Jerry Reed, 71; Musician Was Also 'Smokey' Sidekick

Jerry Reed, a guitarist, singer and songwriter, won a Grammy for best instrumental performance. He also had a role in the movie
Jerry Reed, a guitarist, singer and songwriter, won a Grammy for best instrumental performance. He also had a role in the movie "The Waterboy," starring Adam Sandler. (Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jerry Reed, 71, a Grammy Award-winning country guitarist, singer and songwriter who played a mischievous, good old boy sidekick to Burt Reynolds in "Smokey and the Bandit" and other movies, died Sept. 1 at his home in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood. He had emphysema.

Mr. Reed's trademark Georgia baritone drawl and relaxed manner in film and television roles brought his ingratiating presence to a wide audience, notably as trucker Cledus "Snowman" Snow in "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977) and its two sequels.

But it was in country music where Mr. Reed thrived as a major, innovative artist from the late 1960s to early '80s. Besides " East Bound and Down," the theme song for "Smokey and the Bandit," his hit songs included the propulsive " Guitar Man," the Cajun-inspired funky novelty tune " Amos Moses" and the tender " A Thing Called Love." Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Porter Wagoner were among those to cover his best-known pieces.

Mr. Reed was a dynamic virtuoso who had distinguished himself as a session guitarist supporting Presley, Waylon Jennings and others before emerging as a major solo talent. He was most remembered for using an intricate guitar-picking style known as the "claw" because it used the entire right hand where earlier guitar giants such as Chet Atkins and Merle Travis favored a two or three-fingered approach.

Besides being the title of a song he wrote, the claw was a development that music historian Rich Kienzle called essential to the "wild, untamed and dauntingly complex" country music that followed Atkins and Travis.

Jerry Reed Hubbard, the son of cotton mill workers, was born in Atlanta on March 20, 1937. After his parents divorced, he spent his early childhood in orphanages and foster homes.

He showed his early flair for music by using a hairbrush as a rhythm guitar to accompany the "Grand Ole Opry" radio program. His mother, who had remarried, bought her son a cheap guitar and he showed immediate skill, albeit with unorthodox fingering methods.

Mr. Reed quit high school to perform in local honky-tonks and festivals and impressed an Atlanta radio show host, who took over the young man's management. He won engagements opening for singers Ernest Tubb and Faron Young.

He also wrote novelty tunes such as "If the Good Lord's Willing" that made little impact when he recorded them in the late 1950s.

However, rocker Gene Vincent covered Mr. Reed's song "Crazy Legs" in 1958, and Brenda Lee's version of Mr. Reed's "That's All You Gotta Do" appeared on the flip side of her 1960 hit "I'm Sorry." Wagoner also had a No.1 country hit with Mr. Reed's "Misery Loves Company" in 1962.

After brief Army service, in which he played in a country band, Mr. Reed settled in Nashville and was a session and tour guitarist for Wagoner and Bobby Bare, among others. His own career as a solo artist had withered until Atkins, who headed the Nashville unit at RCA Records, urged Mr. Reed to leave his record label, Columbia, for RCA.

Atkins's idea was not to refashion Mr. Reed to fit public taste but to let him pursue his own sound and identity. The plan worked, with Mr. Reed successfully reaching the charts with "Guitar Man" (1967).

The next year, Presley recorded "Guitar Man" and Mr. Reed's "U.S. Male" with the songwriter doing the backup guitar work.

Over the next several years, Mr. Reed experienced what was arguably his most professionally successful, with Grammy Awards for best instrumental performance both as a solo artist ("When You're Hot, You're Hot," 1971) and with Atkins ("Me & Jerry," 1970). His other hits included "Amos Moses" (1970) and " Lord, Mr. Ford" (1973), a comic look at the plight of car owners during the era's gasoline crisis.

Tall, blond and charismatic, Mr. Reed became a comic fixture on country television programs including the "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" and tried to parlay that fame into an acting career. His admittedly modest abilities limited him mostly to broad comedy, and his final role was as a sadistic football coach in "The Waterboy" (1998) with Adam Sandler.

Among Mr. Reed's last hit records, in 1983, was Tim DuBois's comic novelty " She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)." Although he faded from country music's front tier, he won another Grammy for best country instrumental performance for "Sneakin' Around" (1991) with Atkins.

In the late 1990s, he formed the Old Dogs with Jennings, Bare and Mel Tillis, and the group specialized in singing comic laments about aging. "I'm not one of those flat-belly singers anymore," Mr. Reed told the Associated Press at the time. "The record industry is one of those industries that will discourage you and turn you loose. They sell records to those screaming little girls."

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Priscilla Mitchell Hubbard of Brentwood; two daughters, Charlotte "Lottie" Stewart of Franklin, Tenn., and Seidina Hinesley of Smyrna, Tenn.; and two grandchildren.

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