career fully belongs to them, and reaching the age where you’re not new anymore.