Jerry Reed - Biography

By J Poet


Jerry Reed played up the image of the good ol’ redneck boy, especially in the Smoky and the Bandit movies he made with Burt Reynolds, but his loud, larger than life persona was part of his act. His Nashville nickname was “Guitar Man,” and he was as famous for his picking as he was for his singing and songwriting. Other players as still truing to decipher some of his lightening fast runs, so complex they sound like two or three overdubbed parts played in unison. He was a rock and country pioneer and early in his recording career he won two Grammys, one for his singing and one for his picking, and he took home another in 1992 just as the emphysema that killed him started to interfere with his career.


Reed was born in Atlanta in1937, was playing guitar by the time he was seven. His mother taught him his first chords, but the family soon splintered and he grew up in a series of foster homes. The one constant in his life was his guitar playing and by the time he was a teenager, he was playing in bands that opened for Ernest Tubb and other big stars. An Atlanta music publisher named Bill Lowery told Capital producer Ken Nelson about reed and Nelson signed him. He made a series of unsuccessful rockabilly sides for Capital between 1955 and 1958 and wrote songs for Lowery’s publishing company. The first song he got recorded was “Crazy Legs” which Gene Vincent cut in 1958. He made a few singles Lowery after Capitol dropped him, then got disillusioned with show biz, and joined the Army.


He played in an Army country band and when Brenda Lee put “That's All You Gotta Do” on the B-side of her million seller “I’m Sorry,” his prospects brightened. His next hit credit was “Misery Loves Company” a #1 hit for Porter Wagoner in 1962. In 1963 he moved to Nashville. After Chet Atkins cut “Scarecrow,” he signed Reed to RCA and produced his first album The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed (1967 RCA.) The first single, “Guitar Man,’ was a minor hit, but when Elvis Presley heard it, he wanted to cover it and hired Reed to play on the session when he cut it. He also cut Reed’s “US Male.”


Reed’s stage shows were uncontained celebrations driven by his big booming voice and personality and his jaw dropping guitar technique. When he wasn’t on the road he was in the studio playing sessions and making albums like Alabama Wild Man (1968 RCA), a mélange of pop, country and fancy picking that included a country version of the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” Nashville Underground (1968 RCA), Jerry Reed Explores Guitar Country (1968 RCA) produced by Chet Atkins and featuring Reed’s country jazz sound, Cookin’ (1970 RCA), Georgia Sunshine (1971 RCA) with his first major hit “Amos Moses,” and Ko-Ko Joe (1971 RCA).


In 1971 Reed became a regular on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which didn’t hurt his album sales, and won his first Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance for his guitar work on the title track of Me & Jerry (1971 RCA) an instrumental showcase featuring Chet Atkins. He closed the year with the best selling album When You're Hot You're Hot (1971 RCA); the title track was his first #1 hit and won a best Country Vocal Performance Grammy.


For the next ten years were Reed stayed hot. His hit records included Jerry Reed (1972 RCA), Me & Chet (1972 RCA) his second outing with Atkins this time showing off their country pickin',  Smell the Flowers (1972 RCA), Hot A' Mighty (1973 RCA) a country soul hybrid with smoking guitar work and the hit “You Took the Ramblin’ Out of Me”, Lord, Mr. Ford (1973 RCA) with the #1 title track, Half Singin’ & Half Pickin’ (1974 RCA), Mind Your Love (1975 RCA), Hot Picker (1975 RCA), Both Barrels (1976 RCA), and Smokey & the Bandit (1977  MCA) the movie soundtrack with the hit “East Bound and Down.” Reed was making movies in the 70s with his pal Burt Reynolds, the most successful being Dixie Dancekings (1975), Gator (1976) and the legendary Smokey and the Bandit (1977). He also played sessions with Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, Ian & Sylvia, Joan Baez, Ringo Starr, and Johnny Cash who had a #2 hit with Reed’s “A Thing Called Love.”


Reed’s most commercial decade came to an end with Reedology (1978 RCA), Jerry Reed Sings Jim Croce (1980 RCA), Texas Bound and Flyin’ (1980 RCA), Dixie Dreams (1981 RCA), The Bird (1982 RCA), which included his last #1 hit “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft),” The Man with the Golden Thumb (1982 RCA), and Ready (1983 RCA). After RCA dropped him, Reed concentrated on touring, but returned to the studio in 1992 for Sneakin’ Around (1992 Columbia) an instrumental session with his pal and mentor Chet Atkins. He title track won another Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy for the duo.


In the mid 90s his emphysema started to interfere with his career and he cut back on touring. He made one last live album, a greatest hits concert he ironically titled Jerry Reed Live, Still! (2005 R2K) for his own indie label, before he passed away in 2008.


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