A rascally presence in music and film for over four decades, Jerry Reed was a highly respected guitarist and songwriter who parlayed a string of humorous country-pop singles in the 1970s into a successful second career as an actor in films like "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977). A gifted guitarist who employed the fingerpicked playing style of technical wizards like Merle Travis, Reed began recording as a teenager in the 1950s before hitting his stride as a songwriter the following decade with songs like "Guitar Man" and "A Thing Called Love," which became hits for Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, respectively. Reed's own singing career took off in 1970 with "Amos Moses," a humorous tall tale that hinged on his wry, cracker-barrel delivery; the chart-topping "When You're Hot, You're Hot" soon followed, as did supporting turns opposite Burt Reynolds in "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" (1974), "Gator" (1976) and the hugely popular "Smokey" films. Reed's acting and music careers slowed in the 1980s, during which he concentrated on touring, though he would win a Grammy in 1998 for a collaboration with fellow guitar wizard Chet Atkins, as well as co-star with Adam Sandler in "The Waterboy" (1998) before his death in 2008. Celebrated for his humor, songwriting and guitar skills, Reed was a much-loved entertainment figure whose best efforts brought considerable joy to audiences.
Born Jerry Reed Hubbard in Atlanta, GA on March 20, 1937, Jerry Reed was the second of two children by Robert and Cynthia Hubbard. His parents separated when he was four years old, which consigned him and his sister to a series of foster homes and orphanages until he was reunited with his mother in 1944. The guitar provided solace to Reed during this period, and it would later give him a ticket to a better life. He began writing songs as a teenager, and parlayed his talents in nightclubs and bars around Atlanta. Reed eventually quit high school to tour with country legends Ernest Tubb and Faron Young, after which top country music disc jockey Bill Lowery brokered a recording contract for the 17-year-old Reed with Capitol Records following an audition at Lowery's station, WGST. His first record, "If the Good Lord's Willing and the Creeks Don't Rise," was waxed just a year later. Reed's tenure at Capitol was largely overlooked until rockabilly star Gene Vincent covered his song "Crazy Legs" in 1958. The success of the single boosted his profile considerably, and Reed was soon signed to Bill Lowery's National Recording Corporation, a combination pressing plant/distribution house/recording studio, where he logged time as both an artist and a member of the house band.
Reed finally generated some interest in his own recording career with "Soldier's Joy" (1959) shortly before serving a two-year stint in the Army. During this period, his music remained on the public's radar, thanks to Brenda Lee's cover of his "That's All You Got to Do" in 1960. When he completed his service, Reed's intricate fingerpicked guitar earned him steady work as a session and touring player before scoring a pair of modest hits in 1962 with "Goodnight Irene" and "Hully Gully Guitar." The records caught the attention of Chet Atkins, who produced Reed's 1965 single "If I Don't Live Up to It." Two years later, Reed finally scored his first substantial country chart hit with "Guitar Man" (1967), which spurred a cover by Elvis Presley that featured Reed on guitar. Reed later paid tribute to Presley by recording "Tupelo Mississippi Flash," which became his first Top 20 hit in 1967. Presley would later cover several additional Reed compositions, including "U.S. Male" and "A Thing Called Love" in 1971, which was quickly followed by a Johnny Cash version that shot to No. 2 on the Billboard country charts.
In 1970, Reed broke into the mainstream with "Amos Moses," a broadly comic country-funk hybrid with a decided Louisiana flavor that became his first crossover hit, reaching No. 8 on the pop charts. He soon followed this with Me and Jerry (1970), a tour de force collaboration with Chet Atkins that found the pair covering pop, rock and country tunes. By this point, Reed was a popular guest on television talk and variety shows, charming audiences with his toothsome grin and cornpone humor. He joined the cast of "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" (CBS, 1969-1971) in its third season shortly before releasing his signature hit, "When You're Hot, You're Hot." The title track for his first solo album, released that same year, the song, which featured Reed drawling through a series of absurdly ironic scenarios, topped the country charts while delivering his second Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. A second No. 1 country hit, ""Lord, Mr. Ford," was released in 1972 amidst a slew of Top 40 singles on both the country and pop charts.
