Preferring to be known as an “entertainer,” Georgia native Jerry Reed had a successful career as a recording artist and songwriter, as well as a film actor. His diverse work within the music industry included recording and releasing his own albums, writing songs performed by Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley, working as a session musician for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and producing albums for his own record label.
Born Jerry Reed Hubbard on March 20, 1937, in Atlanta, the future rockabilly star started playing the guitar at age seven. His mother taught him a few chords, and the rest he picked up by listening to the sound recordings of such country music guitarists as Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. At the age of eighteen, on the recommendation of Atlanta music publisher and producer Bill Lowery, Ken Nelson of Capitol Records in Nashville, Tennessee, signed Jerry Reed Hubbard to a recording contract. During his stint with Capitol (1955-58) he recorded thirty rockabilly songs, including “Mister Whiz,” “Here I Am,” and “If the Good Lord’s Willin’ and the Creeks Don’t Rise.” It was during this time that he dropped Hubbard from his professional name.
In 1958 Reed moved to Bill Lowery’s National Recording Corporation (NRC) label in Atlanta and recorded six songs: “Little Lovin’ Liza,” “Have Blues, Will Travel,” “Stone Eternal,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Just Right,” and “This Can’t Be Happening to Me.” Although Lowery had discovered and nurtured such talented young Georgia artists as Ray Stevens, Billy Joe Royal, and Joe South, Reed was not happy with his professional recording career and joined the army.
In 1959, while in the army, Reed married Priscilla Mitchell. He also remained musically active and played guitar for the Circle A Wranglers Army Band. He continued to hone his composing skills with such songs as “That’s All You Gotta Do,” which was recorded by Georgia native Brenda Lee on the flip side of her hit “I’m Sorry.” He also penned “Crazy Legs” for Gene Vincent and “Misery Loves Company” for Porter Wagoner, which was a number-one hit in 1962. These activities kept money coming in for his new family. Late in his army tenure Reed signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, where he stayed until 1963. He released twenty tracks on this label, including “A Hit and Run” and “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.”
After leaving the army, Reed and his family moved to Nashville, where he continued to write songs and store them away for a rainy day when they might be recorded. That rainy day came when Reed sent one of his songs, “Scarecrow,” to Chet Atkins at RCA Victor. Atkins liked the song so much that he recorded and released it, and in 1964 he signed Reed to RCA Victor.
From 1964 to 1967 Reed was busy as a studio session musician for other artists, including Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. In 1967 Reed released his first RCA Victor album, The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed. Later that year Elvis Presley recorded two selections, “Guitar Man” and “U.S. Male,” from this album, with Reed playing guitar for the sessions. Reed recorded on and off for RCA Victor over the next twenty years, having success with songs on both the country and pop charts. Among his hits during that period were “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” for which Reed received his first Grammy Award, and “Amos Moses.” He was also named musician of the year in 1970 and 1971 by the Country Music Association.
The highlights of Reed’s recording career, however, were the three albums he recorded with Chet Atkins, two on RCA (Me and Jerry in 1970 and Me and Chet in 1972) and the third on Columbia Records (Sneakin’ Around in 1992). Me and Jerry and Sneakin’ Around each won a Grammy Award. In 1984 he recorded My Best to You on his own label. He then returned to Capitol and recorded two albums, Lookin’ at You (1984) and What Comes Around (1985).
In 1995 Reed once again signed with Bill Lowery on Lowery’s Southern Tracks label in Atlanta. He released two albums—Flyin’ High in 1995 and Pickin’ in 1998. In 1998 he joined Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Waylon Jennings to create a touring “super group,” which called itself the Old Dogs. The group recorded one album at Atlantic Records. Reed later created his own label, RIIK (also known as R2K) Records, on which he produced several albums: Jerry Reed Visits Hit Row (1999), Jerry Reed Finger Dancing (2000), Forever Chet (2000), Live, Still (2005), Let’s Git It On (2006), and Christmas at the Mall (2007).
In addition to his work in the music industry, Reed appeared in fifteen movies, including Gator (1976), all three of the Smokey and the Bandit series (1977, 1980, 1983), Hot Stuff (1979), What Comes Around (1986), and The Waterboy (1998). Reed also appeared on numerous television variety shows and in 1972 hosted The Jerry Reed When You’re Hot, You’re Hot Hour, a summer replacement for the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS.
Reed died of emphysema on September 1, 2008, in Nashville.