Writing A Song ē
Introduction by Jim Liddane
Say the name and most will instantly picture a comic character actor a frequent Burt Reynolds sidekick in popular, car chase-riddled films like "W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings" and the three "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, or, more recently, the coach in "The Waterboy".
Others will know Jerry Reed the singer, a wisecracking master of rambling, talking blues-style songs like "Amos Moses," "When Youíre Hot Youíre Hot" and "She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)." The discerning few may acknowledge Reed the dedicated songwriter, whose hits have graced the careers of Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee and Johnny Cash.
Perhaps only aficionados will know about Jerry Reed, guitarist extraordinaire, a favourite Chet Atkins pickiní buddy and one of the most inventive fretboard wizards ever to warm a Nashville studio chair. Pickers everywhere still marvel at (and struggle to learn) instrumental gems like "Blue Finger" and "The Claw," as well as the signature licks at once swampy and slickófeatured in "Amos Moses" and "Guitar Man."
Larry Wayne Clark spoke to Jerry for "Songwriter Magazine".
The voice is weighted now with the years but thereís no mistaking that Georgia twang that seems always ready to explode into laughter, and often does. Itís impossible not to like Jerry Reed and difficult not to envy him a little too. After all, hereís a man who has done everything he set out to do and more earning a good living as a picker, songwriter and actor and who, having just turned 68, has the liberty to fish and play golf as much as he pleases, perform occasionally, and enjoy the company of his wife of many years, his two daughters and his grandchildren.
Itís a terrific life, further blessed by good health, and Reed has sense enough to revel in it and view it all with deep gratitude most of it directed Heavenward. Heís just completed a new CD, "Jerry Reed Live, STILL!" of which heís justifiably proud. I spoke to Jerry Reed in Nashville on a damp Spring morning and I can honestly say Iíve never seen an hour fly by more enjoyably.
Iíve been listening to your live album and it sounds great. Your stuff is always fun to listen to. You always end up smiling when you listen to Jerry Reed.
Well, Larry, thatís the purpose of it, I think. You know, a long time ago I decided that I wasnít gonna be a Frank Sinatra.
Youíre much better-looking!
Nor Perry Como, you know. No, I think just between me and you sometimes I think Iím a displaced Southern Baptist preacher that just got hung up on guitar.
Thatís an interesting way to put it.
Well, you know, I grew up down in Georgia and my first music was that good olí Southern church music and the Grand Ole Opry, and I grew up listening to old radio shows, you know. One of my favourites was on The Jack Benny Show Phil Harris. Just blew me away, man. I thought, "How much fun this guy has! What a character." He was a bandleader, you know.
Actually I think I had no choice but to be what I am. I hink God sent me here that way, and I want my music to . .. like that preacher said, "If you come to church and all you feel is the pew youíre sitting on, somethingís wrong." You can tell on that album the band was really cooking and the audience was cooking and I was having myself a party. It was just one of those great evenings.
It sounded like a lot of fun. I wished I was there as I listened to it.
Well, it was. Every night ainít that way. Usually itís because of you, not the audience. The audience always comes to have a good time. But sometimes, you know, in the Midwest youíll get some of those audiences that listen. They donít like to jump up and down and throw babies up in the air, you know what I mean? I remember one time, I think I was in South Dakota, and about halfway through the show I turned to the band, you know, and I said, "Boys, be careful, there might be a lynching here and they got us outnumbered!" And when we got through the show, man, they jumped up on their feet and they started screaming and hollering, and I thought, "Well, that shows you what I know!"
But this audience was just really primed. Boy, they were there to have a good time. And you know, the album was a surprise, Larry, if you wanna know the truth about it, ícause I told Chet, the guy that helped me produce it, to come out on the road wanted to record "Father Time and Gravity" as a single. íCause I said, "Listen, you know, with all this crap going on the world people cutting peopleís heads off and shooting, and Iraq and Afghanistan and Bosnia man, itís time for everybody to laugh. And I wanna record this song and I gotta have a live audience." Well, he brought his little box of tricks out on the road and hooked into the mains and he just recorded the whole show. And when I got back and got to listening to it, I said, "Well man, weíll just make an album out of that thing, ícause Iím telling you what that was a party!" So it was a surprise really.
And itís a great thing to hear a live album that works because, as you know, so much of what you hear on radio now is so tampered with and so artificial.
