Word came today of the death of Jerry Reed at age 71, of complications from emphysema. Born Jerry Reed Hubbard in Atlanta in 1937, he worked his way up the ranks as a musician and songwriter, penning songs for the likes of Gene Vincent and Brenda Lee, and attracting the attention of Chet Atkins with his phenomenal guitar-picking (seen to powerful effect here in a duet with Atkins). In 1968 he attained his first pop hits as a songwriter when Elvis Presley covered his “U.S. Male” and “Guitar Man.”
Reed then signed with RCA Records and in 1970 had a sizable hit with “Amos Moses.” The following year he scored a Top Five hit with “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” (the title borrowed from a Flip Wilson catchphrase of the day), which led to guest appearances on innumerable Nixon-era TV variety shows.
After starring in his own short-lived variety series, Reed branched out into film acting with Gator in 1976. Soon afterwards a stuntman friend, Hal Needham, approached him with a film script he wished to direct and Reed was offered the part of Bo Darville in….you guessed it….Smokey And The Bandit. At that point Burt Reynolds expressed interest in the project, so he was cast as the Bandit and Jerry moved over to the role of the hero’s semi-driving sidekick, Cledus Snow.
The resulting film, powered in no small degree by Reed’s theme song “East Bound And Down” and featuring Sally Field and Jackie Gleason’s phenomenal portrayal of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, became the second-highest-grossing movie of 1977 after Star Wars and led to two sequels (with Reed playing the Bandit in Smokey And The Bandit III after a version with Gleason playing both of the title roles bombed with preview audiences).
After a few more films in this style, Reed went back to recording and touring, scoring giant hits on the country charts in the 1980s with “She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” and “The Bird.” He continued to record, tour, and make appearances on the stock-car and Southern regional circuits, into this decade. He will be missed.