George Jones – The Possum.
Probably the man whose life and tale encompass the concepts of a country song a lot better than any of us. Coming from rags to riches, returning to rags, and finally onto rehab and redemption, George Jones was obviously a man who faced demons head on, and a lot more ferociously than anyone expected. Ultimately, though, he made it all the way to the top. Was he a total rebel badass? Without a doubt! And here’s 10 explanations why:
1. Overturning the Dining Table at Tammy Wynette’s House
Before George and Tammy got married, George went to Tammy’s house one evening for dinner with her and her then partner, songwriter Don Chapel. George was familiar with Tammy because of their shared booking agent. While having dinner, Tammy and Don Chapel got into a fight, which ended up with Don screaming at Tammy, “son of a bitch,” in front of George. George, secretly concealing his love for Tammy, totally lost it.
“I felt rage fly all over me,” Jones mentioned in his autobiography. “I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don’s and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.”
George proclaimed his love for Tammy right away, and the country music power couple were soon wedded.
2. Supporting The Foundation Of ACE – The Association of Country Entertainers
George Jones was never regarded as an Outlaw, but he took part in some of the major precursors to country music’s Outlaw movement during the mid 70s. At this time, Country music awards increasingly went to singers and performers of ‘pop-country’ – a trend that seriously disturbed country veterans. Things really heated up at the 1975 CMAs, when Charlie Rich burnt the letter announcing John Denver as 1975’s Entertainer of the Year.
Only the previous year, the 1974 award for Best Female Vocalist of the Year went to pop-sensation, Olivia Newton-John. This prompted a group of classic country artists to establish the “Association of Country Entertainers”, or ACE.
Leading ACE was no other than George Jones and his wife Tammy Wynette, and the first conference of ACE took place at their Tennessee home. Other members in ACE included Dolly Parton, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Conway Twitty, Hank Snow, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell and a lot more than a dozen other folks. ACE requested better representation of classic musicians on the CMA’s Board of Directors, and a lot more harmony on country radio playlists (doesn’t this seem familiar? hmm?).
Just how effective ACE has been can be debated, but it was indeed one of the forerunners to future institutions that sought to bring harmony back to country music, and to ensure that the CMA got some proper counsel from actual country musicians. This move also made it easier for future musicians to usher in the Outlaw movement, which allowed county to get back to a more classic sound.
3. Driving a Lawnmower to the Liquor Store
This could be the best and most infamous George Jones tale, but what many people don’t fully understand is the fact that George riding his lawnmower to the liquor store was not exactly a strange occurrence – he had done it a couple of times already!
The very first and most well-documented lawnmower event was in the late 60s. George Jones happened to be residing 8 miles away from Beaumont, TX, with his then wife Shirley Ann Corley. Jones had gotten a few #1 hits during that time, and his achievements only fueled his careless ways with liquor. He had been drinking alcohol so much that his wife Shirley ended up hiding all the keys to their vehicles before she left the house, so that George wouldn’t drive to the closest liquor store in Beaumont.
However, that didn’t prevent him from getting a drink. One time, after looking over their house and tearing apart every corner looking for the keys, George gazed out the window and saw a riding lawnmower sitting in their yard under the gleam of a safety light.
“There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,” George remembered in his autobiography. “I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
The next, lesser-known event of George’s lawnmower journeys took place when he got married to Tammy Wynette. Taking a warning from George’s ex wife Shirley, Tammy stashed all the keys away from George, but George has been down that path before. Wynette awakened one night at 1 am to discover George was missing.
“I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,” Tammy recalled in 1979. “When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, ‘Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.’”
The George Jones lawnmower events were eventually memorialized in lots of country videos, such as Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight;” Vince Gill’s 1993 hit “One More Last Chance,” which contains the line, “She might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere;” John Rich’s “Country Done Come to Town;” and George’s own “Honky Tonk Song.”
4. Recording “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Of course, it might be an easy task for us to focus on George’s trademark song and declare that it was amazing for him to trim it down, but even so the origin of the song “He Stopped Loving Her Today” goes far deeper. The song didn’t just rescue George’s career, it actually saved his life, and it’s all because this is a song that he didn’t actually want to record because he thought it is very gloomy and very long, and that no-one would listen to it.
It ultimately turned in to his first #1 in six years, restored his career, unveiled him to a new era of fans, and strengthened his position as one of country music’s greatest personalities ever. Jones himself said, “A four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.”
Created by Country Music Hall of Famer, Bobby Braddock (who you can debate wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer if it weren’t for this song), together with Curly Putnam, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” spent 18 weeks at #1, triumphed in the Grammy for Best Male Country Performance in 1980 (both the ACM for Single and Song of the Year) and was even the Song of the Year for the CMA’s for 1980 and 1981. Following George’s passing, the song went into the charts again at #21. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” should be in that exclusive class of tunes that could be debated as the finest country music songs ever.
5. Becoming The Best Male Duet Partner Throughout The History of Country Music
If you have the greatest voice in country music, your expertise as a duet partner will likely be called on very early on and frequently. And even though George’s solo success is in itself deserving of a Hall of Fame spot, very little compares to his performance as a duet partner. Country music personalities old and young, men and women, all lined up eager to have his voice in their songs for over several years, and duets accounted for five of the fourteen #1 hits George achieved throughout his fabled profession. Here’s a few of the folks George performed duets with throughout the years:
”Tammy Wynette ”Loretta Lynn ”Buck Owens ”Waylon Jennings ”Willie Nelson ”Johnny Cash ”Dolly Parton ”David Allan Coe ”Jerry Lee Lewis ”Hank Williams Jr. ”Patty Loveless ”Lynn Anderson ”Emmylou Harris ”Ricky Skaggs ”Garth Brooks ”Tracy Lawrence ”Charlie Daniels ”Marty Stuart ”Merle Haggard ”Ralph Stanley ”Randy Travis ”Vince Gill ”Alan Jackson ”Sammy Kershaw ”Shelby Lynn ”Mark Chesnutt ”Travis Tritt ”Barbara Mandrell ”Brenda Lee ”Shooter Jennings ”The Staple Singers ”Keith Richards ”B.B. King