Thatís true. It amazes me that theyíll actually take something in the studio to tune your voice because you canít sing. I never heard of anything like that! You know, back when I got in the business you had to haul the weight and bring the freight. There wasnít any of those gimmicks. Of course I was a session player.
Yeah, I was just thinking that. You remember when you had to cut the whole thing "off the floor," and it had to be right from beginning to end. And God help you if you were the guy who made a mistake in the second to last bar.
Iím telling you! But the difference is in the spirit of the music. When you get a whole roomful of pickers and this is the way Chet, Owen Bradley and Frank Jones and those people recorded, Larry the musicians and the singer made the record. The producer . . . like I remember Chet so many times just leaning up against the piano Floyd Cramerís playing and weíre all picking and singing, learning and running down this song and ideas are coming from the guitar player, the steel player, the fiddle player, the keyboard player. And Chet would sit there and say, ĎAll right, you fill the first half of the verse and you the second, and letís let the guitar do the turnaround," ícause he liked what he heard. And when you get everybody now you just think about it when you get a whole roomful of musicians all on the same page, grooving, thereís nothing like it on earth. Thatís like a runaway truck!
And for contrast now, Larry Londin he was in my band for years, the greatest studio drummer ever to come out of Nashville, Tennessee, bar none and right before he passed away we were having lunch one day, and he was crying the blues about what the session business had become. He said, "I sat in there one day with this producer and I did nothing but hit a snare drum for three hours! Finally I said, ĎHey, what are we doing?í [the producer] said, ĎWeíre trying to get a sound on the snare." [chuckles] Three hours! And he said, "The bassman just got up, sacked up his bass and walked out the studio and said, ĎThis ainít no way to do a sessioní and left." They put one musician on at a time. I couldnít believe it. íCause when I came up here in í62 . . . man, I thank God every day that he let me live through that era ícause itíll never be again. Thereíll never be producers like Chet Atkins.
Although you still find that [recording method] in bluegrass, for instance. They can do that.
Bluegrass there is no way to do that piecemeal recording] in bluegrass. They donít have any choice. Those bluegrass pickers feed off one another. Thatís what they do! You canít put down a mandolin and then put down a banjo and then put down a fiddle.
Or put down the harmonies a piece at a time.
Lord, no. Itís all in one package.
You find it in bluegrass and you find it in jazz, but itís getting hard to find that kind of spirit-and that kind of ability- in mainstream music.
Well, there may be an end to that. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel on that, I donít know. Itís cycles, you know. People wise up. I was talking with Fred Foster about three days ago and heís fixing to go into the studio with Willie Nelson, and heís gonna take all the musicians in there with him and do it the way they used to do it, ícause thatís the way Fred records. And youíre gonna hear the difference in the record too. And I think thatís why country music went from number one [in popularity] to number nine or ten across the world, because itís become so sterile.
Son, I go back to the first time I ever heard Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, those new sounds man, Iím in Atlanta and Iím about 10 years old and Iíve been playing guitar for about three years. Man, when I heard Hank I almost had a conniption. It just sounded so different. And then when Lefty came along, he was just so different. Well, today you almost have to take a demonstration to a producer thatís already produced. Thatís not good.
Going back to those childhood days in Georgia, tell me a bit about that, and particularly how you got so excited about guitar. Because thatís a big part of what you do, and some people may not appreciate how good a player you are and how hard youíve worked at that.
Well, itís gonna take a while. You got time? Well, Iím gonna start you back in Palmetto, Georgia, when I was five or six now you tell me that God ainít alive and well and in charge of things, when I finish this! Here Iím a five-year-old boy sitting on a stove wood pile with a piece of stove wood, Larry, and a piece of bark off some kindling for a guitar pick, and Iím sitting atop this stove wood pile up next to the corncrib, and Iím on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and Iím the star of the night!
And then you ever hear of quilting parties? Well, out in the country neighbours would get together and the women would quilt and the old men would go out in the barn to shuck corn and drink a little corn. Well, I was at this quilting party one night and I saw this guitar over in the corner. I walked over to touch it 'course they told me to leave that thing alone and I remember staring at that thing wanting to grab it so bad.
