This whole story began with a pinball machine and jukebox mogul in Texas jumping over to the independent record business of the 1950s. When he hitched his wagon to a Singing Marine who became the Greatest Country Singer Ever, it served Pappy Daily well through the following decade. Then, out of nowhere, the ride suddenly ended. “What went wrong?” is the obvious question to ask, here, but it’s not the right one. We need to talk about who went wrong. The answer nearly everyone’s accepted for going on 40 years now is demonstrably untrue but we can only learn the truth through a deep dive on the country music record industry of the 1960s and by taking a look at how the careers of 2 international pop stars built a throne for The King of Broken Hearts.
Contents (Click/Tap to Scroll)
- Primary Sources – books, documentaries, etc.
- Transcript of Episode – for the readers
- Liner Notes – list of featured music, online sources, further commentary
In addition to The Main Library and the Season 2 Library, these books were used for this episode:
Transcript of Episode
As frivolous as tropes of western wear may appear to modern observers with no experience or awareness of the cowboy life, many individual elements of this fashion arose as practical solutions to serious, potentially life-threatening problems. Obviously, many of these problems pre-date the American West, nearly all of which was conquered and claimed by Spain by the first half of the 16th century. In the early 1800s, after Mexico declared itself independent from Spain, they spent the rest of the century losing huge chunks of territory, as various states declared themselves to also be independent republics only to become part of the United States following a little or a lot of war. So, much of what we think of as western or cowboy culture was well established long before the existence of the American West, filtered through the indigenous peoples of Mexico and South America after being directly imported from a centuries-old ranching tradition on the Iberian Peninsula.
In Spanish, rodeo is what we’d call a round up of cattle and modern American rodeos evolved from virtually identical competition dating back to the Iberian Peninsula, where hands from different ranches would pit their work skills against each other. The word “chaps” is short for chaparreras, which were chaps worn by vaqueros to protect their legs and pants while riding through chaparral, dense thickets native to both Mexico and Spain. Cowboy hats are an update of the sombrero. A lack of outdoor shade on hot, sunny days is not an occupational hazard exclusive to ranchers, wranglers or cattle drovers but articles of all-purpose outdoor clothing have a tendency to become thought of as western wear after receiving modifications toward the specific needs of cowboys. The concept of using cheaper, coarser and more durable fabrics to make work clothing is as old as the concept of work clothing but denim is named for Nimes, France, where weavers were nearly successful in replicating the cheap fabric in use since at least the early 1600s for work clothing made in the Italian Republic of Genoa, which in French sounds a lot like the word “jean.”
In the early 1930s, a tailor named Rodeo Ben watched a cowboy get the buttons of his shirt hung up on a saddle horn, resulting in that cowboy being thrashed all over an arena by a seriously pissed off bronco. Rodeo Ben immediately stopped using buttons on the shirts and denim jeans he made for cowboys. For shirts, he switched to snaps which came undone when physically stressed. Snaps being an impractical (and potentially scandal-causing) choice for the fly of a cowboy’s pants, Ben went with a zipper, essentially inventing Wrangler jeans though it was another ten years before Wrangler hired him for his designs. Between rodeo events and the occupations on which they are based, there is no way to know how many lives were saved by these innovations.
Humans have worn boots since before we wore shoes, for the same reason cowboys still prefer boots: to protect the feet and lower legs from hazards while outdoors. For most of history, boots were all-purpose. The pair a person wore to protect their legs (and, once fashion came along, to protect their clothing) were the same pair worn for outdoor labor, recreational activities, even military engagements. Soldiers who wanted extra protection for their legs in battle wore external armor rather than specialized footwear. Since most of the people who actually fight in wars have always been poor, most body armor was usually not made of the plate metal we associate with imagery of knights in battle. The most common means of torso protection was the padded jack, a heavy vest constructed from dozens of layers of various fabrics, then finished on the outside with tough canvas or leather. In the 1600s, around the time military uniforms first appeared in Europe, the concept of the padded jack spread to the feet and legs of heavy cavalry riders in the form of the jackboot. Since “heavy cavalry” was always just a nice euphemism for the first people to die in battle and this usually happened around the time they fell out of a saddle, these boots were not made for walking. Some versions of the original jackboot had chain mail sewn between the layers of leather and fabric, which made for a very heavy piece of manly footwear. About two hundred years prior, the less utilitarian cavalier boot came into fashion. This was just another all-purpose knee- or thigh-high boot but made from soft leather. Especially in Tudor-era England, the cavalier largely replaced the shoes and soled leggings previously worn by macho noblemen of the European gentry.
