Remembering The Death Of Jerry Reed, The Guitar Man Of Country Music

Jerry Reed passed away on September 1st, aged 71, due to complications resulting from his emphysema. Jerry had been feeling bad for a while. He left a legacy of singing and laughter that is unmatched.

Jerry Reed Hubbard was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 20, 1937. Elvis recorded four of his compositions. ‘Guitar Man’ and ‘U.S. Male’ were two of the songs, however, this is a small number compared to other songwriters who composed for Elvis. These were recorded right before the creative explosion brought on by the Elvis televised special. The tracks marked a departure from the soundtrack recordings in favor of higher quality, more modern music.

Jerry additionally backed Elvis on “Guitar Man” on his guitar. Several Southern musicians, including Jerry Reed, were impacted by Elvis and eventually collaborated with him. ‘Tupelo Mississippi Flash’ was a 1967 Elvis novelty tune that Reed recorded as a lighthearted ode to his idol. In the 1970s, Reed’s performing career took off. When a Southern trend made its way into Hollywood, he made money off of his rough-and-tumble good-old-boy persona. He and Burt Reynolds starred in four movies together, which included the well-known Smokey and the Bandit. He is also known for his role in the movie “The Waterboy” (1998) with Adam Sandler.

From 1967 to 1983, Mr. Reed had three dozen Top 40 country hits under his name, all of which he accompanied himself on. His clowning image was also a major component of several of the songs, such as his three No. 1 hits, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “Lord, Mr. Ford,” and “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”

In 1971, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” reached the pop Top 10 after spending five weeks at the top of the Billboard Country chart. A tribute to life on the Louisiana bayou, “Amos Moses” was Mr. Reed’s third major crossover success. It featured his “chicken-scratch” guitar playing and lyrics like “When Amos Moses was a boy his daddy would use him for alligator bait.”

Mr. Reed was nominated for a 1971 Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “Amos Moses.” He won the same award the following year with “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” For their album “Me and Jerry,” he and guitarist and producer Chet Atkins won a Grammy in 1971 for best country instrumental performance. In 1993, Mr. Reed and Atkins’ CD “Sneakin’ Around” brought them another Grammy in that category.

Mr. Reed was named the Musician of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1970 and 1971.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Reed was a highly sought-after session guitarist in Nashville. His staccato fingerpicking was featured on several songs by singer Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley’s “Guitar Man” and “U.S. Male,” both of which were written by the singer.

Jerry started playing the guitar at the age of nine. When he was just a youngster, he started going to shows in the Atlanta region and opening for artists like Ernest Tubb and Faron Young. Producer Ken Nelson of Capitol Records saw him play when he was seventeen years old and signed him to a recording contract. Despite the commercial failure of his first records, he went on to work as a staff songwriter for Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery. Rock pioneer Gene Vincent covered Reed’s “Crazy Legs” in 1958. ‘That’s All You Gotta Do’ by Reed became a Top 10 pop song for Brenda Lee.

After serving two years in the armed forces, Reed relocated to Nashville in 1962 and started working as a session pianist while writing hits like Porter Wagoner’s “Misery Loves Company,” which peaked at number one that year. He signed up with RCA Nashville in 1964, per the recommendation of label executive Chet Atkins, who was one of Reed’s greatest backers. Reed’s debut record reached the country chart on Billboard in 1967. ‘Guitar Man’ was a track that peaked at a sad No. 53, but Elvis Presley heard it and recorded it. Elvis wanted Reed to replicate the groovy guitar riff from his original recording.

Jerry claimed in a 2005 interview that he didn’t remember feeling anxious when he arrived in Nashville in September 1967 for Elvis Presley’s “Guitar Man” session.

Reed said, “I’d have been nervous if I had to do something I didn’t know how to do, Elvis had heard my album cut, and he wanted it to sound like that. His producer was an old friend of mine from Atlanta, Felton Jarvis, who said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to get Reed in here to play on it then. He’s a fingerpicker, and these guys don’t have any idea what he’s doing because he does all this weird stuff anyway. He tunes them strings weird.”

So I got in there and I turned that E-string down and that B-string up and hit that intro. I wasn’t worried about playing that’. At another session in January 1968, steel guitarist Pete Drake urged him to pitch another song to Presley.

He also added, “Pete and I knew each other in Atlanta, when I was working at a cotton mill and he was driving a Merita bread truck. ‘He said, ‘Have you got anything else?’ I said, ‘No, man. Listen, this is enough for me, believe me’. Then Elvis said, ‘Yeah, have you got any other songs?’ I said, ‘Well … uh … yeah’.”

When Reed mentioned the title, ‘U.S. Male’, Presley said, ‘Let me hear it’. ‘So I cut down on ‘U.S. Male’, and he said, ‘Let’s cut that thing’, Reed said, “It was that easy. Absolutely that easy.” The recording of “U.S. Male” came later, on January 16, 1968.

Mr. Reed started to have hits of his own in the mid-1960s after signing with RCA. Along with that, he started doing frequent appearances on the primetime TV variety shows hosted by Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash. His charming onstage persona and classic boy pranks finally brought him parts in Hollywood productions.

Mr. Reed left behind his 49-year wife, Priscilla Reed, two daughters, Sedina and Lottie, as well as two granddaughters, all of Nashville. By the middle of the 1980s, the hits had dried up, but Mr. Reed was still performing live and making TV appearances and film appearances, notably “BAT 21.” According to Mr. Baker, Mr. Reed took particular pride in his last endeavor, the CD “The Gallant Few,” which was produced to collect money for injured warriors.

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