Then we moved to Atlanta when I was seven years old, and this fella across the street came out on the porch with an old guitar, and I told my stepdaddy I wanted a guitar. Well, he bought that seven-dollar guitar for me, Larry, and my mama taught me claw hammer G, she taught me C and she taught me the D chord. I walked straight out to the back steps and I hit that G chord and put my ear down to the body of that guitar and Iíd never heard a sound like that in my life. I thought, "Man, would you listen to that!" And that was my "get out of the-world free" card, son. I never put that guitar down. I mean that was my life been my life for over 60-something years.
And yes, Iíve paid my dues. Iíve gone around the clock, sitting picking that thing and never laid it down, just drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and picking, from six oíclock in the morning till seven or eight oíclock the next morning. You gotta love something to do that.
What kind of a guitar was this?
It was some old I hate to use the word but some old bastard brand of guitar. Didnít have a name on it. Strings were about, you know, a quarter of an inch off the neck, but I didnít care. I just went and dove into the middle of it and my fingers were . . . boy, after the first day my fingers were like raisins; they were just killing me. And I told Mama, I said, "Man! My fretting hand is killing me." She said, "Well, go over to the stove and get them burners real hot and put your fingers down on íem, itíll make calluses." So I even tried that! [laughs uproariously] Nearly burned myself alive!
Iím starting to wonder about your mother!
Yeah, I wonder! [more laughter] It didnít work either! But I just kept on and kept on till I grew my calluses, and listened to that radio and learned every lick I could.
So what guitar players did you listen to?
Well, I think like everybody else, in the South anyway, I idolised Merle Travis. When I heard Merle play the "Cannonball Rag" and "Blue Smoke" I thought I . . . I didnít know what I thought. You know, Iím running around, Iím saying, "Whatís that? Whatís that? Howíd he do that? That canít be one man! Is that one man doing that?"I just went nuts. And I had to learn to do that.
He was so good.
Oh man! And then I heard Chet. Holy cow, man! I said, "Listen, everybody stand back. Iím gonna learn how to do that if it puts me in the grave." And I didnít know how they was doing it, and I was so stupid I was trying to do it with a straight pick, Ďcause thatís all Iíd ever played with. I didnít know anything about thumbpicks.
And then one day I was over at a friend of mineís house and he wanted me to meet a guy that played like Merle Travis. I went over there and this guy was left-handed. And I saw him playing the bass part with his index finger and the melody with his thumb. And I said, "So thatís how you do it!"
Talk about confusion!
Man! So I went and got me a thumbpick and I sat on the front porch of that cotton mill village and I almost drove myself nuts till I finally got independence between my thumb and fingers, where I could keep my rhythm going with my thumb and play the melody with my fingers. And boy, youída thought Iíd died and gone to Heaven when I finally figured that out.
How old were you now?
Iím probably now . . . Iím probably 12, 13.
So your hands are getting to be a mature size.
Yeah. And man, I tell you Iíll never forget that day as long as I live. I said, "There it is! There it is, Iíve done it!"
And you just figured this out on your own? Nobody was teaching you?
Oh Lord, no. By the time I was 13 I was playing. íCause practically everybody in my family was a picker. My mama, my daddy. My grandpa was Alabama State Fiddle Champion. My aunt played the keyboards. You know, you breed ducks you get ducks. You know, they say itís like diarrheait runs in the jeans! [huge belly laugh] You donít have to quote me on that if you donít want to.
I kinda like that one.
I do too. And now as Iíve got the benefit of hindsight I look back over my life and Iím gonna tell you something, Larry, and I mean this: Godís been in control of my life ícause I ainít got sense enough to have done what Iíve done in my life, ícause Iíve been running scared. íCause like you said, I never was trained, you know. Iíd get around people that was trained and Iíd feel all paranoid till the picking started, and then I could pick everything they could pick. So I know, as I backtrack over my life, I can see where the good Lord just saved me in the nick of time, or Iíd have been doing something else. Ainít that something?
Yeah. But obviously there was a love affair with the instrument right off the bat.
That came with the package, son. I had nothing to do with that. I mean it was there. I was powerless to do anything else. I just never had any other thought.
I remember going to grammar school and seeing a stage play by the kids, and I wanted to be up there so bad. I came here with a gift, just like you put under a Christmas tree. My whole lifeís been a gift and I thank the Lord every day for it. Boy, I really do. íCause I couldnít have done anything else. Iíd have wound up in clubs or something, you know, ícause I am gonna pick!
