Join Stuart Ryan to embrace an amazing songwriter, fine singer, and stupendous country guitar picker, the unbearably gifted Jerry Reed.
Following on from last month and carrying on our examination of the great Nashville style guitarists, in this issue we are looking at ‘The Alabama Wild Man’, Jerry Reed. A friend and regular co-writer with Chet Atkins, Reed is a legend in the world of fingerpickers. His signature funky style is probably best described as ‘musical gumbo’ – drawing from country, blues, jazz and so much more. Everything he played was infectious and driven by an unbelievable groove.
Jerry Reed was born in Atlanta, Georgia on March 20th, 1937. He took up guitar as a child and by 19 was a professional musician and songwriter – one of his first successes came in 1958 when rockabilly legend Gene Vincent covered his track Crazy Legs. A move to Nashville in 1961 saw his career develop further and he became popular as both a songwriter and session musician in the country world – one of his most incredible moments came in 1967 when Elvis Presley tracked him down to record guitar on his cover of Jerry’s Guitar Man. Reed recorded on several more Elvis albums and just when you think it can’t get any better Johnny Cash recorded a cover of Jerry’s song, A Thing Called Love in 1971.
Reed rightly has an incredible reputation as a guitarist but it’s important to remember his songwriting heritage as this helps to explain why his instrumental guitar work is so melodic and hook based. Many guitarists have written instrumental music that is virtuosic in delivery but Reed stands apart from them as he was always writing ‘songs’ even of there weren’t vocals and lyrics. His melodic approach is a great lesson for us all to take something from.
In the 1970s he began to work more with fellow legend Chet Atkins and his instrumental guitar work came to the fore. Their duo album Me & Chet is essential listening for any fingerstyle player. By now you may be thinking you are somehow familiar with Reed beyond his music, and indeed you are: in the late ‘70s he starred alongside Burt Reynolds in the classic Smokey And The Bandit movie series (naturally he contributed to the soundtrack too). So, whether you’re a fan of his music or movies it can’t be denied that Jerry Reed was one of the great fingerpickers. Last time I looked at Reed in Guitar Techniques I focused on his ‘Jerry’s Breakdown’ style, so in this issue we’ll see how he created quirky sounding chord parts - with obligatory banjo rolls thrown in!
NEXT MONTH Stuart looks at the acoustic side of electric country virtuoso, Brad Paisley
One of his incredible moments came in 1967 when elvis tracked him down to play on his cover of guitar man
Jerry Reed picking his preferred nylon-string
Jerry Reed often played nylon-string guitars (on his own and on Elvis’s cover of Guitar Man). Most commonly it was his Baldwin Model 801 electro-classical - not a high-end instrument by any means. He also played a Gretsch Chet Atkins and later on master luthier Kirk Sand built him a nylon classical. I recorded this month’s column on a 1959 Martin 000-18.