Elvis Presley and Jerry Reed’s Guitar Man: An Argument Creates a Legendary Story

by Kayla Zadel
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There’s always a story behind the music, and one surrounding Elvis Presley is coming to light.

Singer-songwriter and storyteller Otis Gibbs is telling a story about his famous friend, Jerry Reed. This encounter also involves the one and only Elvis Presley.

Gibbs sets the scene by telling the backstory of Presley’s state of mind at the time. He says, “Elvis is in Los Angeles back in 1967. He finished making a lot of bad movies. A lot of them were fun, a lot of them weren’t, and you know he wanted to play some more rock and roll and do some more recording, which he hadn’t done in a little while.”

Gibbs gets to the point in the story of when Elvis first hears Jerry Reed’s “Guitar Man.” He says that Presley was driving around and he loved it the first time that he heard it. He immediately wanted to record it.

Elvis then goes to Nashville to record his version of the song. He gets together with session musicians, but they don’t exactly strike up the chord he’s looking for.

“They’re playing ‘Guitar Man’ and it just doesn’t feel right,” the storyteller says, “But they’re just not getting it right. For some reason, they just can’t get the feel.”

Gibbs says that Elvis just isn’t like it after he’s been trying to record all day. He know what he wants, and he wants it to sound like Reed’s rendition.

“I’ve heard from session players before, like the old school guys, there might be session player that says ‘why don’t you play it like Hank Garland’ and the session player would say ‘why don’t you go get Hank Garland? He lives right here in town. Why don’t you have him play it?’ I’ve heard that from a lot of different perspectives. It makes sense,” Gibbs continues to say as he sets up the story.

Getting to the ‘Guitar Man’ for Elvis Presley

It got to that point during the session and the musician told Elvis Presley to get the player he was looking for that could produce the sound he wanted.

So, the search began to find Jerry Reed. Gibbs says that Reed was doing what he does on all his days off, and that was fishing on the Cumberland River. When they finally get ahold of him, they tell Reed that he’s got to go in and record this part for Presley.

“He’s got his fishing clothes on, he hadn’t shaved in a week or so, he looks pretty scruffy and I mean he looks like he just came off the Cumberland River,” Gibbs admits.

“He walks into the sessions, this is at RCA Studios,” he says, “And there’s Elvis dressed beautifully. They have a dress code on Elvis sessions where everyone’s dressed pretty nice for the most part and here comes Jerry Reed in his muddy boots, you know hasn’t shaved, looking like a wild man.”

“He comes in and kind of lights up the room and Elvis really likes him right away. He’s kind of excited to see that man that did the song “Guitar Man” and to meet him.”

Gibbs says that Reed was scared to death to walk in because Elvis Presley was a big deal. However, he was excited to meet Elvis and to actually play with him. Though he felt a little rusty after not playing guitar for a few days.

Reed sits down and starts tuning the guitar in his unorthodox way. It takes a few takes but at one part Reed pauses and looks up at the iconic figure and says, “God your handsome Elvis.” Of course, he got a kick out of it and they continue playing.

The song eventually falls together and the funky beat sound is finally achieved.

Listen to the “Guitar Man” by Elvis Presley.

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