By: Peter Doyle
March 18, 2023

Coda to a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite Country singles from the Sixties (1964–1973). Series edited by Josh Glenn. BONUS: Check out the DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist on Spotify.



To hear most country singers tell it, the music life is a curse: Witness Waylon Jennings lamenting his wasted young years on the road, Willie Nelson singing of fear and loathing on the tour circuit, John Fogerty wishing he had a dollar for every time he’d played to a room full of drunks, Tom T. Hall paying a shame-filled visit to a disapproving dad, or a trillion other songs.

Jerry Reed’s “Guitar Man” is having none of that. The young guitarist narrator here quits his day job and heads to Memphis, looking for a gig. Three weeks later, broke, hungry, thoroughly rebuffed, he hitches on down to Macon, Georgia (“on an overloaded poultry truck”), then to Panama City. Everywhere the same response: “ain’t no room around here for a guitar man.” Then it’s railway tracks and hobo jungles until finally he washes up in Mobile, Alabama. The bar is called Big Jack’s. The end of the line. There’s a four-piece band playing. They’re OK, but something’s missing. Jerry sits in. A guitar break follows, and then the jubilant final verse: should we listeners ever find ourselves in Mobile, he tells us, then we are to follow that crowd of people to the dance floor at Jack’s. He’ll be there, leading “the finest little five-piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.”

The song is built on a nylon string guitar figure, catchy as hell. My guess is Reed was noodling around in a weirdo tuning when he hit upon that addictive lick. Maybe he chucked in the road odyssey without too much thought, as placeholder. Or maybe he already had that first line: “I quit my job down at the car wash, left my mama a goodbye note…” Maybe he had “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” — not wholly dissimilar — in his head.

Whatever, the story tumbles out easily, the syllables falling into place as snugly as anything from the American Songbook. (Reed was a master of wordplay — listen to his Little Richard-inspired “Broken Heart Attack”.)

Reed had a dozen hard years in the business behind him when he cut “Guitar Man.” It’s just an album track, but it’s filled with delight and purpose. And gratitude, the hardships notwithstanding. Maybe it’s a musicianly reminder to self: making good music for appreciative listeners, it says, is just fine. The existential joy at the heart of musical labor is easily lost or forgotten in the quest for career glory. But it’s always recoverable. Talent is grace.

Elvis cut a version of the song later that year. A nervous Jerry Reed was called in to play the lick. Elvis couldn’t reproduce Reed’s playfulness, but the song voiced something of that moment: the new valorizing of the art-for-art’s-sake down home obscure. Elvis’s recording was a minor hit in 1968. Jerry Reed soon started having hits of his own and went on to become a country megastar.


DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | David Cantwell on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s WE FOUND IT | Lucy Sante on Johnny & June Carter Cash’s JACKSON | Mimi Lipson on George Jones’s WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME | Steacy Easton on Olivia Newton-John’s LET ME BE THERE | Annie Zaleski on Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E | Carl Wilson on Tom T. Hall’s THAT’S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS | Josh Glenn on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s BACK TO TENNESSEE | Elizabeth Nelson on Skeeter Davis’s I DIDN’T CRY TODAY | Carlo Rotella on Buck Owens’ TOGETHER AGAIN | Lynn Peril on Roger Miller’s THE MOON IS HIGH | Erik Davis on Kris Kristofferson’s SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | Francesca Royster on Linda Martell’s BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | Amanda Martinez on Bobbie Gentry’s FANCY | Erin Osmon on John Prine’s PARADISE | Douglas Wolk on The Byrds’ DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN’ MAN | David Warner on Willie Nelson’s WHISKEY RIVER | Will Groff on Tanya Tucker’s DELTA DAWN | Natalie Weiner on Dolly Parton’s IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS (WHEN TIMES WERE BAD) | Charlie Mitchell on Stonewall Jackson’s I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER | Nadine Hubbs on Dolly Parton’s COAT OF MANY COLORS | Jada Watson on Loretta Lynn’s DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’ (WITH LOVIN’ ON YOUR MIND) | Adam McGovern on Johnny Cash’s THE MAN IN BLACK | Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Dick Curless’s A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE | Alan Scherstuhl on Waylon Jennings’s GOOD HEARTED WOMAN | Alex Brook Lynn on Bobby Bare’s THE WINNER. PLUS: Peter Doyle on Jerry Reed’s GUITAR MAN | Brian Berger on Charley Pride’s IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE.




Country, Enthusiasms, Music