Interview: Dallas Music

C.L: Jerry, tell us what Chet Atkins meant to you and your career?

J.R.: Christian, let me say what a pleasure it is to chat with all my brothers and sisters in Germany. Well Christian, to tell you what Chet Atkins meant to me can be summed up in one word. Everything! Everything I’ve been able to accomplish points directly back to him.

C.L: Jerry, I only have to mention Jerry Reed around town and it brings smiles. Let me bring up a few names and places and get your reaction. Jerry Reed’s Nashville Palace … Shel Silverstein, Claude Gray, The Cleanest Man In Cincinnati … has the bus ever left you behind at a truckstop?

J.R.: When the Nashville Palace was just getting started I let them use my name; but I was so busy on the road that I couldn’t be there enough in person, so I had to let it go. What can you say about Shel Silverstein except the man was a genius? I have never known anybody like him. How heart breaking it was to lose him at such an early age. To know him was to love him.

C.L: Jerry, young girls use “Crazy” and “Independence Day” as benchmarks of their singing talent. I’m told young guitar-slingers use “Jerry’s Breakdown” as a benchmark of their guitar playing skills. Tell us about this tune and how you became known as the “Guitar Man”.

J.R.: That banjo genius Earl Scruggs was always one of my heroes, and one day I found a fingering that let me mimic him on the guitar. It was so much fun to play that way that I wrote the instrumental “Jerry’s Breakdown” around it. I guess other guitar players felt the same way. Christian, I guess I’m called ‘the guitar man’ for several reasons. For one thing my finger picking is such a prominent part of all my recordings; plus between Chet Atkins and myself we have recorded over 70 guitar instrumentals that I have written. But I think I got the ‘guitar man’ handle when Elvis Presley covered my recording of “Guitar Man”.

C.L: Jerry, what influence did Burt Reynolds have on your acting career?

J.R.: Burt had a big influence on my movie career. He knew I had never had any training, so he just taught me as we went along and was very patient. On top of that he was a lot of fun.

C.L: Jerry, your most famous songs could rightfully be called novelty tunes. Have you ever had the urge to croon a romantic ballad?

J.R.: As far as singing ballads go Christian, I just never felt that that was my bag. What I really liked to do ever since the early days of my career was claw and pound and boogie on the guitar and get the place to rocking. So it’s pretty hard to sing: I love you darling while all that is going on …. Don’t you agree?

C.L: Yes!

C.L: Jerry, you’ve been a sideman, a studio musician, an artist, an actor and a songwriter. What do you find rewarding about the many aspects of your career?

J.R.: Yes I was very lucky starting out. I got the opportunity to work shows and play guitar for people like Patsy Cline, Ferlin Husky, Faron Young and George Jones. It was great training for a young teenager just getting his feet wet. The experience was invaluable. The same thing can be said about my years as a studio musician and as an actor. I was lucky I was taught by the best. That includes songwriting too.

C.L: Jerry, when the Dixie Chicks made their famous remarks about President Bush, millions of Europeans suddenly became aware of the existence of country music. I know you’ve got lots of fans in Europe, but how would you describe yourself and your music to all those who are just now discovering country music?

J.R.: Well if you’re new to our kind of music and you’re listening to my recordings I just hope you pick up on how much I love what I’m doing and how much fun I’m having. And another thing, you had better love guitar pickin’ because I’m eat up with it. You see I’m just an old boy from the deep South picking and singing his brains out trying to gain acceptance. So I insist that you love me one and all because I simply cannot handle rejection. It’s tough life!

C.L: Jerry, I know you are an avid fisherman. Tell me one of your favorite stories.

J.R.: Well I had it ALL happen to me on fishing trips. But I guess the funniest thing that ever happened to me bass fishing happened after I’d been fishing all night. We were fishing what you called the jumps. That’s when the fish are in a frenzy feeding on minnows and jumping out of the water chasing those little critters. Well I got excited, cut the engine, grabbed my fishing pole, bolted up to the front of the boat, cast my top water bait as far as I could, and proceeded to walk straight off my boat and into the lake! Did I mention that I was wearing a rain suit at the time? By the way, the only dry clothes I had in the boat were a pair of socks and a T-Shirt; and that’ s the naked truth.

Christian Lamitschka (Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de)