Published: September 2, 2008

NASHVILLE — Jerry Reed, a popular country singer and movie actor whose larger-than-life storytelling and flashy guitar work vividly evoked Southern life, died early Monday morning at his home here. He was 71.

Via Associated Press
Jerry Reed in 1977.
The cause was emphysema, said Butch Baker, Mr. Reed’s friend and song publisher.

Best known in later years for his role in the movie “The Waterboy” (1998), starring Adam Sandler, and in the three “Smokey and the Bandit” adventures of the late ’70s and early ’80s, in which he played Burt Reynolds’s gear-shifting sidekick the Snowman, Mr. Reed was first and foremost a musician.

Mr. Reed accompanied himself on the three dozen Top 40 country hits he recorded under his own name from 1967 to 1983. Many of the songs also relied on his clowning persona, including his three No. 1 singles, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “Lord, Mr. Ford” and “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”

“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart in 1971 and crossed over to the pop Top 10. “Amos Moses,” Mr. Reed’s other big crossover hit, was a paean to life on the Louisiana bayou, featuring his “chicken-scratch” guitar playing and lines like “When Amos Moses was a boy his daddy would use him for alligator bait.”

“Amos Moses” earned Mr. Reed a 1971 Grammy nomination for best male country vocal performance, an award that he won the following year with “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” He and the producer and guitarist Chet Atkins received a Grammy in 1971 for best country instrumental performance, for their album “Me and Jerry.” Mr. Reed and Atkins won another Grammy in that category, for their CD “Sneakin’ Around,” in 1993.

The Country Music Association named Mr. Reed musician of the year in 1970 and 1971.

As an in-demand session guitarist in Nashville during the 1960s and ’70s, his staccato fingerpicking could be heard on Elvis Presley’s “Guitar Man” and “U.S. Male,” both of which were written by Mr. Reed, and on hits by the singer Waylon Jennings, among others.

“He had this style called ‘the claw,’ ” said Mr. Baker, noting that Mr. Reed, who had no formal musical training, also made a record by that name. “I’m not sure if anybody knew what he was doing — I don’t even think he knew what he was doing — he would just do these emotional things that came out through his hands. He was a true innovator.”

Jerry Reed Hubbard was born in March 20, 1937, in Atlanta. The son of cotton mill workers, he began playing the guitar in elementary school, later graduating to nightclubs and bars in and around Atlanta as a teenager.

After dropping out of high school to play with country stars like Faron Young and Ernest Tubb, Mr. Reed, then only 16, was introduced to the Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery, who helped him secure a writing and recording contract with the country division of Capitol Records. Singers like Gene Vincent and Brenda Lee would go on to record his songs, but Mr. Reed’s own versions failed to reach the charts.

He parted ways with Capitol in the late 1950s and, after serving in the Army, moved to Nashville in 1962 to pursue a career as a songwriter, immediately finding success when Porter Wagoner had a No. 1 country hit with his song “Misery Loves Company.” Mr. Reed also started doing work as a session guitarist for Atkins at RCA, where his syncopated mix of fretted and open strings galvanized hits by everyone from Bobby Bare to Presley.

After signing with RCA in the mid-’60s, Mr. Reed began having hits of his own. He also began making regular appearances on the primetime TV variety shows hosted by Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, and his affable stage presence and good-old-boy antics eventually led to roles in Hollywood movies. The first, in “W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings” (1974), began a series of collaborations with Burt Reynolds that included the popular “Smokey and the Bandit” movies; their soundtracks also featured Mr. Reed’s music.

Mr. Reed is survived by Priscilla Reed, his wife of 49 years, and by two daughters, Sedina and Lottie, and two grandchildren, all of Nashville.

The hits stopped coming by the mid-’80s, but Mr. Reed continued to perform and to appear on television and in movies, including “BAT 21.”

Mr. Baker said Mr. Reed was especially proud of his final project, “The Gallant Few,” an album made to raise funds for wounded veterans.