Connect with us


The Enduring Legacy Of Country Music Icon Jerry Reed



Jerry Reed, Credit: Youtube

In 2008, Jerry Reed, a country music legend who rose from nothing to become one of the most prolific and famed guitar legends in American music, sadly passed away at the age of 71. His death was caused by emphysema.

Reed’s death in Tennessee marked the end of a career that could only be described as magical.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1937, the country music legend spent most of his childhood in foster homes and orphanages. Though he was born to horrid circumstance, Reed carried a fascination with the guitar his entire life.

Those who remembered Reed as a child said the young star would always have his instrument in-hand, and usually ‘strumming away.’ He was eventually reunited with his parents at the age of seven in 1944.

Reed’s talent landed him a record deal at just 18-years-old. Though he had some success in his early recording career, releasing singles Hully Gully Guitar and Goodnight Irene, he would not become a country music star until 1967.

‘Guitar Man’ Launched Jerry Reed To Stardom In 1967

Reed rose to prominence in 1967 after his signature song ‘Guitar Man’ broke into the Billboard charts.

The song, loosely based on the life of Jerry Reed, chronicles the journey of a guitar player seeking to make money for his craft, but as the song famously says, ‘runs out of money and luck.’

The distinguished acoustic guitar playing on it, as frantic as it is calculated and brilliant, still hits the ear with an unmatched quality, even today. The bear-claw type picking of the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar rings through track.

The song would reach No. 53 on the charts, and though he had bigger hits, ‘Guitar Man’ remains Reed’s signature song.

Meeting ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ Elvis Presley

Shortly after Reed rose to prominence with his song ‘Guitar Man,’ the song caught the ear of Elvis Presley, who in 1968 was planning his vaunted ’68 Comeback Special and career revival following his service in the Army.

Presley enlisted in the Army in 1959, at the height of his fame. Photos of the legend trading his signature long hair for a military buzz cut are still often circulated today.

When Presley heard Guitar Man, he knew he wanted to record the song. After acquiring the rights to record the song, Presley and his worldclass musicians ran into a major problem… Nobody could come close to Reed’s guitar playing in the song.

After several frustrating and failed sessions, Presley and his band gave up. Through their connection with Chet Atkins, another music legend, Elvis’ producer Felton Jarvis was able to track down Reed in Nashville.

Reed rushed to the RCA Nashville studios directly from a fishing trip, still dawning his fishing clothes and a three-day stubble, immediately hitting it off with Presley. After just a few takes, Elvis Presley’s Guitar Man, was complete.

The backwoods orphan simply schooled the worldclass musicians of Presley’s studio musicians.

Standing Up To Presley’s Sinister Manager Col. Tom Parker

Unbeknownst to Reed, Presley’s notoriously vicious manager Col. Tom Parker (who was never a Colonel) had set a precedent that any song that Elvis Presley recorded required ‘The King’ to own 50% of the songwriting credit.

Though he never wrote ‘Love Me Tender,’ ‘Love Me,’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ or many of the other songs he beautifully sang, Presley was listed as a co-writer on all of those songs.

Upon hearing that Presley’s manager was demanding 50% of the writing credit on ‘Guitar Man,’ Jerry Reed flat-out told Col. Tom Parker ‘no.’

“Just look over there. Elvis is sky high and loves this song,” Reed is quoted as saying. “If you’d like to walk over there and explain why it’s not going to be released, that’s your business, but I’m not going to sign that paper. Good to see ya.”

The star then exited the RCA studios. The song went on to be a massive hit for Presley, catapulting Reed into superstardom.

It should be noted that Presley eventually stopped Col. Parker from using this tactic with songwriters because he eventually became unable to find good material. Why would a songwriter give 50% of their song away to Presley when they could keep 100% with other artists?

Reed, who had just made a name for himself with his real big hit, should be commended for having the stones to stand up to Presley’s management at that time in his career. They could have easily walked away, robbing Reed of one of his marquee achievements.

Georgian Wild Child Dominates The Pop Charts In The Early 1970s

Reed’s top charting song was released in 1970. ‘Amos Moses,’ a cross-over hit that spanned the Cajun, Rock, Country, and funk genres, reached No. 8 on the Billboard American pop charts.

He won a Grammy for his performance with Chet Atkins on his 1970 album Me & Jerry, taking home the award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” Reed’s next title track, would reach No. 9 on the Billboard American pop charts.

With a few other singles making it to the Billboard Top 10 in the early 1970s, Jerry Reed was undoubtedly one of the most prolific and successful musicians of the decade. His music success would, later in the decade, be parlayed into a career on the big screen.

Jerry Reed Makes It Big On The Big Screen

In addition to being one of the most talented guitarists of his era, Jerry Reed was also an extremely successful film actor.

His first role came as ‘Wayne’ in the film W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings. During the filming of that motion picture, Reed became close friends with one of his co-stars, a rising star named Burt Reynolds.

Just two years after his film debut, Reed would appear in one of the most cherished American classic films of the era, Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit.

In his role as Cledus ‘Snowman’ Snow, Reed drove an 18-wheeler behind the fast-wheeling Reynolds in their quest to bring banned alcoholic beverages (Coors beer) from Texarkana back to Atlanta, Georgia in just 24 hours.

The pair, for the entirety of the film, is pursued by Jackie Gleason, who portrays the hilarious character ‘Buford T. Justice,’ accompanied by his nitwit son.

The film, in addition to featuring Reed in a starring role, also includes an original soundtrack that was written and performed by Reed. The sountrack includes timeless classics such as ‘The Bandit,’ and ‘The Legend,’ as well as the main theme ‘East Bound and Down.’

Smokey and the Bandit went on to gross over $127 Million on just a $4.3 Million budget. The cultural impact of the film is undeniable. For several years after the release of the film, which was followed up with several less-interesting and unfunny sequels, the car driven by Burt Reynolds character was the most-stolen vehicle in the United States.

Everybody wanted to be the Bandit in 1976.

Jerry Reed’s Frequent Appearances On Hee Haw Still Make Us Laugh

If you grew up in the 1970s, it’s most likely that at some point you tuned your television to Hee Haw, one of the most influential and popular American television series of all time. Hee Haw has endured as one of the most beloved television series in the history of the medium.

If you loved country music in the 1970s, you were glued to Hee Haw. It’s that simple. It provided a glimpse of the top country music performers of the time. Roy Clark, a castmember on the show, entranced guests with his near-magic guitar playing. Buck Owens, another Country music legend, was a castmember of the show.

Jerry Reed made frequent appearances on Hee Haw in the 1970s. The unique quality of the show allowed for the star to showcase his personality, his sense of humor, and his unbelievable music skills.

Hee Haw and Jerry Reed went together like Cherry Pie and Vanilla Ice Cream.

An American Star That Won’t Be Forgotten

Jerry Reed is remembered for being one of the moot kind-hearted, decent, and talented individuals of his generation.

It is a tremendous tragedy that we lost him at just 71.

His life is simply amazing, and the more you read about Jerry Reed, the more astounded you will be.

His music remains popular to this day, with thousands of individuals listening to Reed’s music on streaming platforms like Spotify and Youtube.

Smokey and the Bandit remains a classic film that will be viewed for generations to come. Though he may be gone, Jerry Reed will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, legend.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Hillbilly Shakespeare: The Everlasting Legacy Of Hank Williams Sr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *