September 4th, 2008
09:16 AM ET

The man who helped save Elvis

Jerry Reed didn’t just leave a legacy of fine songs and some entertaining acting. He also contributed to Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback.

In September 1967, Presley was at a low ebb. He was still hitting the Top 40, but his hits were flabby, formulaic songs from his flabby, formulaic movies (which weren’t hits at all). According to Peter Guralnick’s definitive biography of Elvis’ later years, “Careless Love,” Presley had taken a shine to a middling hit by Reed, “Guitar Man.”

But the crack Nashville studio crew couldn’t get the sound Elvis was looking for, and so the call was put out for Reed himself. Here’s Guralnick: “It soon became apparent that there was no way they were going to get the Jerry Reed sound without Jerry Reed himself. … When he arrived, he looked, said [producer] Felton [Jarvis], ‘like a sure-enough Alabama wild man. You know, he hadn’t shaved in about a week, and he them old clogs on - that was just the way he dressed. He come in and Elvis looked at him and said, “Lord, have mercy, what is that!” ’ ”

What “that” was, was the sound of Elvis’ new record, “the kind of churning, driving rhythm that has characterized Elvis’ music from the first,” writes Guralnick. Because of a publishing snafu, “Guitar Man” wasn’t released until January 1968 and - surprisingly, in retrospect - peaked at just No. 43. But its Reed-penned follow-up, “U.S. Male,” cracked the Top 40, and - better still - “Guitar Man” gave the writers of a planned Elvis TV special something to put at the show’s center.

You know the rest: A rejuvenated Elvis put his all into the TV special, it aired December 3, 1968, and suddenly Elvis was hot again.

As Elvis sang in the special: “I’m gonna get myself back on the track / I’ll never, never ever look back / I’ll never be more than what I am / Wouldn’t you know / I’m a swinging little guitar man.”

You bet. Thanks, Jerry.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Juls

    Miss Elvis every day!!! I grew up with Elvis and every song he sang was for me only, and I'm sure every girl in America had the same feelings. I still have those feelings when I hear his music and watch the TV specials he was on. He was so physically beautiful, that's the way I will always remember him. Young and full of life. May Elvis and Jerry rest in peace, together, for all time.

    September 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cherie

    Elvis is still the KING!

    September 20, 2008 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Franko

    Death by wrongful management, doctor prescription.
    Entertainer's ego gets puffed up.
    Drugs kill the painfully enlarged ego, with the entertainer.

    September 7, 2008 at 4:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. Barbara Govig

    Maybe they are putting a band together where ever they are, Jerry, Elvis, Johnny Cash and all others gone too soon.

    September 4, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tammy

    hey i liked watching smokey and the bandit with jerry reed and burt reynolds and sally field i like jerry reeds singing so may god bless his family and let jerry reed rest in peace he will not be lonesome in heaven he has all those singers with him.

    September 4, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Craig Grandville

    The Jerry Reed guitar sound helped to give Elvis a sense he was relavant again. It encouraged him to explore new sounds and ideas that were popular at the time. The enormous success of the "68 Special" inspired Elvis to experiment with new material, song writers, and enabled him to hire the very best musicians for the next phase of his career. It worked out so well in part because these very musicians were influenced by the sound and music of early Elvis..Jerry Reed said after meeting Elvis the first time; "Man you are the best looking thing on this earth". After you watch the 68 special, it is difficult to disagree with Jerry's statement. RIP Jerry, and say hi to Elvis for me. Craig Grandville, Bayside New York

    September 4, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bsidewinzagain

    "Guitar Man" is a fantastic record. "U.S. Male" is also good, but a touch on the cheesy side. Regardless, if Reed really helped put Elvis on track to the 68 special, then he should be thanked. It's a classic...and introduced, "If I Can Dream," which should be the theme song to the Obama campaign...

    September 4, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |

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