George Jones had one hell of a Hall of Fame country music career, and a hell of a lot of wild stories to go along with it.
In the midst of his country music peak, he battled severe alcohol and drug addiction, to the point where he had little to no money left from the amounts spent on drugs and alcohol… and the legal troubles that followed.
In fact, his wife at the time, Shirley Corley, would have to hide George’s keys so he couldn’t drive to the liquor store. Of course, that wasn’t enough to stop the man and he was famously caught driving his lawn mower down the road to the liquor store.
He recalled the incident in his memoir:
“There, gleaming in the glow, was the ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour.
It might have taken me an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
In Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus, an animated series featuring behind the scenes looks at legendary stories from country music legends, the George and Tammy episode recalls a crazy story from one of Jones’ longtime songwriters, Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery.
George, drunk as a skunk, pulled out a gun and actually fired a shot at Peanutt, who was in his car at the time. They were driving down the road in separate vehicles, and in passing, Jones told Montgomery to roll down the window:
“And he shot at me, POW, like that. He missed me, and then he pulled that trigger back on that .38 again and I could hear it.
He just looked at me like this and he said, ‘Well Peanutt I’m going to the house,’ like nothing had ever happened. Just like that he rolled the window up and drove off.”
Montgomery went straight to the Sheriff’s office and told them about what happened, but as a friend, he never pressed charges.
This was in the late ’70s, when Jones was at the lowest point of his career, continuing to battle substance abuse problems.
However, Possum’s story didn’t have a sad ending… it’s actually quite the redemption story.
As the story goes on, it talks about Jones’ love for one of his past wives, fellow country singer Tammy Wynette. The two were deeply in love, but his issues ultimately led to a divorce after six-years of marriage.
Their divorce shook him to the core, inspiring him to write the song that put him back on top of the country music world. In 1980, shortly after George the gunshot incident, George released one of his most well known hits, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Wynette and Jones’ daughter recalled one of the last conversations her and her mom had with each other before she passed away:
“She just flat out said, ‘the love of my life will always be your dad, your dad is that one for me’.”
It’s wild to think about everything Jones went through in his country music career, but the one thing that brought him back to the top was his love for Ms. Tammy Wynette.
George Jones Releases His Very First #1 Hit, “White Lightning,” In 1959
George Jones’ legendary career in country music starting back in the late ’50s with his very first #1 single, “White Lightning”.
In February 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.