Jerry Reed was a good old boy from Atlanta, Georgia, who just happened to be a great guitar player, singer, and songwriter. He also acted and many people today probably remember him more for the character of Cledus in the Smokey and the Bandit movies which still show up regularly on cable TV. But he also left a great musical legacy, especially with his storytelling songs like “Amos Moses” and “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.”
Now, Real Gone Music has done all roots music fans a favor and released a CD of Reed’s first two albums, The Unbelievable Voice & Guitar of Jerry Reed and Nashville Underground, neither of which have been available on CD before.
When Reed lets his roots show, the music takes fire. From The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed come the original versions of “Guitar Man” and “U.S. Male,” later covered by Elvis Presley, the bluesy “Woman Shy,” “Take A Walk,” and “Love Man,” and the instrumental “The Claw,”
Nashville Underground begins to ignite with the blues ballad “Almost Crazy,” gets a little hotter with the swingy “Fine in My Mind.” and then ignites with “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” which is just as funny now as it was back then. It tells the story of an agent who lets a major star from Tupelo, Mississippi, slip through his fingers and ends up driving the bus. Reed’s line, “Tupelo, Mississippi? Who ever heard of that?” is a sly dig at his friend Elvis.
The next three songs keep the fire burning, with a great version of Roy Acuff’s classic William Kindt cover, “Wabash Cannonball,” a tremendous rendition of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” with some hot guitar by Reed, and a rousing closing version of the traditional folk song, “John Henry.”
Not all the songs on these two albums worked. Chet Atkins mentored Reed, and he had him experiment with singing slow, smooth ballads that were more pop than country, and which today sound dated. That type of material never suited Reed’s style and personality, so songs like “I Feel For You,” “You’re Young,” and all of the ballads on Nashville Underground are completely uninspired and forgettable.
But the strong rockabilly and roots material here so far outweighs these unfortunate experiments that the CD will be a treasure for any Reed fan, as well as those roots, country and Americana fans who may need an introduction to this great artist. Pick it up, listen, and then start building a collection of Reed’s great later work!