Interviews met Jerry
A Conversation with Jerry Reed by Frank Goodman (Puremusic.com, 7/2005)
Interview met CMA Closeup News Service
Interview met CountryWeekly.com
Interview met Nashville Musician
Interview met People Magazine (15-10-1979)
Interview met Swampland (September, 2005)
Interviews over Jerry
Jerry Reed is Heaven Bound
By Pierre O’Rourke
Two things worth taking the time to pick, are your friends and your guitar. Jerry Reed began picking on the guitar as a small child and it helped him survive seven years in orphanages and foster homes. As for friends, he made them all his life. He was so blamed likeable that he could have it no other way. I am blessed to have met and befriended many of my heroes. Jerry was a wonderful, good person, who treated me well. He said, “People are to be treated as gifted treasures,” as was Jerry and is Prissy.While I haven’t looked forward to writing this tribute, I am honored by the responsibility, and the gift.
Jerry caught my young ear in the mid-60’s when I heard “Guitar Man” and “Amos Moses.” Then with the film release of Gator where he plays one of the best bad guys I ever saw, I became a life-long fan. Never dreamed I’d have the honor of even meeting him. Guess I double-dipped by getting to know Prissy too.
In 1986, Jerry hired me to assist with his media appearances in Arizona to promote What Comes Around, the first movie he produced and directed. When I asked how he felt taking a hand at directing he said, “I use insurance, son. I put the best cameraman on my left, and the best director on my right. Then they smack me if I go to break the 360-degree rule.”
Although the film is influenced by comedy, check it out for a couple of heart-wrenching scenes in which Jerry portrays a super star addicted to heroine and booze, but forced through detox in a remote cabin by his brother who was played by Bo Hopkins. In real life, they’d spotted each other at one of Jerry’s concerts and discovered fans would mistake Bo for Jerry, commending him on his songs until Bo would politely explain that he wasn’t “that guitar guy” from Smokey & The Bandit.
While Prissy, Jerry’s wife and soul mate of almost 50 years, hinted the last few times we talked that the emphysema was gaining on our good ole boy, I was no more ready then, than when I got the news…bringing me to writing this tribute. Again, I fell for the fallacy of there always being enough time and I reflect back over the twenty-some years since meeting him.
At one point, seeing Jerry Reed as one of the living legends and multi-talented people who deserved more recognition, Prissy helped me with an idea to pen a musical tribute and roast. I’d hoped Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck would emcee. Lordy, that was over fifteen years ago. Jerry side-kicked to both Burt and Tom. “You see, back in 1979, Thomas and me did this here TV movie as a series opener called, Concrete Cowboys. Later it got called Ramblin’ Man, but whilst them network knot heads twiddled their thumbs, Thomas got talked into this part as some beach detective. Well, we figured it might be good for a few episodes run so I’d do a few concerts and make a couple albums and we’d start the series the next year. That there year lasted until 1989 – but I’m happy for the boy. But he coulda given me a Ferrari though, to park by my black Trans AM Burt gave me.”
About ten years ago, although not a supporter of sequels, I’d inked a revival for Smokey and the Bandit with a strong message against drugs which interested Carroll O’Connor, who had had recently lost his son Hugh to drugs. He liked the idea of portraying the brother of the late ‘Sheriff Buford T. Justice’ and had practice as a red-neck sheriff from his hit series, In The Heat of the Night. I envisioned Toby Keith with the CB-handle of ‘Abominable,’ playing the son of ‘Cledus Snow.’ When her trucker brother is framed and incarcerated in a Mexican prison, I saw hoped for Lari White in the role as ‘Snow Baby,’ the daughter of ‘The Snowman. It would be up to her to roust Burt as ‘The Bandit’ out of retirement. I had met Lari years earlier when she opened Jerry’s concerts. Some may recognize her as the mysterious artist in the conclusion of Tom Hank’s Cast Away. “Son, she is easy on the eyes I admit, but more than that – that lil’ gal has talent. So when she makes it big, she can say ole Jerry (Reed) had faith in me!” Then that lovable cackle.
And as I keep looking back, still in a file folder sits the western script I wrote for Hugh O’Brian, in which Jerry wanted to play one of the bad guys. We sat on his tour bus and he spoke ever so low, forcing me to lean across the table as if in an audition. “You speak slow and low, son. Get the man to come in real close. And ya’ look him straight in the eye. Then ever so lightly…..you slap him, right across the jaw.” And that he did. Not hard, but sure convinced me.