Reed made his film acting debut opposite longtime friend Burt Reynolds in "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" (1974). He soon settled into a string of co-starring roles with Reynolds, largely as garrulous sidekicks, though he made a convincing villain in "Gator" (1976), the sequel to Reynolds' action thriller "White Lightning" (1973). The best-known and most successful of their screen collaborations was fan favorite "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977), which featured Reynolds and Reed as good ole' boys hauling illegal liquor shipments across Southern state lines, with Jackie Gleason as an hilariously ill-tempered sheriff in pursuit. Reed also scored a No. 2 hit with "East Bound and Down" from the film's soundtrack, which preceded a healthy string of Top 20 country hits between 1977 and 1979, including "I Love You (What Can I Say)" and "Gimmie Back My Blues." Acting, however, soon became his main showcase in the 1970 and 1980s, though with increasingly diminished returns; efforts as a leading man, including "Concrete Cowboys" (1979) and the comedy "Hot Stuff" (1979), were only modestly successful, and he was soon back at Reynolds' side for "Smokey and the Bandit II" (1980) before taking over as the Bandit for the ill-advised "Smokey and the Bandit III" (1983).
Reed earned his final No. 1 country single with 1982's "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)," a wry comic take on divorce, which was followed by "The Bird," a shaggy dog story that reached No. 2. Subsequent albums, however, failed to generate any chart placement, and his debut as director on the 1985 feature "What Comes Around" was largely ignored by audiences. Reed would then focus on concert tours for much of the 1980s before reuniting with Chet Atkins for the album Sneakin' Around (1992), which scored a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. His film career ended on a positive note with a supporting turn as a tough college football coach in the hit Adam Sandler vehicle "The Waterboy" (1998). Reed would then team with fellow country veterans Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis and Bobby Bare as the Old Dogs, which released a self-title album comprised entirely of songs penned by Shel Silverstein. He would continue to record for a variety of independent labels, including his own, R2K, which released his final album, The Gallant Few (2008), which benefited charities for wounded veterans. On September 1 of that same year, Reed would succumb to complications from emphysema, spurring tributes to his talents from both the acting and music worlds.
By Paul Gaita
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
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Music (Feature Film)
Art Department (TV Mini-Series)
Lowery signed Reed to his National Recording Corporation and he recorded for NRC as both artist and as a member of the staff band
Moved to Nashville to continue his songwriting career
Wrote and recorded first hit "Guitar Man," which was covered by Elvis Presley
Released his best known single and crossover hit, "Amos Moses"; earned a Grammy nomination for best male country vocal performance
Teamed with Chet Atkins for the duet album, Me & Jerry
Regular on the CBS variety show, "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour"
Released first solo album, When You're Hot, You're Hot; was also the title of his biggest hit single on the album
Featured in an episode of Hanna-Barbera's animated series, "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" (CBS), also performed the song "Pretty Mary Sunlite" in the episode
Made film debut opposite close friend Burt Reynolds in "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings"
Again appeared opposite Reynolds in "Gator"; also directed by Reynolds
Wrote "East Bound and Down," the theme song to the film "Smokey and the Bandit" starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field; also featured in the film as Cledus `Snowman¿ Snow
Acted in "Hot Stuff," starring and directed by Dom DeLuise
Reprised role of `Snowman¿ for the sequel, "Smokey and the Bandit II"
Released the hit single, "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)"
Once again cast as `Snowman¿ in "Smokey and the Bandit Part III"
Co-starred with Robin Williams and Walter Matthau in the comedy, "The Survivors"
Acted opposite Danny Glover and Gene Hackman in "Bat*21"; also executive produced
Re-teamed with Atkins for the album, Sneakin' Around
Portrayed the head coach for the Cougars football team in the Adam Sandler film, "The Waterboy"
Teamed with country superstars Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, and Bobby Bare to form the group Old Dogs; also released a self titled album
Final album released, The Gallant Few about wounded war veterans