Asked a few years ago what he considered his primary occupation, Jerry Reed was unequivocal. “Entertainer,” he said. “I think that covers me pretty well.”
Indeed, the man born Jerry Reed Hubbard in Atlanta on March 20, 1937, was one of country music’s last great all-around entertainers. He racked up hits as a singer and as a songwriter, while entrancing guitar fiends with his red-hot six-string work and charming movie audiences as an actor.
Jerry passed away in a Nashville hospice on Sept. 1 from complications of emphysema. He was 71.
It all started with the $7 guitar his mother bought him when he was 8. “That’s my connection to the human race,” he told Country Weekly in 2004. “That little neck of the guitar is my highway. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what I’m best at.”
Still, it was as a songwriter that he first got Nashville’s attention. His real breakthrough came when Elvis Presley recorded his songs “U.S. Male” and “Guitar Man” in 1968 (the latter song would also give him a nickname). His songs have been recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash and the Oak Ridge Boys to Dean Martin and Tom Jones. Under the tutelage of the great Chet Atkins, he also became one of the city’s top session guitarists.
As a solo artist, he found his groove with a string of tongue-in-cheek hits that lasted from the early 1970s through the next decade. “Amos Moses,” “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft),” “The Bird” and others established his persona as a good ol’ boy who’s as clever as he is cool—which served him well as he made the move into acting. His best-known role was as wily truck driver Cledus “Snowman” Snow in three Smokey and the Bandit movies.
“Once your movie has been played across the world and become a smash everywhere it went, you’re not just a recording artist anymore,” Jerry told Country Weekly. “I wanted to be a little more than just a recording artist, a songwriter and a guitar picker.” His last film role came in the 1998 comedy hit The Waterboy.
He slowed down the pace of both his acting and recording in the mid-1980s, but kept up a steady performing schedule. Jerry considered himself “semi-retired” for the last several years, focusing on spiritual studies and U.S. veterans’ issues (he served two years in the Army) while spending time with his wife since 1959, Priscilla.
“I’m living proof that God is alive and well,” he said in 2004. “He allowed me to be successful in spite of myself. I did everything I could to screw it up, and I never had enough sense to accomplish what I accomplished. I just never looked back.”