Not like Jerry needed more things to his credit. That is, if someone didn’t recognize his name, he left his fingerprints on enough things to still be recognized. Just mention any number of songs such as “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “ The Bird,” “Ko-Ko Joe,” “East Bound & Down,” or characters in movies like ‘Cledus Snow’ in The Bandit flicks or the mean-spirited Cougars’ coach in The Waterboy. Over 40 albums, over 70 singles, 12 films, and a few rooms full of awards. But still, I feel like I let him down.
Years ago, Dolores Tropiano had a cable show where I made my screen debut and also placed Jerry as a guest. He wore this cool tan leather jacket I threatened to swipe. An added appeal was that Elvis, who recorded some of Jerry’s hits, had given it to him as a gift for playing lead guitar on his albums.Folks stopped Jerry to rave on “his” performance in the TV series Dynasty. Ole Jerry thanked them, signed Bo’s name, and cackled. By the time I shipped him back to Prissy in Tennessee, my sides were aching.
After half-day of media appearances, Jerry drawled, “I think it’s time to stuff some groceries down our neck.” We hit El Charro where he smiled to the waitress, “Lemme have a piece of dead cow.” Now my friends will know where I coined those phrases. He was so blamed down to earth. When he dropped his knife and someone rushed to replace it, he said, “What’s that for?” Dontcha clean your floors?” And he wiped it on the napkin with a wink to the bus boy. Later when the young waitress made eyes, he handled it diplomatically. “Well thank you, darlin’ but I have a good woman’s love. Have you met my pro-toe-jay?This here’s Mista Pierre Amos Moses O’Rourke. He’s like a salad dressin’ for the U-knighted-nay-shuns!” In all fairness, after I excused myself to “tap a kidney,” I hear he later swiped my line.
Next stop was at TV-12 where Jerry had the GM, Pep Cooney, laughing until he had tears in his eyes. When some local news delayed us, Jerry found an old Reader’s Digest which he perused in the restroom. Emerging he asked, “So tell me, Mista Pierre . . . is it proper pro-toll-call, just to tear out this h’year art-teal-cle (drawing out the syllables with an accent on the first syllables) or betta yet, we just stuff their mag-o-zeen down your jeans? Hold onta this son.” He stuffed it in as he stood straight and strutted with a grin. “I think I found ole Jerry a moo-vay!”
What he’d found was the true story of Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, retired ironically to Sun City. He’d been a high level desk jockey shot down in Viet Nam behind enemy lines, and had to play a deadly mental game of golf to find his way out. Two years after swiping that magazine, Bat 21 starred Gene Hackman and Danny Glover, with Jerry as the commander of the helicopter pilots.
Jerry was fascinated by people, even more so, in what they did for a living. He asked questions. He listened to what folks said. He had read my first manuscript and in the evening’s meal, at a place I won’t mention, he gave me honest critiques and urged me to, “Go for it son. You be toppin’ cotton in no time!”Later on, a waiter spotted Jerry and slipped, breaking a huge stack of dishes. Jerry tilted his head following silence, breaking the embarrassment with, “It’s okay son. I broke alotta dishes before I broke any records.” As we left, he asked to see the manager and quietly handed him several bills, placing one hand on his shoulder. “I expect that fine boy to still be here next week. I’ll be a checkin’ in with my pro-toe-jay here.”
On my first trip to Tennessee, Jerry told me to call his office – and Nashville opened up for me.Thanks to him, I was the most musically inept person to walk the floor- boards of the Grand Ole Opry.Then I was directed to introduce myself to legendary Jimmy Dickens to have him show me around.Introduced later to Roy Acuff, Mr. Acuff pulled on his suspenders with, “So you’re a friend of Jerry’s? Well shooooot. Sit down and play me some checkers.” He placed his violin on my lap, leaving me as nervous as the time Willie Nelson entrusted his weatherworn guitar to me. Jerry was ever supportive with, “Careful.Don’t break it, son. That thar’s a museum piece!”
Introduced to Jerry’s mentor, Chet Atkins, the guitar guru swung his arm around me and winked, “Let’s get you backstage. Jerry’s friends don’t travel all the way from Arizona to sit in the audience.” I still have one of the guitar picks he gave me after his set. It was several years later when Chet’s office called to invite me to an outdoor concert on the east lawn of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.
