George Jones’legendary career in country music starting back in the late ’50s with his very first #1 single, “White Lightning”.
On this date in 1959, he released that very song that would jump start his decades-long career in the genre.
Originally written by J.P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper, George released it as a single in February of 1959. In a sad turn of events, the release of the track came just six days after J.P. was killed in a tragic plane crash, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
Of course, we all know that George had his own struggle with alcohol for many years, and it actually took him over 80 takes to get it right in the studio on this particular song because he was under the influence of so much alcohol at the time.
In his 1997 book, I Lived to Tell It All, George admits that, Buddy Killen, who played the upright bass on the recording, tore his fingers up trying to help them get this song finished so it sounded decent:
“I was drinking heavily throughout the session, and Killen later said we did 83 takes before we got one we could use.
Killen said he wore the skin off his fingers playing that same opening, and had to wear Band-Aids to cover raw blisters.
Years later he said he could still remember the pain from playing that kick-off over and over the stiff, woven-wire strings of an upright bass.”
Not shockingly, Buddy threatened to quit during the session, and producer Pappy Daily ended up using the first take of the song after it was all said and done.
From there on out, George would intentionally mimic his mistake on the word “slug” from the studio recording at live shows, as well as in later re-recorded versions of the tune.
Don Pierce, former president of Starday records, told George’s biographer Bob Allen that they could never get it exactly right again after that first take:
“We tried doing the song again, but it never was as good as it was that first time. So we just released it that way.”
Imagine being Buddy Killen, and after making your fingers bleed doing 80 takes of this song and threatening to quit, they end up using the first take… I think I’d be more upset about that than doing it close to 100 times over.
Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Jr., Joe Diffie, and many other country artists have covered the song over the years, as well.