Iíll tell you a story: when I proposed to my wife I told her, I said, "Now if anybodyís gonna have a day job in this house itís gonna be you ícause Iím gonna pick this guitar [laughs] long as I live! Now do you wanna get married?" She said, "Yeah." And I couldnít have made it without her. Miz Priss, Iíll tell you what - ooh, Lord!
How many years have you been married?
Miz Priss is playing [rhythm guitar and keyboards] on your new album.
Oh yeah. Miz Priss is a vital part of my life, son. See, I met Priss, Larry, in a park, doing a show. I was on Capitol Records at the time and she had her little quartet there, and they were on the bill. And they shared some fried chicken with me and I thought she had pretty buns. [chuckles] We started dating, and she thought I was a big star from Nashville. And I was in Atlanta at the time; she lived in Marietta. She finally figured out that I wasnít after I wound up on a little show called The Georgia Jubilee out in East Point.
So we dated a few years and then we got married. And then a week later I went in the United States Army! We were starving to death, and then Brenda Lee cut "Thatís All You Gotta Do" and it was the backside of "Iím Sorry," sold a million records and I ainít starving to death no more. Then Porter Wagoner cut "Misery Loves Company" and it went to #1, stayed there for 39 weeks I ainít starving to death no more.
How old were you at this time?
Iím in the army . . . Iím twenty- . . .
1959. And we lived off that money the whole time I was in the army, and used the last $300 to move to Nashville. And Priss went to work right away, ícause she could read music and she was a soprano and they needed a girl soprano singer, so she went to work right away with The Jordanaires. And then she took Anita Kerrís place in The Anita Kerr Singers when she got married and left.
I know that sound you mean, The Jordanaires with a solo soprano voice. That was popular at the time. So she was doing some of that stuff?
Yeah. And ícourse when I moved up Chet had already recorded two of my instrumentals, and before it was over and done with he and I together had recorded 70 compositions that Iíd written.
So when I moved to Nashville Hank Garland [legendary studio guitarist] had just had that terrible accident and they were looking for guitar players. So I needed time to politick and get to know people and move around, and Priss working allowed us a base to do that. I look at all the good things the good Lordís provided my life with and she is the nucleus of it. I couldnít have made it without her.
After 46 years, I believe you. Thatís a long marriage, especially in this business.
Oh sheís my lady. Iím telling you, sheís my lady. There ainít another one like her on the planet. I know a good thing when I see it! [chuckles] Oh yeah, I couldnít have made it without her, Larry.
Well, weíve talked about the picking. When did you realise you were gonna sing and write songs?
Hereís how I started. When I was 16 years old I met Bill Lowery, and heíd just gone into the publishing business in Atlanta. And when I was a junior in high school he got me a recording contract with Ken Nelson on Capitol Records. And the only thing I passed in high school was dramatics, anyway, and literature. I hated math. All I wanted to do was pick. I remember one time in English grammar, I was sitting there and the band was on the field playing and practising and Iím sitting back there beating pencils with the drummers! The teacher comes back there and jumps all over me that's the kind of student I was.
Well, when youíd discovered the bug so early, I can well imagine you would have been very distracted.
Well, I left school and I went on the road with Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, the Wilburn Brothers. Then I tried to go back to school and that wasnít any good, so I figured Iíd go to night school and work during the day, and that didnít work. So I figured Iíd go back to school and work clubs at night and that didnít work, you know, so I finally just gave it up and went full-time music working with a band, Kenny Leeís band. Then Ray Stevens came and went to work with Bill Lowery, and we met and we formed a band, and we worked together.
You and Ray Stevens?
Must have been quite a team!
Lowery was very fortunate, man, he got some heavy hitters. I mean, Tommy Roe, Ray Stevens, Joe South . . . man, he was cooking on all burners back in the í50s, you know. He told me to start writing songs. So I started writing these stupid songs when I was 16, 17 years old, and theyíre putting them out today on records! I think Bear Family Records have re-released some of those old Capitol records, and you can tell I was just a snotty-nosed boy. I hadnít lived any, I didnít know what writing songs was about. All I wanted was Hank Williamsís band and put me in a studio and turn me loose!
What kind of a singer were you trying to be?
I tried to sing like Faron Young. He was one of my favourites.
When you were writing would the guitar always be playing a role? Would you always write guitar licks?
I wrote to the guitar. And I wrote to humour, mostly.
So you did that right from the beginning?
