We like to think that history includes everyone worth knowing — that time has a way of letting mediocrity fall away, leaving only the greatest or most important. But that’s rarely the whole story. Music, in a way, is particularly prone to this kind of selective memory, often considered a progression of regional sounds like Motown, Mussel Shoals, Seattle grunge and West Coast/ East Coast Rap.
Still, that manner of storytelling leaves out masters of their craft who made their homes away from musical epicenters. Marshall “Big Jack” Reynolds, Toledo’s own godfather of blues, is one of those unsung artists who’s finally getting his due. Toledoans have an opportunity to watch the story of the local legend’s place in blues history.
The Life & Times of Big Jack
The Toledo blues icon, who died in 1993, was the subject of Third Street Cigar Records’ 2019 documentary, That’s a Good Way to Get to Heaven: The Music & Life of Big Jack Reynolds. The film, directed by Glenn Burris, chronicles Reynolds’s mysterious past, life as an authentic bluesman and his musical prowess. With a premier at the Maumee Indoor Theatre, an album was released in conjunction with the film, composed of recordings from Big Jack’s early days in Detroit and those produced a couple of decades later by Toledo bluesman, Larry Gold. The album, also titled That’s a Good Way to Get to Heaven, has been nominated for Living Blues’ “Best Blues Album of 2019” in the Reissue Recordings category. The reader’s ballot is live until August 15, giving Toledoans the chance to make their voices heard and to celebrate Reynolds’ legacy.
That’s a Good Way to Get to Heaven is deserving of that kind of praise, the 20-track collection of rare Big Jack recordings that were, per Third Street Cigar Records, previously “only available on short-run indie 45s and cassettes.” The album effectively showcases Reynolds’ many talents— as an accomplished guitarist and singer, while also playing some piano— as well as his greatest musical attribute: his unmatched skill on the harmonica.
The album portrays Big Jack in a number of contexts: from his development in Detroit, to cutting tracks with Toledo blues outfit, the Haircuts, to a few remarkable solo performances. To get a sampling of his undeniable talents, try the slick “Walk on Up (But Keep That Red Dress On),” solo sung/harmonica cut “Gonna Love Somebody,” and the infectious instrumental “Hot Potato”— the latter of which Living Blues’ Jim DeKoster called “surprisingly modern.”
Give the album a listen. Even for those who are not a blues aficionados, you’ll find a lot to like. The album can be streamed on all major platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.
Growing the Legend
A constant refrain around Big Jack Reynolds and his music is the lament that he never gained national recognition during his lifetime. Thanks to Third Street Cigar Records, Glenn Burris, Larry Gold and others steeped in the Toledo music scene, Big Jack’s name is finally being recognized by more blues devotees as a consummate blues artist who lived his life and plied his craft in the Glass City. Third Street Cigar Records’ owner, John Henry, put it best: Big Jack “was right here in Toledo. OUR bluesman.”
Go to surveymonkey.com/r/LBAwards2020 to cast your vote before August 15.
27th Annual Living Blues Awards. surveymonkey.com/r/LBAwards2020