It was 52 years ago today, on September 10, 1967, that Elvis Presley recorded the song “Guitar Man” in the RCA studios in Nashville. The song was written and originally recorded by Jerry Reed (who went on to act in Smokey and the Bandit and other films). Jerry’s version reached only #53 on the country chart that year, and Elvis would see much greater success with it. Jerry enjoyed that success, too, because he was playing on the Elvis version.
One of my favorite interviews I ever did was with Jerry Reed, shortly before he passed away. I asked him about his connection with Elvis. He told me that Elvis was in the studio trying to record the song. He was unhappy with the way the guitar part sounded. He kept telling the guitar player “That don’t sound like Reed’s record.” Jerry’s version of the story is that the guitar player told Elvis, “If you want it to sound like Reed’s record – you better get Reed in here!” (Another version of the story says that Elvis said, “Get me that redneck picker who’s on the original tune!”)
Jerry told me that he was out fishing or something and someone from his office was finally able to reach him by phone and said that Elvis wanted him in the studio. Jerry said that he hadn’t shaved in days and walked into the studio looking a bit shaggy. He said Elvis looked at him and said, “Lord, have mercy! What is that?!” Jerry went on to tell me, That he never thought of himself as a Nashville recording musician. He called himself a stylist. He said he had his own way of tuning. He said “they were trying to record Guitar Man, and they couldn’t make it feel like my record.” He said that those players use picks, and he uses his fingers. He said that once he “wound up his guitar” and got it all set he told me that “as soon as we hit the intro, you could see Elvis’ eyes light up he knew we had it”. (Jerry also played on other songs in that session including Big Boss Man) It was so cool to hear Jerry tell this story!
In 1981, the song was re-recorded with Elvis’ vocal left intact. That version went to #1 on the country charts.
Here is the song from 52 years ago:
Here is Jerry Reed’s original version:
By sundown I’d left Kingston with my guitar up under my coat
I hitchhiked all the way down to Memphis got a room at the YMCA
For the next three weeks I went a hauntin’ them night clubs
Lookin’ for a place to play
Well I thought my pickin’ would set ’em on fire
But nobody wanted to hire a guitar man
Well I nearly bout starved to death down in Memphis
I run out of money and luck
So I bummed me a ride down to Macon Georgia
On a overloaded poultry truck
I thumbed on down to Panama City
Started checkin’ out some of them all night bars
Hopin’ I can make myself a dollar makin’ music on my guitar
Got the same old story at them all night piers
There ain’t no room around here for a guitar man
We don’t need a guitar man son
So I slept in hobo jungles bummed a thousand miles of track
Till I found myself in Mobile Alabama at a club they call Big Jack’s
A little four piece band was jammin’ so I took my guitar and I sat in
I showed ’em what a band would sound like with a swingin’ little guitar man
Show ’em son
So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile
Well make it on out to the club called Jack’s if you got a little time to kill
Just follow that crowd of people you’ll wind up out on his dance floor
Diggin’ the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico
And guess who’s leadin’ that five piece band
Why wouldn’t you know it’s that swingin’ little guitar man yeah
4 thoughts on “Tune Tuesday – Guitar Man”
I read recently that Jerry would NOT give in to the Colonel’s demands to basically give Elvis most of the publishing… He said no he would not give any of it away… I think he told the publisher “I’m not going to give you my soul'”
He is one of the few who didn’t give away the farm while Elvis sang their song. It wasn’t Elvis…it was the Colonel.
Great post and it’s cool you got to interview him. He seemed like a down to earth guy.
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I had not heard that about Jerry. Interesting, for sure.
Jerry was so fun! We talked about Elvis, Dean Martin, Smokey and the Bandit, The Waterboy, and so many other things. I was only supposed to talk to him for about 10 minutes, but he told me he had no where to be and was enjoying himself. It was so nice. I wish I had the audio from this! Such a generous and funny man!