Here I Am is a compilation produced by Bear Family Records chronicling the tracks recorded by country singer-songwriter, actor and guitarist Jerry Reed during his first record contract with Capitol Records.
Many may know Mr Reed from his later works, hits that he performed on the soundtrack of movies in which he acted, and the chaotic and energised sound he later honed.
But this collation of 31 songs profiles his early years. From 1955 to 1958, when rockabilly and rock’n’roll had taken over, a young Jerry Reed was inspired by these new sounds as well as those he had grown up hearing: the gospel music, the traditional country music on the radio on barn dance shows such as the Grand Ole Opry.
Bill Lowery, a song publisher, had taken young Reed under his wing, helping to sign him up for his first record contract with Capitol Records, cutting his first record when he was 18. Lowery encouraged Reed to write songs, and this album is bursting with them. There are 22 self-penned numbers of the 30 tracks, with a further two or three boasting a co-writing credit for young Mr Reed.
The album kicks off with a straight heartbreak ballad, written by Reed himself. It is a little disappointing to note that this was not the first track recorded at that late-1955 session. It might have been quite satisfying to have the songs presented in chronological order, to note some kind of progression and get a feel for the development of the sound. So instead Oh, Lonely Heart is from a 1957 session. We don’t encounter the earliest batch of recordings until the middle of this compilation.
However, with the generous information provided in the booklet that comes inside the CD case, it is easy enough to refer to the recording date and relate each track to a particular period of time. Although not much information survives about Capitol Records‘ Nashville recording sessions, the songwriter, the date of recording, the location and the producer are all included in the notes.
As the compilation progresses, we are treated to a vast array of differing influences. For example, Teardrop Street is a pretty clear nod to Elvis Presley hit Heartbreak Hotel. There are some pure country flavours, lots of rockabilly and a little rock’n’roll. It feels like young Reed was either trying to fit himself into as many boxes as possible to see which one fitted the best, or the people handling him were trying to tick the boxes for all the most popular trends of the moment.
Having said that, there are moments when glimmers of pure Jerry Reed shine through. If the Good Lord’s Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise is a perfect example of Reed’s knack for taking a popular phrase and spinning it into a song. Later he would do the same again to great commercial success with songs such as When You’re Hot, You’re Hot. Here, it seems to be a little tribute to the beloved Hank Williams, whose sign-off after shows was often “If the Good Lord’s Willin’…” etc.
Considering the age of these recordings and the fact that most of them likely hadn’t seen the light of day for many years before this set was released, it is quite astounding how good they sound.
There is a freshness to them and an immediacy. The quality means we are allowed to feel an intimacy and closeness in the tender moments, and that raw energy and enthusiasm characteristic to Mr Reed in others.
In fact, these recordings do seem to capture facets of this performer that even the hallowed RCA Records did not a decade later.
A Little Something Extra…
I have touched briefly upon the type of information included within the liner notes. The photographs which accompany the extensive biography and quotes from Jerry Reed about his early days are rare and fascinating. The booklet makes a nice companion to the listening experience, adding some extra context and intrigue.
- Oh Lonely Heart
- In My Own Backyard
- I’ve Had Enough
- Teardrop Street
- Heart Appeal
- Bessie Baby
- Too Busy Cryin’ The Blues
- I’m Stuck
- Mister Whiz
- Rockin’ In Baghdad
- When I Found You
- Honey Chile
- It’s High Time
- You Make It, They Take It
- Your Money Makes You Purty
- Too Young To Be Blue
- You’re Braggin’ Boy
- Just A Romeo
- If The Good Lord’s Willing
- Here I Am
- I’m Tired Of Playing Cupid
- I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter
- How Can I Go On This Way
- This Great Big Empty Room
- I Can’t Find The Words
- How Can I Go On This Way
- So In Love
Here I Am shines a light on a portion of Jerry Reed’s recording career which is often dismissed because it didn’t bring the commercial success of his 1970s endeavours. Yes it is certainly rooted in its time, but it fits perfectly there.
Most of the tracks sit very well alongside their contemporaries, with some even giving glimpses of the unique material he would later bring to the world. His songwriting between the ages of 18 and 21 is frankly remarkable, showing solid promise. During this era he also wrote Crazy Legs for Gene Vincent, which shows he had a real understanding of music and the public’s appetite for it. This collection of recordings really highlights his talent for recognising trends and working towards them, as well as for going against them to do something unique and quirky.
Here I Am is unlikely to appeal to the casual listener of Reed’s later material. But any fan who would like to know where he came from will really enjoy this. It is a great insight into the music industry in that era, as well as into Mr Reed himself.