Author John Lescroart blessed me with a guitar one year, and I had mentioned it to Jerry as Jerry liked John’s books. “It’s ‘bout time you finally got yerself a gee-tar. She’s your friend when no one else is there.She’ll listen to you with no judgments. And if you listen close and you’re fair with her, she’ll talk back.” In the same breath he added, “Now, we need to find you a ‘Priscilla.’ Then son, you will be all set!” I once asked what he used for inspiration on his songs, the ones that pulled at the heart strings. He flashed that disarming smile and gleamed. “Prissy, though she still may not know it or realize it. Always her.” He had me convinced. That’s the kinda love and marriage I want.
Jerry’s last project was one of love, as was all his fine work, but this last one was one he faced and won, a personal war to see it to completion. It is a CD album entitled, “The Gallant Few” and contains 10 incredible songs. Jerry explained, “This CD was produced to raise funds for our wounded veterans, who went in harms way willing to sacrifice their very lives for our freedom. Your purchase of this CD will go directly into a non-profit fund, THE GALLANT FEW, to help with their many needs.” You can click on www.thegallantfew.com to get your copy.
I cannot help but think of Jerry Reed and smile. More than that, I feel good and warm inside – hearing him cackle that unmistakable laugh. I loved I could make him laugh. Proud he liked my stories. My columns and tributes. I hated it being time to write this one, so I hope he likes it. With that, this is your pro-toe-jay – and I am Arizona bound and down.
Pierre O’Rourke assists publicists with their client when in Arizona, is still pickin’ on his guitar, and was a friend of the legendary, Jerry Reed.
Tribute: Jerry Reed
When people talk about underrated guitarists, the name Jerry Reed often doesn’t even come up. That’s how underrated Jerry Reed is. More often viewed as an actor, singer, or variety show regular, Reed possessed mindboggling guitar technique that incorporated intricate fingerpicking, gorgeous cascading harp-style runs, and an infectious, funky sense of rhythm and humor. He got his start as a songwriter, penning “Crazy Legs” (which would be covered by Gene Vincent and later inspire an album of the same name by Jeff Beck) and “Guitar Man,” which caught the ear of Elvis Presley. By the mid ’60s, Mr. Guitar himself, Chet Atkins, had taken note of Reed’s amazing fingerstyle prowess and began producing and collaborating with Reed, most notably on the albums Me & Jerry and Me & Chet. Reed told GP in his March 1971 cover feature what it was like to record with his hero for the first time.
“It was a rare treat for me to do that one,” he said. “Whether it sells or not, I couldn’t care less. I’ve got a record at home with me and Chet, and that’s all that matters. It’s a milestone for me.”
In that same GP story, Reed spoke of his humble beginnings, playing a “nothin’ guitar” with “nickels and dimes, I didn’t have any guitar picks.” Fascinated by the guitar work of Atkins, Merle Travis, Les Paul, and Johnny Smith, Reed more than paid his dues in the woodshed to develop his stunning chops.
“You’ve gotta love guitar,” he said. “Love sitting down with it 18, 20 hours a day. I did it and I don’t regret a minute of it. I lived with that instrument day and night for 25 years. That’s what it takes to get better.”
Reed would often work his hybrid-picking magic on a Baldwin nylon-string acoustic, but he could also be seen picking on a Peavey T-60 electric, as well as various Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch guitars. He would play them on his own recordings, as well as on sessions for Elvis, Bobby Bare, Porter Wagoner, Joan Baez, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and others.
Reed would go on to gain greater notoriety as an entertainer, on television, and in films, but he remained a guitarist’s guitarist at heart.
“As for myself,” he told Guitar Player, “I guarantee that I’ll always be huntin’ and diggin’ for licks. And if people like ’em, I’ll be huntin’ and diggin’ for some more.”
Reed remained eternally grateful for and pleasantly surprised by his success and good fortune. He was always quick to give credit to Atkins for his help and mentoring. He also seemed intent on paying that forward to the next generation of guitarists.
“I want to look around for some young people who just need a little encouragement in the right direction in this business.”
The true legacy of Jerry Reed, who passed away on August 31, 2008, may very well be in those young people he encouraged. They include names such as Eric Johnson, Jerry Donahue, Brent Mason, Brad Paisley, John Jorgenson, Glen Campbell, and Tommy Emmanuel, and several of them tell Reed’s story best.
I got turned on to Jerry Reed by Bill Ham, a guitarist from Ft. Worth, Texas. I had heard his humorous songs a bit before, but Bill showed me his instrumental playing and I became entranced with his style. He was one of the first country guitarists to do advanced right-hand technique similar to a steel-guitar player. His whole concept offered a new vista of how to approach guitar technique. The right hand could approach the picking of the strings simultaneously, like a piano. I only got to meet him once, over the phone, thanks to Steve Wariner. He was a very funny and wildly creative artist. He started a lot of what I hope we all will respectively continue in our musical paths. God bless you and thanks Jerry!
