Album Review

Jerry Reed - Here I Am

Jerry Reed - Here I Am

After living an itinerant life as a child shuttled between Alabama and Georgia, young Jerry Reed Hubbard was discovered by Bill Lowery, the famed Atlanta mogul. Lowery had faith in Reed's abilities as both performer and songwriter and urged Capitol Records to record him. Bear Family has compiled Reed's Capitol sides in a new collection, Here I Am. Reed had an incredible ability to imitate the voices and sounds of others, but the Capitol recordings reveal a performer who had yet to find his own voice. The songs he cut (mostly his own) jump between honky-tonk country and Memphis rockabilly. His Hank Williams impressions are dead-on as he even recasts an old Hank expression into a song of its own ("If The Good Lord's Willing And The Creek Don't Rise"). But Reed has always distanced himself from his Capitol years, and rightly so if one seeks to evaluate them beyond their proper place as mere beginnings. After a stint in the military, followed by an association with Columbia that saw him spending more time playing guitar behind folks such as Bobby Bare than making his own music, Reed moved to RCA via Chet Atkins. Much in the same way that Atlantic's Jerry Wexler jump-started Aretha Franklin after she left Columbia, Atkins realized Reed had a unique and personal style that should be left on its own. Atkins' instincts were correct, as Reed had developed an incredible fingerpicking approach using an alternate tuning on an electric gutstring guitar. This driving sound, similar to a louder but more muted Scruggs style of banjo, was like nothing anybody heard before. In fact Reed's first RCA hit, "Guitar Man", caught the ear of Elvis Presley, who employed Reed's guitar playing on his own version of that song and several other great tracks. Although a few truncated collections have come from RCA, One Way Records has released five different twofer packages from Reed's early RCA days. While all these reissues have fine moments, perhaps the most illustrative of Reed's breakthrough is the duo of Alabama Wild Man and Explores Guitar Country. Explores Guitar Country finds Reed putting his own mark on old country classics such as "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" and "Wayfaring Stranger", while also flashing his chops on the self-penned instrumental "Bluegrass (With Guts)", a reference to his string preference. On the other hand, Alabama Wild Man focuses on the great songwriting that helped build Reed's persona, which later carried him into acting stardom. His association with Burt Reynolds movies may have stereotyped him, diminishing a fine recording legacy. Much like fellow adopted Georgian Ray Charles, Reed is an incredible musician and interpreter who sometimes gets a bit sentimental, but all in all is very soulful and unique. Unlike Charles, he is also an accomplished songwriter.