Elvis Presley sings Jerry Reed’s ‘Guitar Man’

Listen to this track –  Elvis singing the Jerry Reed-penned country hit ‘Guitar Man’, a hit for Reed and a great cover for Elvis who performed it for the legendary ’68 Comeback special.  This is, of course, in honour of the very underrated Jerry Reed who was one hell of a picker and who recently passed away at the age of 71.

Jerry Reed’s version was a top 20 country hit in 1967, featuring his specialized picking technique on a nylon-stringed guitar – his trademark.  Elvis recorded the song soon after, although he was unhappy initially with the way the takes were sounding.   Elvis’ producer Felton Jarvis called Reed in a bid to find out how best to get the Reed sound on the record.  Jerry Reed answered simply, and logically, that the best way to get the Jerry Reed sound was to get Jerry Reed to play on the track.  So, that’s what happened.

Jerry Reed The Essential Jerry Reed
Reed developed an idiosyncratic style of playing guitar while in his teens. His guitar teacher instructed him to unlearn it. Reed dumped the teacher and got a recording contract instead.

You can read the full story here, along with more information about this gifted musician.

Reed was of course a singularly talented guitarist, admired by his peers which included the celebrated country music innovator and picker in his own right, Chet Atkins, with whom Reed often performed.

In addition to being a musician, he was an actor too.  His most memorable and beloved role may well be that of “The Snowman” in the Smokey & The Bandit films. I remember seeing him on TV variety shows in the 70s (a long lost television genre which is bound to reappear…), not to mention kids shows like Scooby-Doo, where we got to see an animated Jerry Reed.

In addition to all of this, he was purportedly a man who enjoyed a laugh, simple pleasures, and who was endowed with a sense of perspective to offset his considerable talents that kept both of his feet in the Georgia mud.

RIP Jerry.

For more music, check out this footage of Jerry Reed showing off his picking prowess with Chet Atkins.


George Harrison Sings ‘Blow Away’ from 1979

Here’s a clip of movie producer, racing enthusiast, gardener, songwriter, and guitarist George Harrison with his poptastic 1979 song ‘Blow Away’. Oh, he was in the Beatles too.

The cover of George Harrisons self-titled album in 1979
The cover of George Harrison's self-titled album in 1979

George was an exceptional songwriter, not in the least because he had the tough job of attempting to put across material while in the same band as Lennon and McCartney. And of course he managed to match their ‘A’ material quite well with ‘Taxman’, ‘If I Needed Someone’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, and others. Although Harrison’s solo material is notoriously patchy, arguably no different than that of all of the other Beatles, the high points during his career as a solo artist often matched his Beatles output.

For instance, I’ve always loved ‘Blow Away’, a sparkling gem from Harrison’s low-key 1979 self-titled album, George Harrison. All Things Must Pass may be his towering magnum opus as a solo artist – and rightly so. But, this tune is as good as anything on ATMP. I think this is in part to do with his approach to finding his own sound, while still resting in what he’d learned while honing his songwriting craft in competition with John and Paul. Part of what helped him to do that was his way of integrating a signature guitar sound into the best of his work. And he certainly uses his mournful, melancholic slide guitar to full effect here on this tune.

Sometime in the 1970s, Harrison seemed to change his approach to the guitar, leaving his Carl Perkins-like jangle and twang behind, and taking to the slide. It’s arguable perhaps that he wasn’t interested in meeting his friend Eric Clapton on the top of guitar-Mount Olympus by trying to play like him. In this, the slide might have worked out as a way through for him, given Clapton’s disuse of it. But that’s just me speculating. Harrison was never that kind of guitarist anyway. He was a proponent of the ‘simple is best’ school, and George Harrison’s contributions to the Beatles in terms of guitar are often missed by those who aren’t paying attention. The point is, on this track George seems to make a mournful guitar part sound exactly right in one of the most optimistic songs in his catalogue, a happy tune with just a hint of melancholy. Despite a change in style, George still made a point of proving that simple was still best.

The thing I like about this song, besides the guitar, is that it seems to be drawn from a place of comfort. There’s no ‘uptightness’ in this song, which can’t be said of a lot of his material a couple of years before. This is a guy who remains to be unselfconscious about writing a straight-ahead Beatle-George pop song during a time when pop music was in the middle of an overhaul with the upcoming 1980s looming. There’s something in it which kind of suggests an autumn day after a fantastic summer. What with this tune being one of the last of the Beatles solo singles to be released before the end of the ‘will they or won’t they’ era of hoped-for Beatles reunions, perhaps that’s just what it is.

