A guitar picker extraordinaire and redneck comedian whose songs could almost be called funky, the late Jerry “Alabama Wild Man” Reed is one of my favorite country artists. Me, I’d love him if he’d never cut anything but “East Bound and Down” (the theme song of Smokey and the Bandit!), “Amos Moses,” and “The Preacher and the Bear,” a hilarious tale of an unfortunate meeting in the woods between a preacher hunting on the Sabbath and a grizzly bear that ends with the preacher up a tree and praying to his Lord, “I mean/Look at how he’s lookin’ at me/Does the word ‘fast food’ mean anything to you, Lord?/Oh, he’s hairy/And he’s still thinkin’/And he’s lookin’ at me like I… smell good!”
The man’s usual mode was high-spirited, and he had a knack for what you could call novelty tunes, but he was also capable of singing about the more lugubrious aspects of life; you know, broken hearts and all that. But I much preferred him at his wildest and woolliest, as did Robert Christgau, who called him “a great crazy,” and said apropos his more saccharine tunes, “He couldn’t sell soap to a hippie’s mother” and “RCA should ban the ballad.” Me, I hadn’t listened to him for years when my girlfriend gave me a truly terrible ‘70s compilation CD redeemed only by R. Dean Taylor’s great “Indiana Wants Me” and Reed’s fantastic swamp tall tale, “Amos Moses,” which is one of the songs on the 2000 best-of compilation, Jerry Reed Visits Hit Row.
Fiddle-driven opener “East Bound and Down” is a bootlegger’s anthem and smooth as Jim Beam Single Barrel bourbon, and includes a great solo by Reed. It speeds along like an 18-wheeler on the run from Smokey, and if you think it’s a bit slick, well, all I can say is all those thirsty boys in Atlanta don’t agree. “Amos Moses” is a funky tune about a Cajun alligator poacher, mean as a snake on account of his old man, who used the young Moses as alligator bait. He’s got one arm on account of a hungry gator, most likely killed a sheriff trying to track him down in the bayou, and the only thing cooler than his biography are Reed’s righteous guitar picking and distinctive voice, which are as good old boy as you can get.