That was Jerry Reed. Rail-thin doesn’t begin to describe Jerry Reed, and I got to see him up close. But, boy, could he play a guitar and entertain a crowd.
When I stood backstage at his show in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on April Fool’s night in 1979, he was about the hottest thing going. Reed still was riding a wave of popularity from his co-starring role as truck driver Cledus Snow in “Smokey and the Bandit” almost two years earlier.
Reed was the headliner, of course. Until I pulled out the story I wrote for the Eau Claire paper back then, I’d forgotten that I also saw a local band called Blue Roan, then Dave Dudley and Gail Davies that Sunday night. God, how could I forget seeing Dave Dudley and hearing him sing “Six Days On The Road?”
Probably because the impression made by watching Reed backstage and on stage has pushed all those other memories from my head.
Everyone knows the amiable, loosey-goosey Reed. I saw a more serious, more intense Reed backstage. The man was all business. A couple of members of Blue Roan hedged at first, then walked up to Reed and shook his hand. He was gracious, but clearly focused on his preparation for the show. I sure as hell wasn’t going to interrupt him. So I just watched from about 25 feet away.
As he walked out on the stage at Memorial High School, fans with flash cameras rushed to the front and blasted away. Another memory seared into my head.
“Ah’m blinder’n a bat now,” Reed said.
“It’s too late to fire me,” he proclaimed. “We’ah ugly, an’ we’ah loud.”
Surveying the crowd, he asked: “Any Baptists out there?” Silence. “Any rednecks out there?” The place exploded, and Reed — whom I then described as “the lean, scraggly-bearded Reed” — tore into his show.
We heard ’em all that night — “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “Amos Moses” and even a cover of “El Paso” with veteran session guitarist Grady Martin.
Jerry Reed was 71 when he died Sunday at his home near Nashville. The local paper, The Tennessean, has a fine appreciation of his life and work by Peter Cooper, including some mp3 samples.
In it, an aging, ailing Reed is quoted as saying “We’re temporary, son, like a wisp of smoke.”
Cooper writes: “The sound he got out of his guitar in the years between 1967 and 1983 is an influence that is more than temporary, more than a wisp of smoke.”
This song was my introduction to Jerry Reed. That country-funk guitar got me.
“Amos Moses,” Jerry Reed, 1970.
Widely available on CD, including on “The Essential Jerry Reed,” a 1995 CD compilation with 20 cuts, or “Guitar Man,” an import CD from 1997 with 22 cuts, or “Super Hits: Jerry Reed,” a 1997 CD compilation with 10 cuts.