Oh yeah. See, Iím in the í50s, Iím in the rock íní roll era. So it was either rock íní roll or humour. I tried to write ballads but I hadnít had any big love affairs. I wasnít Hank Williams, get outta here! Iím Jerry Reed and Iím having a good time and Iím a live, raw nerve end flapping around out in the elements leave me alone! [laughs] I just think thatís my spiritalways has been and boy, I always loved to boogie. Good Lord have mercy! I mean first time I ever heard a man play boogie woogie on the piano I almost flittered a brick; I couldnít believe it. I said, "Man, listen to that! Wish you could do that on a guitar!"
You can do something like it. Thatís Chuck Berryís whole inspiration, isnít it? Trying to imitate piano licks and piano blues.
Oh yeah. Oh Lord, yeah, but the difference is a piano player can move both hands and you canít. But the difference is too, we can reach across three octaves with one hand and they canít. [laughs wickedly] Think about that a minute!
Your guitar playing developed into a very unique thing. Thereís a funkiness, a swampiness, to it that you didnít really hear in Merle Travis and even Chet, for that mater well, Chet probably got some of it from you.
Well, if there hadnít have been a Chet Atkins there wouldnít have been a Jerry Reed, Iíll put it to you that way. Now Iíd had producers up to that point, but they werenít guitar players. After Iíd been in town a while Chet said, "You need to come over here and let me record you. These people ainít recording you right. You need to sing them songs you write and play that funky stuff you play on that guitar, and weíll record that. And I betcha weíll have some success with it."
So we went in and did our first album and boy, right off the bat I knew weíd done opened up a nest of hornets here, son. He done kicked in the door, turned me loose and it started happening, Larry. Thatís how it started happening, believe me. If it hadnít been a guitar player on the other side of that window you wouldnít be talking to me now.
He fostered a lot of great players. Lenny Breau . . . people all over the map stylistically.
Oh, are you kidding me? Thereís nobody in the business that will ever do what Chet Atkins done. Not only that, Larry, but now think about it you know what it takes to play fingerstyle guitar like Chet played. I mean itís every day, living with that guitar, all of your life. And then heís got time to go out and make stars out of people you know, the Don Gibsons, the Floyd Cramers, the people he brought to town and the people he signed when he was running RCA Victor. It finally got so bad he couldnít handle it all. And you wonder how in the world did the man do it? Thereís nobody in the history of Nashville that will have done more for Nashville than Chet Atkins. Period.
How did you meet Chet?
I first met him when I was a teenager down in East Point, Georgia. He came down as a star of a show and I met him backstage, and he got to see me perform. Plus, we went to Nashville and did some sessions and he got to know me and Ray and Joe South. And when I moved to Nashville he was the first guy I went to see, and we just hit it off. Boy, we just hit it off.
He loved that stuff I was writing, all that counterpoint and that funky stuff. He told me, "The first time I heard ĎDown Homeí Iíd never heard anything like that in my life and it just gave me a whole new bag to get into." Then I sent him "Scarecrow," another instrumental, and he did that one. So by the time I got to Nashville I had an entree card there.
One of your best instrumentals Iíve heard and tell me if the story is true about "Blue Finger," that it was an accident, him recording you jamming on this thing?
No, donít you believe that. You donít jam finger pieces. I mean, you do when youíre sitting around, but when youíre in the studio youíre in there to produce something. And "Blue Finger" . . . gosh, I get íem all confused, Iíve written so many . . .
I love "Blue Finger." Itís one of the best guitar instrumentals Iíve ever heard.
Well, believe me I laboured over it, son. And then when I took it to Chet, if I hadnít laboured over it heíd have known right away that it was just a piece of something. íCause he knew that there was a lot of thought put into that piece of music. And he didnít record every one I took to him either. He just took the ones that he thought were the diamonds and recorded íem.
No, it wasnít a jam session. Now we jammed on it, but you have to have a body of music. You have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, you know, and then you can jam. All guitar players love to do that. But the body of the song was composed.
I would imagine so. Itís so articulate. I can remember, years ago, when I would listen to good fingerpickers and they would play "Cannonball Rag," "Windy And Warm," "Angie" and they would play "Blue Finger." I would listen to that and say, "Wow!" And someone told me, "Jerry Reed wrote that."
