Jerry Reed - Nashville Underground (1968) - Album Review
By Paul Rigg
A Late-Sixties Surprise
Squeezed between The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed (1967) and Alabama Wild Man (1968) came Reed’s “exquisitely produced country-pop" album, Nashville Underground (1968; Real Gone Music/Sony).
The three-time Grammy winner had many talents but most guitarists recall him as a pioneer in the field of finger-picking, and as a singer-songwriter whose tunes were covered by artists of the calibre of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Chet Atkins– who once said that Reed was even better than him.
It is worth recalling the context in which Reed dropped Nashville Underground. It is perhaps not surprising that Cash had recorded At Folsom Prison live at Folsom State Prison in mid-January of that year, but a lot of the biggest acts of the time were focused on rock and, particularly, the electric guitar. In February 1968 Dave Gilmour joined Pink Floyd, for example, while in September, Led Zeppelin played for the first time, and later that same month The Who began recording their rock opera Tommy. Shortly afterwards The Beatles released The White Album, and psychedelia was reaching its peak.
It is in this scenario that Reed picked up his cheap but well-loved Baldwin acoustic guitar and placed country music firmly into the mix with soft ballads like Remembering, which kicks off the album. “A good woman's love is hard to find, and my woman's love was just that kind, And I'm the reason that she's gone today, I miss her so and the price that I pay is remembering,” he croons – which is about as far away as you can get from The Who’s We're Not Gonna Take It: “We forsake you, gonna rape you, Let's forget you better still…”
Next up is A Thing Called Love, made famous by Cash but written and originally recorded by Reed. The song tells the story of a man who is ‘six foot six and weighed two hundred and thirty-five pounds’, but is brought to his knees by love. If the multi-talented artist had just created this one song it would have have made this album a key reference point in musical history, but there are several others.
The ripping Tupelo Mississippi Flash is classic Reed in his wildman ’guise, while Wabash Cannonball, Fine On My Mind and Hallelujah I Love Her So (a Ray Charles cover) conjure up gentler characters in female form. The bluesy Almost Crazy feels flat, however, especially when contrasted both in style and content with closer John Henry, which tells the mythical story of the African American folk hero whose job it was to drill into rocks to build railroad tunnels that opened up the American west.
Nashville Underground was largely an unexpected album both in the context of a lot of other music around in the late 1960s, and because its light country pop-feel didn’t neatly gel with the ‘notorious wildman’ who wrote most of it. It is nonetheless a classic of its time, and it augered in a period that saw Reed’s star go from strength to strength.