(Jerry Reed died recently. The following was originally published in January 2007.)
It seems to me that there have always been actors I like to call “Mr. Smirky”. You know the kind of guy I’m talking about — they appear in a lot of movies and are very popular with their fans, but always seem to play a variation of the same character. He’s smooth, cracks wise, and always seems to be smiling, winking and fomenting an inside joke. A good example of a current Mr. Smirky would be Matthew McConaughey, who can’t seem to get through a movie without, well, smirking — usually after taking off his shirt.
Which brings me to an earlier Mr. Smirky. (Who will in turn lead to our musical subject, so be patient.) He wasn’t the first, but Burt Reynolds was probably the quintessential example of the type — winking, smiling, and cruising his way through movie after movie. It became his curse after a while because it ended up making it very difficult for him to get any serious consideration as an actor. Still, he made a lot of loot from movies such as Smokey And The Bandit and its sequels.
And that finally leads to our featured musician, a guitar virtuoso named Jerry Reed. That’s right, the guy who matched Burt smirk for smirk in lots of those movies (and who made a few of his own) was so talented a picker that he was once known as ‘The Guitar Man’.
He actually began performing in the late 1950’s, but after a stint in the service his career started to gain traction when he became a songwriter and session player in Nashville in the early 1960’s. He worked his way into a solid success, and even hooked up with guitar guru Chet Atkins, who eventually joined him on a couple of albums. Jerry’s first tune to hit the charts was appropriately enough, “Guitar Man”, which was later made even more popular by Elvis Presley, and Jerry paid tribute to the King for that by writing and recording “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”. That song too ended up breaking into the top twenty for Jerry.
The 1970’s saw Jerry’s fame explode, first with his crossover hit “Amos Moses”, followed by a regular spot on TV’s Glen Campbell Show and the issuance of his biggest hit to that time, Grammy winner “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”. It was also in this decade that he and his good friend Burt began their collaboration, and Jerry’s “East Bound and Down”, the theme from the first Smokey film, became a huge hit.
Even after the movie offers slowed down, Jerry kept recording and touring, and struck gold again in the 1980’s with the immortal “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)”, followed by “The Bird”. In the years since, Jerry has continued to perform and record, and even occasionally pops up in guest shots on TV or in movies. Meanwhile, his latest album, 2006’s Let’s Get It On, proves that The Guitar Man is still pickin’…and he’s still friends with Mr. Smirky.*
*(Jerry Reed died recently. This was originally published in 2007.)