The German soldiers who fought with the British against the United States in the American Revolution were known as “Hessians,” which is the same thing everyone started calling their new style of boot. A cross between the jackboot and the cavalier, the hessian was made from sturdy leather and meant to offer some protection to the leg but the thick layers and weight of armor were gone, allowing greater mobility to soldiers while not seated on a horse. To the same end, the hessian featured a rounded toe for easier insertion and removal from stirrups. This being a German military, fashionista concerns were addressed by some trim and a tassel at the top of each boot. In the early 19th century, the first Duke of Wellington modified the Hessian design by getting rid of the decorative flair and using softer leather to create a tighter fitting boot, which became known as the Wellington.
Cowboys of North America who could afford a pair of boots wore Hessians or Wellingtons until the second half of the 19th century, when the arrival of insulated railway cars and reefer ships allowed fresh beef on ice to ship hundreds (even thousands) of miles without spoiling, thereby bringing an exponential boost in profits to the United States cattle industry. Now earning more money, a greater number of ranchers and wranglers and cattle drovers were able to afford pairs of custom-made boots. As bootmakers noted the most common requests for practical updates on Wellington or Hessian designs, the cowboy boot was born. One modification cowboys typically asked for was a taller heel because these were not “cow men,” which would be the literal translation of the source word vaqueros. The Spanish word was downsized in English because cowboying in what was becoming the American West was generally regarded as too dangerous and remote a job for a man with family or other dependents. Ranchers typically hired young teenagers, freed slaves or other people seen as less valuable to society than adult, white men. The tall heels of the first cowboy boots have often been attributed to the vanity of young boys, not yet fully grown, wanting to appear taller. It’s possible this was a factor but a tall heel also made it easier to climb up into the saddle on a horse tall enough to offer a view over a whole herd of cattle. The higher heel put a more pronounced notch on the underside of the boot to catch and hold in place in a stirrup. While the pointed toe of modern cowboy boots is typically explained as easier to insert and remove from the stirrup, the round toe of Hessians and Wellingtons already addressed this concern and pointed toes only came about in the mid-20th century, purely as a product of fashion trends. But other seemingly superficial aspects of the cowboy boot do exist for practical reasons. The decorative stitching and additional pieces of leather on the uppers (or shafts) of cowboy boots offer reinforcement, keeping the boot stiff and upright near the leg, less susceptible to falling apart on a weeks- or months-long cattle drive. This is also why extra layers of fabric and embroidery were similarly added to western shirts, vests and jackets. Bib front (or cavalry) shirts came with an extra thick rectangle of material buttoned onto the front for warmth, padding and durability, which is the same purpose served by shoulder yokes on western shirts and jackets. Even the ornamental designs chosen for implementation of these practicalities were far more significant than superficial. Cowboys requested imagery and symbols reflective of their environment, backgrounds, talents, hobbies and reputations. Again, these were not family men. So, in addition to all the horse heads, rope and steer skulls you’d expect, cowboys rolled into town wearing boots and clothing adorned with snakes, scorpions, guns, dice, knives, cards, women…
Star shapes were not introduced to clothing by western wear but they have always been disproportionately prevalent to the style. For one thing, in the early 19th century, Texas was a sovereign republic, the “lone star” between Mexico and the United States. But even without that, even prior to the visual pollution of electric lighting, cowboys out on the trail have always spent more time than anyone looking up at the most stars.
1966: a reporter asks George Jones what advice he’d give to country singers trying to become a star like him. Jones advice is, essentially, don’t. He says he knows he would be a happier person if he could make a living doing anything else. He then gives some reasons why. When you’re a country star, everyone wants something more from you, even and especially if you’ve already given them everything you’ve got. You’ll have very little control over whether you spend the whole day surrounded by strangers who want to talk to you or alone in a hotel room and nobody will care much which one you feel like doing on any given day. Even though you don’t like these sudden shifts between pandemonium and isolation, you’ll soon acclimate to the point where one doesn’t feel right without the other. So whenever you do take some time off, instead of rest you’ll probably just get restless. But you can’t just call up some friends to go hang out somewhere or else you’re right back to being reminded how much privacy you no longer have.
By 1966, when George gave this interview, he was already more than a country music star; he was a country music superstar, which is to say hardly a blip on the radar of mainstream pop culture. He’d never been on Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Jack Benny or any TV show catering to a non-country audience. But even at this relatively low level, Jones developed a deep distrust of fame along with anyone who tried to exploit his celebrity to their own financial or social gain. When it came to strangers, he was almost pathologically charitable. One time, Jones and Georgie Riddle drove by a gas station where an attendant was pumping gas in the rain without a raincoat. So Jones went to a store, bought a raincoat, drove back to the gas station and gave the raincoat to the attendant. He was known to hand paper bags with thousands of dollars in cash to people visibly in need, then walk away. But whenever he handed a bag of cash to a friend for no reason, it wasn’t charity. It was a test. If they turned down the money, the friend passed the test. If they took it, he knew what kind of person they were. Sometimes failing this test was enough for Jones to instantly cut a friend out of his life forever.
