Let’s trace backwards: Harlem, Chicago’s Southside, Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Boston. Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s footsteps follow some notable gospel and blues musicians. However, given he’s a white kid with Jewish roots from a smart Boston neighborhood, whose real name is Eli Husock, Reed might sound a less likely candidate for soul survivor. But, the 32-year-old soul singer’s 10-year career went from highs to lows to its current glorious middle ground, where he’s re-found his passion for gospel music and parlayed it into the June-released, “My Way Home.”
“I had felt they had discarded me,” Reed admits of his down period after losing his second major label deal a couple of years ago. “Now I’m a bit more savvy. I couldn’t be happier than working with the people I’m working with now,” he adds of indie label Yep Roc.
Let’s trace the timeline as it happened, more or less: two weeks after finishing high school in Boston, Reed moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi to help a friend resurrect a veteran radio station. The project fell apart soon after he arrived, but he stayed for a year furthering his education. “It was a musical education, but it also taught me how to be a person,” he adds.
Then, Reed headed to University of Chicago, but spent more time on the Southside and in churches, playing and listening to gospel singers than he did in lecture rooms. He didn’t graduate, but instead headed back to Boston and set about recording his self-released debut album, ironically titled “Eli “Paperboy” Reed Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ (and other Smash Hits).” It impressed Capitol Records who signed him, but the smash hits didn’t happen. A stint on Warner Bros. reaped little more than frustration and by 2013 he was label-less, but thrilled to be working in Harlem teaching singing to at-risk youth.
“I focused all my energy on it and realized how much I loved it and how much this was a piece of my own expression,” he says. “It energized me.”
And being free from big label executive power games also renewed his spirit.
“Without having to think about making anything commercial, I was free. This album was the reverse process of commercial,” Reed explains. “I didn’t stop to think about it, but I felt I had some things to get off my chest.
“A friend a long time ago told me that I was the only person he knew who made exactly the kind of music he wanted and could have a career doing it. I am very fortunate.”
If you go:
July 19 at 7 p.m.
Boston City Hall Plaza
Tickets start at $95 and include food and drink,bestofboston.com
July 29 at 7 p.m.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors
60 Lincoln Center Plaza