As the door to the studio opens and Jerry Reed walks in, Elvis looks at him and says, "Lord, have mercy, what is that?" Jerry, not having shaved in about a week and still wearing the clothes from his interrupted fishing trip, nervously approaches Elvis with a battered guitar case in his hand, his old clogs making a clattering sound on the studio floor.
Elvis gets up from the armchair where he's been sitting and chatting with his friends Joe Esposito, Charlie Hodge and Billy Smith. "Ahh, Jerry, sorry to bother you on a Sunday and all," he says politely as they shake hands. "Man, I just love your recording of 'Guitar Man,' but these here guys can't make it sound like it did on your record," he continues as he points in the general direction of guitar players Scotty Moore, Harold Bradley and Chip Young.
It's September 10, 1967 and the location is RCA's Studio B in Nashville. The aim of the session is to record some singles and a couple of bonus tracks for the upcoming Clambake soundtrack album. A few hours earlier, the session kicked off with a rundown of "Guitar Man," a song whose driving accoustic sound Elvis haven't been able to get out of his head since he heard it on the radio in LA while making the movie Speedway that summer.
But the musicians couldn't get the groove, particularly the guitar sound, which plays a major part in the song. So producer Felton Jarvis wisely told Elvis that if he wanted that distinctive Jerry Reed guitar sound they'd have to get Jerry Reed himself aboard. "Get him in," Elvis answered.
After tracking him down on a fishing trip on the Cumberland River outside of Nashville, Jerry Reed arrives at the studio, looking like "a sure-enough Alabama wild man," as Felton Jarvis later likes to tell the story. In contrast, Elvis is trim-looking, wearing a casual black suit and a bright shirt with the topp buttons opened.
Jerry, a whirlwind of energy, hooks up his electric gut string, tunes the B-string up a whole tone, and tones the low E-string down a whole tone. "So I can bar straight across," he explains to his fellow guitar players. He plays a couple of tones with his fingers.
Felton glances at Elvis who is standing at the microphone, looking expectantly at Jerry. "We're rolling, this is 'Guitar Man' take one," Felton says, as Jerry continues to run through some guitar licks, trying to get his fingers up to speed. Elvis laughs as Jerry excuses himself, "I ain't played all weekend, Elvis." "I know, you're house is a mess, Reed," Felton kids him. Elvis, fascinated by the man, chimes in, "That's a mess, man." "It is ... a mess," answers Jerry as he starts working out the intro.
"No man, there ain't no way you can get them both, they'll just sound like a room full of spastics, or something," Jery Reed tells Chip Young, who nods his understanding that it's not possible to do all the guitar parts from his original recording at one time. Then, after a couple of tries, he turns to bass player Bob Moore, "It's long on the record, I forgot it's like this," he says and plays the intro just right. Elvis' face lits up.
What follows is a take abandoned after the first verse, but during those 35 seconds there's no mistaking Elvis sounding energized and engaged, focusing on the music. Instead it's Jerry Reed making the mistakes, "I may wonder of in the parking lot. Stay with me, or I'll get to you-sometime tonight, he jokes. "I can do that better... one two, three four."
And better and better it gets. Elvis, responding well to the shot of musical adrenaline injected by Jerry Reed's guitar sound, really gets into it. Take 5 is the first complete take, and at the end of take 10, when the guitars and the rhythm is just right, Elvis starts singing "What'd I Say."
As the band adds power, steel guitar player Pete Drake, wearing his customary flowered shirt, glances as Elvis and a thought runs through his mind: "Is this really the same guy that I played for in June, and whose last recording was that silly song, what was it called again ... yeah, the one with the corny title ... "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad?"
To experience this historical session, play track number 16 on disc 1 of FTD's Elvis Sings Guitar Man and then tracks 11–13 on disc 2.