Check out the George Harrison official website for more information about Harrison’s legacy as guitarist and songwriter.


100 greatest guitar songs list from Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone have published their list of the 100 greatest guitar songs, which you can peruse for yourself here.

Electric guitarLists are funny things. People love ’em and hate ’em all at once. But, whether you think they’re a good thing or not, at least they get people talking, don’t they? Most likely, you’ll find the usual baby-boom era-centric selections on here, which may not be a surprise. After all, this is Rolling Stone. But, it could be argued that the vocabulary of rock guitar playing was established in the rock n roll and 60s pop eras. Having said that, a few tunes like B.B King’s “How Blue Can You Get” and Paul Butterfield’s “Look Over Yonders Wall” which features the largely unsung guitar-hero Mike Bloomfield‘s scorching slide playing, represents some of the lesser known tracks that makes the era such a rich vein of guitar innovation. I would have put something by Peter Green on there. But, you can’t have everything, I guess.

Still, it would have been nice to see the Smiths crack the top ten, instead of number 90 with “How Soon is Now” (I would have chosen “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, of course). Having said that, it’s nice that The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” scored pretty high at number 20. And I guess the Nirvana entry at number 10 (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was also meant to address the criticism that all of the other entries are firmly “classic rock” in their alignment. But I would have liked to have seen a few more from the new wave era too, an era which is perhaps not known for flashy guitar playing. But, have you heard Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze on their song “Another Nail in My Heart“? It’s not a flashy solo, but it’s interesting, making you wonder how he’s going to bridge the verse into the chorus, and then manages to do it brilliantly. And the solo is fairly oddly placed near the beginning of the song, instead of the usual place for the solo in the middle. This adds a bit of a pleasant surprise to the ear, and makes the song a more interesting listen. This is what a great guitar solo is supposed to do – make the song stronger.

It also would have been nice to see a bit of a less electrified list – a few more acoustic guitar entries might have made for a more balanced list – Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Davy Graham, Kelly Joe Phelps – all would have made the list if I ran the zoo. But, so would Bruce Cockburn, who is regularly left off lists like this one. I think this may have to do with the fact that the list is aimed at the American rock fan, who is generally not interested in music out of which a lot of rock music is derived, or those songs by guitarists not well-known in the States. Fair enough. Rolling Stone have to sell magazines, right?

But, what is a good sign is that a lot of über-flashy players and songs are left off in favour of a few with a more minimalist approach. So, Steve Cropper makes it with “Soul Man” (although I would have listed Booker T. and the Mgs’ “Green Onions” over that one for Cropper’s playing – but I’m quibbling). And Link Wray makes it for “Rumble”. Nice. Maybe Rolling Stone deserves the credit for some of the inclusions to the list that go beyond the regular expectations of their readership. Heck – I’m just glad that Satriani and Malmsteen aren’t on there, bless ’em.

What do you think, good people? What’s not on the list that should be? What should have scored higher? What should have been left off of the list?

Guitar image courtesy of mikelao26.

Goodbye, Jeff Healey

Jeff HealeyBlues guitarist and jazz enthusiast Jeff Healey passed away yesterday of cancer. He was 41.

Read the full story here.

Besides some songs he had on Canadian radio at the end of the 80s, the thing I remember best him from was the 1989 movie Roadhouse in which he played, and wasn’t it a stretch, a blind blues-rock musician.

Here’s a performance of the title song from that movie, first made famous by the Doors: “Roadhouse Blues“.

Healey would expand his palette in more recent years as a jazz DJ, playing rare tracks from his own collection of music, many cuts taken from the original 78s.

‘Bye, Jeff.

Image courtesy of ckaiserca.

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers.

It’s Andy Summers’ birthday today.

Click the image to see the Police play in front of a group of journalists just before the band embarked on their 2007 reunion tour.  The song is a medley of two Police album tracks from the band’s third album Zenyatta Mondatta, two storming tunes that not many people realise are so good; “Voices Inside My Head/When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around”. Note the scorching solo from Summers, betraying his love of jazz playing.

the Police 2007

Most know Andy Summers’ work in the Police. But, he was active well before his job with Sting and Stewart Copeland. He started as a contemporary of Eric Clapton, active in the London R&B scene with the Zoot Money Big Roll Band. Among other bands he’s played with are Dantalian’s Chariot, Eric Burdon & the New Animals, and a brief stint with The Soft Machine, with whom he toured but didn’t record.

For a more in depth look at this fascinating musician, read Andy’s autobiography, One Train Later, which covers his years with these bands, along with his most famous role as guitarist in the Police.

Happy birthday Andy!