This youtube tour covers a wild and unusual talent. Jerry Reed was an excellent session player and a clever and talented showman. Most remembered for his role in Smokey and the Bandit, he could go toe to toe guitar pickin’ with Chet Atkins, played on recording sessions for Elvis, Dolly Pardon, and many others, and had a good string of hits as a solo artist. He had an unusual guitar style he called “the Claw” (or, to Get Smart fans- The Craw), and a wildman persona that was definitely not just for show. Not quite the Jesco White type, but a somewhat saner and more good natured version of wide open hillbilly. Very interesting story and and a bunch of great music. This one has been really fun to assemble. Spoiler alert- he meets his match in none other than Dolly Pardon.
When we were rehearsing for the Cash Bash, Mickey, my triad guitar player, and Mel, who joined us on drums, were saying how much they loved the music of Jerry Reed. I had seen some video of an appearance he did on the Porter Wagoner show (on youtube, of course), but I didn’t know much more about him beyond that. Then I saw a post on the Gator Rock facebook page commemorating his birthday, and decided to dig in a little deeper. So glad I did. (btw- I highly recommend Gator Rock to anyone who is into classic country, rockabilly or western swing music and history. This guy is a DJ out of Florida who is just a treasure of great information, records and and videos that he shares on FB and youtube).
Jerry Reed spent much of his childhood in foster care and orphanages (his parents split up shortly after he was born). Music was one of the things that helped him through some tough years. As a small child, he used to go around strumming a guitar and saying he was gonna be a star in Nashville, and by high school he was already playing, singing and writing songs. He made his first record, If The Good Lord’s Willin (and the creek don’t rise) in 1955 at the age of 18. He recorded some other country and rockabilly sides, but none gained any traction. Gene Vincent, who also recorded for Capitol Records, had a hit in 1958 with Jerry’s song Crazy Legs, and his career continued while he served two years in the Army, through Brenda Lee’s cover of his song That’s All You Got To Do which charted in 1960. He started doing session and touring work as soon as he returned to the states, and his 1962 recording of Goodnight Irene (with the Hully Girlies) caught the attention of Chet Atkins. Chet would go on to produce some recordings for him and they made two albums together and did many live TV appearances.
In 1967, his semi-autobiographical song Guitar Man made #53 Billboard, and caught the attention of Elvis Presley. He tells of being tracked down on a fishing trip by a guy who came to tell him Elvis wanted his recording to to sound like Jerry’s record, and no other guitarist could get that sound. Jerry went into the studio and cut Guitar Man and Big Boss Man with Elvis. Here he is several years later demonstrating his technique, the Claw, for the video camera in a friend’s house.
TV and the 70s
In the 70s, Jerry became a regular on the Glenn Campbell Music Hour and teamed up with Chet Atkins for 2 albums (yes, kids, that’s what we called them). Chet called Jerry a “Certified Guitar Player”, a title he gave to only 4 people- not sure who the other three are- and credits Jerry for helping him come up with one of his signature tunes Yackety Axe. Here are a couple live TV performances of the two of them together. Muleskinner Blues is a bluegrass standard, played here with a rockin groove by an all star band including Fabulous Superlatives (Marty Stewart’s band) drummer Harry Stinson, along with Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan (I believe) on steel and fiddle. This clip from the show “Pop Goes the Country” (which I hadn’t heard of before this foray), has a great instrumental followed by a bit of chatting and a medley with Chet, Jerry and a woman whose name is Diana Trash(?) Or something that sounds like that. She’s a good singer. It also has some classic 70s fashion. Dig those shirts. And while we are on 70s fashions, here is Jerry on his tune Lord Mr Ford, accompanied by the Hee Haw go go dancers. Srsly. She said, laughing.
80s and 90s
In the 1980, he had a number one hit with a remake of Guitar Man, produced by Felton Jarvis, who had produced the Elvis recording of the song. Following that, in 82, he had another big hit with the very clever She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft). He was in a bunch of TV shows and movies, working next to the likes of Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, and Walter Matthau. He teamed up in the 90s with Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis and Bobby Bare to form the super group Old Dogs. (Nashville is) Rough On The Living was a song penned by Shel Silverstein that made fun of the way Nashville of the 90s would go out of their way to pay tribute to the old guard stars when they died, but would not play their songs on the radio or otherwise promote them while they were living. He continued to collaborate with various artists, including this classic Raged But Right with George Jones. His acting skills are on display in this infomercial/skit about the challenge of quitting smoking, Another Puff. Very entertaining. He makes a cameo in the 70s cartoon Scooby Doo, voicing an animated version of himself. I found this gem hunting up some performances of She Got the Goldmine. He does an excellent rendering on the Dolly Parton show, but Dolly goes toe to toe with him, bringing us the female side of the story. Go girl. BTW, if anyone thinks people who speak with a southern accent are showing their lack of smarts or education, I give you this video. Dolly has been an amazing business woman in a man’s world, time, and place in history, and she’s handled it quite capably, thank you. Just sayin.
Jerry Reed passed in 2008 after a battle with emphysema. I think it is fair to say he lived a pretty full life.