Several weeks ago, the world lost a legendary country-fied city slicker picker who could pick a lot of slicker licks than me. Jerry Reed Hubbard, better known simply as Jerry Reed, passed away in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 31, due to complications from emphysema. He was 71.
Jerry could best be described as a guitarist's guitarist, a singer-songwriter who did well enough to get noticed by the right people. He was also the quintessential genuine country boy, the kind that the Nashville establishment is occasionally unashamed to claim for its own -- as opposed to the buff boy-toy male models they've been trotting out lately.
He got his first record deal right out of high school, and had a string of minor hits in the early 60s. Then came 1967, with his first significant hit, "Guitar Man." Elvis Presley was the guy who made something of it, but he wanted to make it sound like the original. "I was out on the Cumberland River fishing, and I got a call from Felton Jarvis (then Presley's producer). He said, 'Elvis is down here. We've been trying to cut 'Guitar Man' all day long. He wants it to sound like it sounded on your album.' I finally told him, 'Well, if you want it to sound like that, you're going have to get me in there to play guitar, because these guys (you're using in the studio) are straight pickers. I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird kind of ways.'" ("'Bandit' star Reed dies at 71", Tennessean (2008-09-02)).
Elvis was completely blown away. "I hit that intro, and [Elvis's] face lit up and here we went. Then after he got through that, he cut [my] "U.S. Male" at the same session. I was toppin' cotton, son." They recorded some of Reed's other tunes in that same session. Before long, Jerry Reed was a chart-maker in his own right, beginning with "Amos Moses" in 1970.
Reed also made a few movies, the most famous of them being all three "Smokey and the Bandit" films, the first premiering in 1977. He also appeared with Burt Reynolds in "W W and the Dixie Dancekings." But in the end, Jerry Reed was a guitar man who would rather be gone fishing when he wasn't picking guitar. His unique style is given tribute in the accompanying video clip, "Jerry's Breakdown" composed by Reed, and played by Antoine Dufour and Tommy Gauthier on a single guitar.
Pretty neat trick, actually.