Jerry Reed, 71, a Grammy Award-winning country guitarist, singer and songwriter who played a mischievous, good old boy sidekick to Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit” and other movies, died Sept. 1 at his home in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood. He had emphysema.
Mr. Reed’s well known Georgia baritone drawl and relaxed manner in film and television roles brought his favorable presence to a wide audience (including myself), notably as trucker Cledus “Snowman” Snow in “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) and its two sequels.
But it was in country music where Mr. Reed thrived as a major, innovative artist from the late 1960s to early ’80s. Besides ” East Bound and Down,” the theme song for “Smokey and the Bandit,” his hit songs included the propulsive ” Guitar Man,” the Cajun-inspired funky novelty tune ” Amos Moses” and the tender ” A Thing Called Love.” Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Porter Wagoner were among those to cover his best-known pieces. It seems as though most folks new him either as an actor or a musician, not as both actor and musician.
Mr. Reed was a dynamic performer who had distinguished himself as a session guitarist supporting Presley, Waylon Jennings and others before emerging as a major solo talent. He was most remembered for using an intricate guitar-picking style known as the “claw” because it used the entire right hand where earlier guitar giants such as Chet Atkins and Merle Travis favored a two or three-fingered approach.
Besides being the title of a song he wrote, the claw was a development that was essential to the wild, untamed and extremely complex country music that followed Atkins and Travis.
Jerry Reed Hubbard, the son of cotton mill workers, was born in Atlanta on March 20, 1937. After his parents divorced, he spent his early childhood in orphanages and foster homes.
He showed his early love for music by using a hairbrush as a rhythm guitar to accompany the “Grand Ole Opry” radio program. His mother, who had remarried, bought her son a cheap guitar and he showed immediate skill, albeit with unorthodox fingering methods.
However, rocker Gene Vincent covered Mr. Reed’s song “Crazy Legs” in 1958, and Brenda Lee’s version of Mr. Reed’s “That’s All You Gotta Do” appeared on the flip side of her 1960 hit “I’m Sorry.” Wagoner also had a No.1 country hit with Mr. Reed’s “Misery Loves Company” in 1962.
After brief Army service, in which he played in a country band, Mr. Reed settled in Nashville and was a session and tour guitarist for Wagoner and Bobby Bare, among others. His own career as a solo artist had deteriorated until Atkins, who headed the Nashville unit at RCA Records, urged Mr. Reed to leave his record label, Columbia, for RCA.
It’s hard to imagine the variety of talents Jerry Reed displayed. He had it all, GPC loved him both as an actor and guitar player. Check him out as a musician on you tube, if his guitar skills don’t blow your mind, I want to know about it. What is your vibe on Jerry Reed? What do you remember him for the most? RIP. Enjoy