Well, I donít even remember it! Because . . Chet put it quite nicely one day: someone asked, "Why donít Jerry ever play those istrumentals?" He said, "Well, Jerry comes in and teaches me something heís written. He never plays it again; heís on to something else!" [laughs] And thatís true. Thatís why I wrote so many of them. And Iím still writing íem. Iíve got a couple now that Iím gonna get my guitar players to play ícause I donít wanna play íem. I may just join íem, just to futz around with íem, have some fun. I kind of wanna show íem off anyway they're in my band and theyíre fabulous pickers and I wanna do íem a favour. I want íem to step out and play a Jerry Reed instrumental and let olí Jerry just hang out in the background and whoop íem some rhythm or something. You never lose that. Thatís part of your psyche it came here with you you know what I mean, Larry?
Iím thinking the first I ever saw you was on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. I was a teenager living in Montreal, Canada, at this point. And heíd get you in that inner circle where heíd have John Hartford and Joe South and different people.
Well, Iíll tell you how that happened. I became a regular on the show because I travelled with Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer with a show called The Festival of Music, and we worked a show out in Los Angeles and Glen Campbell was a guest. And Chet said, "Why donít you put Jerry on your show?" We sat in the back and jammed and cut up and picked and had a great time, so Glen invited me to do a guest shot on his show. Then he asked me to become a regular ícause Hartford had left.
So for three years I flew from Nashville to L.A. every week, and back. Iíd fly out on a Monday, weíd record a show on a Thursday and Iíd catch that red-eye back. Spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday at home and jump on a plane Monday, go back and do the same thing. And I gotta tell you, they got more mail about that concert section than anything on the show.
It was great.
Oh yeah, ícause itís just picking! See, Glen loved to sing harmony and pick. Well, heís an Arkansas boy, you know.
It seems to me you guys had an awful lot in common.
Oh my Lord, are you kidding me? Weíre two olí redneck boys out there with them guitars just having the time of our lives.
He was the same thing a kid growing up who wouldnít put the guitar down for five minutes, taking it to school and . . .
Oh yeah. Glenís the same way, you know he opened his brain and guitar picks would come out of it. Yessir boy, it was a marriage made in Heaven.
And he did the session thing too in L.A. The more I think about it, you guys couldíve been brothers.
Yeah, he was a session picker.
And wasnít he also unable to read music? He would just sort of learn it, memorise it.
Yeah, we got an old saying: "We can read music but not enough to hurt our playing." Not orchestrations but we could read chord charts and stuff. But you canít write for a guitar anyway! How can you notate a bend on the third string? I donít know how you can do it. And besides you donít put a guitar playerís nose into a piece of paper. You turn him loose, let him run like a good hunting dog.
Well, Iíll tell you one of my favourite Jerry Reed stories and I hope youíre gonna tell me this is the gospel truth and it touches on everything weíve been talking about. Itís about that session you did with Elvis when you were called in to play on "Guitar Man." And then they wanted to get your publishing.
[laughing already] Oh yeah.
Give me a recap of that. I love that story.
Well, Elvis didnít have a thing to do with it, first of all. You gotta realise that. No, it was the Bienstock brothers and Hill & Range and all that . . . Oh yeah. Well, you know how publishers are, especially when Elvis is your client; heís the main man. Well, we had recorded the song we'd recorded two of my songs and this gentleman came by and said, "Well, you know, weíre gonna have to have the publishing on this." And I said, "Excuse me? Whattya mean?" He said, "Yeah, weíve gotta have the copyright or it wonít come out." "I said, "Well son, why didnít they tell me that before I came in here? I ainít gonna give you my soul. This is my music!" I said, "You done wasted Elvisís time, my time and all these musiciansí time, ícause you ainít about to own my song"/
And he said, "Well, it ainít coming out." I said, "Well, fine," and I left.
You called his bluff.
Well then, I was in Chetís office one day and the publishing company called and Chet said, "This is so-and-so from Hill & Range, but donít you give him any of that song!" And [the caller] went on to tell me how valuable an Elvis recording is and I said, "I know that." And he said, "Well, if we donít control it and have the copyright, it wonít come out." And I said, "Well now, listen you donít need the money and Elvis donít need the money and Iím making more money than I ever made in my life, you know, so letís just forget it, okay?"
"Fine, okay, weíll forget it!"
Two weeks later I was walking into a session and Elvisís producer, a friend of mine from Atlanta named Felton Jarvis, stopped me at the coffee machine and he said, "Guess whatís coming out in two weeks?" [chuckles] And I said, "Wouldnít be ĎGuitar Man,í would it?" And he said, "Absolutely!"
