When it comes to pure talent across the pine board, few stack up to Jerry Reed. His guitar skills? Exquisite. His lyrics? Infinitely quotable. His acting ability? Compelling as all get out. Whether you grew up with “The Alabama Wild Man” or “The Snowman”, Reed is one of the most iconic voices and guitarists of the 20th Century, and today, we celebrate his birthday with a jubilee of Jerry’s finest!
1. “When I Found You” (1956)
Jerry Reed Hubbard was born on March 20th, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia. Signed to Capitol Records in 1955 as the latest and greatest “Teen-Age Sensation”, this T-Bone-y belter offers a glimpse at what was waitin’ round the bend.
2. “This Can’t Be Happening To Me” (1958)
Reed signed with the short-lived Atlanta-based National Recording Corporation in 1958. Oddly marketed as Johnny Cash knock-off, Jerry nevertheless cut some stellar sessions alongside fellow NRC’rs & future legends Joe South and Ray Stevens, as well as the near-mythical Esquerita. This bopper leans a little closer to the Reed we remember ’round the supper table.
3. “Hully Gully Guitar” (1962)
If there’s a transitional moment for Jerry Reed as an artist, then his cup o’ coffee at Columbia Records marks it. Reed’s swampy, Georgia hillbilly funk peeks over the fence with big ol’ eyes on this ’62 instrumental, and when he signed with RCA a few years later, it was as a fully formed hairy-legged…
4. “Guitar Man” (1967)
Included on this list as much for its mention of Macon, GA as for its iconic stature in American music, the tale of a six-string picker made good landed at #53 on the Country chart for Reed in 1967– and at #1 for Elvis Presley. Though the King had a veritable who’s who of Nashville A-Teamers in the studio for his version of “Guitar Man” (Charlie McCoy, Harold Bradley, Bob Moore, Floyd Cramer), legend has it the tune just wouldn’t come together until Reed was called in to set things straight, son.
5. “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” (1968)
Speakin’ o’ Elvis, this light-hearted poke at the King (“Son, my name is Beauregard Rippy, I come to you from Tupelo, Mississippi) is solid gold Jerry Reed, and nails every hallmark of his best and future best work. As far as storytellers in country music (or any kind of music), maybe only Tom T. Hall sits higher up on the porch. Maybe.
6. “Stump Water”, with Chet Atkins (1970)
Google Jerry Reed and one of the first things you might read is, “Was Jerry Reed a good guitar player?” Well, son, I submit that the Country Gentleman and diamond standard Chet Atkins labeled Reed a “Certified Guitar Player”. Together, Reed and Atkins were a dynamite duo to behold, and I highly recommend goin’ down the YouTube rabbit hole for some LIVE performances from two of planet Earth’s best tradin’ licks and hits.
7. “The Preacher And The Bear” (1970)
Reed always sounded like he was havin’ a party in the studio, and this howler from 1970’s Georgia Sunshine is a Kodiak-sized throwdown! Like so many of Jerry’s songs, there’s no actual end, just a fade out, and my imagination has rambled far and wide considering the leads and lines that remain lost.
8. “Framed” (1971)
If timing is everything, then Jerry Reed is everything. From putting just the right word in just the right place to wielding the perfect inflection, his combo of acrobatic guitar and charm was levels above everyone.
9. “The Uptown Poker Club” (1973)
Reed is beautifully unhinged on this “Uptown” ’73 retooling of Bert Williams’s 1914 “Dark Town Poker Club”. Razor-flashin’, spit-flyin’ and barely stoppin’ to count the cash or take a breath, this whole album is an often surreal gem in Jerry’s catalog and worth every penny if you run across a decent copy on vinyl.
10. “Gator” (1976)
Jerry Reed succumbed to emphysema on September 1st, 2008, and though he was a one-of-a-kind guitarist and songwriter, without a doubt, the first image his name conjures to mind is the gear jammin’, basset-hounded, Coors-smugglin’ Cledus “Snowman” Snow from 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit. But before Jerry teamed up with Bandit Burt Reynolds to confound Texas county mountie Buford T. Justice, the two appeared opposite each other in Gator (1976), the cult classic sequel to ’73’s White Lightning with Reed inhabiting redneck gangster extraordinaire Bama McCall to sleazy, backstabbin’ perfection. To this commentator, White Lightning is by far the superior film– but it didn’t have this lowdown, greasy theme song. Everythang’s okey-dokey in the Okefenokee, son.