Jerry Reed, in my opinion, is as innovative as anybody in history. When he came along there was nobody like him, and his legacy is the single greatest body of work for fingerstyle guitar players. Nobody comes close to that. Jerry had it all: great melodies, great ideas, and a great innovation in his playing. He always had the right amount of blues and jazz—it was never too much of anything. It was a good balance and his groove was just as infectious as his musical ideas.
I learned so much about songwriting and song construction from him. He also gave me license to be fearless—to jump in, boots and all, and try new ideas. I remember when I learned the song, “Today Is Mine.” I was 17 years old, and that song touched me. It still does and I still sing it on stage.
I would say his biggest contribution to the guitar vocabulary was the irresistible melodies that inspire you so much that you won’t eat or sleep until you learn them. I think the song “Struttin’” is a true stroke of genius.
I remember when I played for Jerry the first time. He was chewing tobacco and he smiled after I finished playing and said, “Son, you didn’t learn that. It was in your ethos. You were born with it.”
Jerry’s message through his music and his words is a loving and sincere message. I found him to be a highly emotional and sensitive person who was a born entertainer. He walked on the stage and changed the whole room. He was full of charisma. He had a great love for mankind that you could see in his eyes. He was a sensitive and sweet guy. Some people think he was just an actor in movies, and some people think he was an okay guitar player and singer. Jerry Reed was deeper than most people imagined. I remember a conversation I had with Chet about Jerry, and Chet said, “Only once in a lifetime does something come down the river so special.”
Jerry Reed’s playing was really slick, and always clever. I love the way he came up with fingerings to play double-stop melodies and breaks, and also the way he used open strings and fingerpicks to come up with lines that would have unguitaristic leaps in the melody.
I could point to a couple examples in music that I’ve written to show his influence. The guitar part I played in the Kansas song “Taking in the View” is a blend between a classical style and the sort of openstring- incorporating melodic style that he demonstrates in “Jerry’s Breakdown.” I played it with fingers, no fingerpicks. Rich Williams played a sort of harmonizing, fingerstyle part with the same idea on the other guitar.
Another example is a guitar break, doubled with piano, just before the verse repeats on “Bloodsucking Leeches” by the Dregs. Although I played it with a regular pick, which meant all the double stops had to be on adjacent strings, I tried to come up with left-hand fingerings that would give the sort of honky-tonk double-stops that would be typical of Jerry’s tune “The Claw.”
I never knew or met him, but I especially liked the positive personality he had on stage. He seemed to make everyone in the audience feel that they were having a good time, just like he was.
I first heard Jerry Reed on the radio with his early hits like “Amos Moses” and, even now, it sounds fresh—that funky, popping guitar style that was so unique. Although he may not be always recognized as a “chicken picker,” he certainly was one of the first and added a whole new vocabulary to the style. I first got to see him live when he was performing with his band at Disneyland, where I worked. He was riding the success of “East Bound and Down,” the theme song from the film Smokey and the Bandit, and he and his band aptly pulled off the 3-part harmony Telecaster solo, which very well may have sat in my psyche for years and re-emerged in the late ’80s to inspire a Hellecaster’s tune or two.
Through my Disneyland bandmate Raul Reynoso, I met banjo player Larry McNeely who had twinned Reed on some of his classic pieces like “Swarmin’.” Larry showed me how Jerry had taught him “The Claw,” and I learned “Jerry’s Breakdown” from the Me & Jerry album with Chet Atkins. That record, along with Me & Chet, features amazing playing by both of them. Jerry gave Chet the type of foil that brought out the best in Atkin’s playing, as well.
I never became adept at Jerry’s style exactly, but learning his tunes inspired lots of licks in the “floating technique,” where scales are played using fretted strings higher up the neck on lower strings followed by open strings to give a ringing, harp-like texture, and in the banjo-roll style too. I hear Jerry Reed’s influence on my own playing in everything from bluegrass flatpicking to some of the more intense Hellecaster’s tracks, as well as on countless sessions for other artists. Even though Reed’s technique was amazing, I think the thing I will miss most about him is the easy-going sense of humor that was always evident in his playing. Most players, myself included, can tend to get a little too serious about the music, and Jerry reminded us that guitar playing can be hot and humorous at the same time. I wouldn’t be the same player without having heard and studied Jerry Reed.