That is such a great story for songwriters to hear, that you dug your heels in and prevailed.
But Elvis knew nothing about this behind the walls negotiating and dickering. And I told them, "Now what I will do is Iíll split the mechanicals with you fifty-fifty, but Iím gonna own the copyright. But on this record, every dime it makes Iíll split down the middle with you," and thatís finally what they took.
Thatís a pretty good deal for them.
Oh yeah! After all, it is Elvis Presley. But Iím not gonna give you my soul.
It turned out to be a really good record for him too.
Oh man. Well, see, he hadnít been out of the army long and he was kinda looking for a signature song, Larry, and when he heard it- I heard he heard it riding down Ventura Freeway and just fell in love with it, see.
This was your recording of it?
My recording of it, yeah. And thatís how it came about.
Didnít they call you into the studio because the pickers couldnít figure out what you were playing?
Yeah. Iíll tell you the nuts íní bolts of that. I was fishing on the Cumberland River, and Felton calls me and he says, "Reed, we been in here all day and Elvis ainít happy with whatís happening over here. He says, ĎI want this to sound like Reedís record.í Well, I told him, ĎIf you want this to sound like Reedís record you gotta get Reed in here to play on it, ícause he played guitar on his record. And these guys ainít fingerpickers and they ainít got a clue what heís doing. Heís weird; he tunes strings up and down."
So he said, "Will you come down here and pick on it?" Well, I went in there and I tuned that E string down to D and that B string up to C-sharp where I could flat finger it and have three fingers loose to play the boogie woogie on them bass strings, and I kicked that sucker off and boy, he lit up and here we went. And before the night was over heíd cut two of my songs. It was quite an evening!
Tell me how you encountered Burt Reynolds. How did that relationship develop?
I was doing the Glen Campbell show, and I was talking to one of the agents and I told him see, Iíd always wanted to be in movies, I loved movies and I told Howard West, "If thereís ever an opportunity Iíd like to go and read for a movie part." So he called one day and he said, "Burtís in Nashville. Theyíre doing a movie called "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". Go over and read for it. So I did, and I got the part of the bandleader, Wayne. And thatís how I met Burt, and Burt just had a blast in Nashville. Man, he just had the time of his life.
He likes country music, doesnít he?
Well, heís an old Georgia boy you know, he was raised in Florida but he was born in Georgia. Heís got some grits under his fingernails; thereís some cornbread in the mix. Yeah. And then he called me to be the heavy in Gator, of all things, which was quite an experience. And then, you know, things started happening.
I got called to do a movie with Peter Fonda called "Highballiní" , up in Canada, and then "Smokey and the Bandit" happened. I was in all three of those.
Then I did a movie called "Hot Stuff", with Dom De Louise and Suzanne Pleshette. "Survivors" with Robin Williams. Then I produced a couple of movies. I did "Bat 21" with Gene Hackman and Danny Glover. I raised the money and was executive producer of that. Shot that over in Malaysia.
Did you ever live in L.A.?
I did for six months when I did the summer show for Glen, and thatís about all I could stand. I had to get back to these hills!
Not your cup of tea.
Oh man. You know, you ride down the road and you see people playing baseball on an asphalt playground and you think, "Whatís wrong with this picture?" No, L.A. wasnít my cup of tea. Didnít want to live there. You know, at certain times the only thing not shaking is the air youíre breathing think about it! [laughs] Earthquakes donít fit into my comfort zone.
Iíll bet! Do you think getting involved in the movies hurt your music career, or was it just a natural evolution that you needed?
Itís my life. I donít care what it did. But Iíll tell you this: once your face has been 70-foot across the screen youíre more than a recording artist.
And when youíre in a movie as big as "Smokey and the Bandit" and theyíre still playing it every week 27 years later, youíve done the right thing. And then "Waterboy" didnít hurt.
No, I wanted to be something more than just a recording artist, ícause I like to entertain and I like to be a personality. Iím not a Kenny Rogers; Iím not a Jim Reeves. I like humour, action, and what I do when I get on a stage is I try to set a fire to the spirit, ícause I know they come there wanting it.
And the whole crux of the matter is getting them off them seats and make íem have a good time and forget thereís a war in Iraq, and whatís going on around the world, and taxes.
And just for an hour or so sit around and be brothers and sisters and share in Godís beautiful music.
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