Jerry Reed’s guest guitar on Ringo Starr’s countrified ‘$15 Draw’
“I just always figured that if I hung on, I’d make it big some day.” That’s Jerry Reed counting off “$15 Draw,” Ringo Starr’s mid-tempo ballad of a wandering musician missing mama and his hometown, and clawin’ up a super catchy riff on acoustic guitar. Although Reed had a half dozen Top 20 country singles already under his belt when he did the June 26, 1970, Nashville session for the ex-Beatle’s second solo album Beaucoups of Blues, by February 1971 “Amos Moses” would cross over into the Top Ten on the pop chart.
Starr even exclaims, “When you’re hot, you’re hot!,” which he may have heard African American comedian Flip Wilson say in character as the sassy Geraldine Jones, during “$15 Draw’s” closing vamp. Reed’s second and final Top Ten pop entry was — get ready — “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” which he wrote and issued as the follow-up to “Amos Moses.” Starr’s penchant for unwittingly inspiring hit song titles — e.g. the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” — was still active.
“Wine, Women, and Loud Happy Songs” and “I’d Be Talking All the Time” were also tracked during the three-hour Starr session at Music City Recorders with innovative steel guitarist Pete Drake in the producer’s chair. Reed is documented on the session log, but his rhythm contributions are not so easily discernible if that’s the case. In a nod to the band’s efficiency and assembly-line Nashville recording protocol, all 12 songs from Beaucoups of Blues as well as the Starr-penned B-side “Coochy-Coochy” and outtake “Nashville Jam” were tracked in just three days. Reed never crossed paths with Starr again.
Previously, Drake was asked by George Harrison to contribute pedal steel to the spiritual Beatle’s All Things Must Pass triple album in May 1970 in England [the initially rejected “I Live for You” finds Drake shining during the instrumental break]. Adrift in the months following the Beatles’ demise over controversial management decisions, Starr lent a drumming hand to Harrison. Drake convinced Starr to fly to Nashville the next month to record an album’s worth of freshly submitted country music. As a Beatle, Starr’s reading of Buck Owens’s “Act Naturally,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “What Goes On,” and even his debut composition “Don’t Pass Me By” had leaned effectively toward country.
Elvis Presley’s right-hand man Scotty Moore co-owned the Music City studio and engineered the Starr sessions. Moore had recently stopped playing his prized Gibson Super 400 electric guitar and remained on sabbatical except for a few notable occasions — e.g. Carl Perkins’s clever Presley tribute “The E.P. Express” in 1975 — until the original “Blue Suede Shoes” songwriter convinced Moore to cut the 706 ReUnion: A Sentimental Journey LP and hit the road together for a brief England tour in 1992.
Another linchpin of Presley’s sound was D.J. Fontana, who supplied the drumming for Beaucoups of Blues in tandem with pal Buddy Harman [harmonicist Charlie McCoy, guitarist Jerry Kennedy, gospel quartet the Jordanaires, and Harman were all Presley session veterans at RCA Studio B]. Starr concentrated primarily on vocals. His delivery is sincere, confident, and a relaxed fit for country, but much of the material is lackluster and devoid of earworm hooks. One of the four compositions contributed by future peanut butter entrepreneur Sorrells Pickard, “$15 Draw” is the clear victor. The “I remember how my little fingers blistered” lyric is a nice, unintended callback to Starr’s infamous exclamation at the climax of “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles’ White Album.
Starr has yet to attempt any of the Beaucoups of Blues songs onstage or cut a proper country follow-up. However, that was the tentative plan for 2017’s Give More Love. Co-written with Eurythmics multi-instrumentalist Dave Stewart, only “So Wrong for So Long” made the final running order and ironically may be that album’s best song.
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