About two years after that 1966 interview, George Jones fell in love with Tammy Wynette. They went public with their relationship the same month Tammy recorded “Stand by Your Man,” soon to become one of the most well-known songs in the English language. George Jones would have needed a time machine to do a better job documenting the perilousness of this situation in advance. Measured by Tammy Wynette’s sales figures, all the things George complained about in 1966 were about a million times worse only two years later as a direct result of the one personal relationship bringing him more happiness than any other. A couple more years down the road, he went all-in on this relationship, breaking his professional alliance with Pappy Daily to join the same record label as Tammy and marry his career to hers. Most of Jones’ biographers seem to regard his split from Pappy as inevitable. This view is largely the result of accepting George’s after-the-fact criticisms, like those shared in his autobiography, in which he begins building a case against Starday and Pappy Daily pretty much as soon as they’re introduced. However, many of these allegations do not hold up under scrutiny. Some complaints were valid. Pappy wasn’t a real producer and did care more about quantity than quality in the studio. That was true from the beginning all the way through nearly two decades of working together, during which time George stuck with Pappy through three different record label changes. Here’s another truth: George Jones had such little interest in controlling his own affairs, he kept the flattop haircut given to him by the Marine Corps for over a decade, until the late 1960s, when he began having an affair with a former professional hairstylist we know as Tammy Wynette. It takes a while to make changes bigger than a haircut and we’ll get to that but, for now, let’s just say the woman had a way with a makeover. Had Tammy not come along, it’s possible George Jones may have stuck with Pappy Daily forever.
Jones always had a larger public platform than Pappy, so the version of reality he eventually decided to push is what became canon. In this reality, Pappy was a greedy parasite who made off with all kinds of George’s money. The music industry is full of such men but to argue Pappy Daily was one of them is just a non-starter. This was a guy who went into his own pocket to help so many young artists get their first record deals, one of them nicknamed him “Pappy.” In the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, there’s an 8×10 promo picture Melba Montgomery signed, “To Pappy, I owe it all to you. Your Grateful Daughter – Love, Melba.” Business-minded? Yes. Budget-conscious? Yes. But we cannot call the man greedy. And Pappy held no delusions regarding who was more important to who: “I’ve had a lot of people say that I made George Jones. I says, ‘No, I didn’t make him… I just gave him a chance.’” The truth is Pappy gave George many, many more chances than one. If we weighed and compared the stress these guys caused each other, it wouldn’t even be close. If being George Jones’ manager during Phase II of his addictions came in the form of a pill, doctors would prescribe it to patients with low blood pressure. But George couldn’t have sold his version of the story if there wasn’t some truth to it, so let’s address the facts.
Pappy Kept A-Cookin’
It’s true Pappy Daily issued many singles from imperfect master takes, which George – always his own worst critic – would have found excruciating to hear on the radio, even if nobody else ever noticed. And those of you susceptible to having enjoyment of your favorite songs ruined by someone pointing out flaws may want to scroll past the next paragraph…
“Window Up Above” was a #2 hit but the recording sounds like something cut in Castle’s hotel banquet room ten years earlier. Whether due to a glitch in the mastering process or maybe a mistake in mixing Jones with a vocal chorus for the first time (possibly even something as stupid as a dirty audio cable?), listen with a critical ear and there are scratchy artifacts throughout the whole thing. But what was Pappy supposed to do? Book another session for a singer who famously never sang a ballad the same way twice and hope he showed up in a state of sobriety conducive to recreating what he knew was the hit take? Should Pappy have made Jones take another swing at “She Thinks I Still Care” because of the spit you can hear catch in his throat on the word “idea” at 1:45 and stay there through the end of the song? Or should Pappy have done what he did: recognize they probably just heard the best vocal take of the decade, release it as a single and watch it turn his artist into a living legend?
Piano player Pig Robbins, who said there was a sweet spot with Jones where he’d consumed just enough booze to relax but not so much he got belligerent, also once said, “Pappy always thought he ought to get five or six songs on a session.” This statement was made in comparison to the four song session standard on Music Row. Similar things were said about Pappy by many session players, none of whom ever had to cover the costs or were prepared to waive their studio fees when George Jones arrived too drunk to do anything but endless takes on the same song, swearing he’d get the next one right. There’s a recording session from May 1959 most everyone agrees probably took place while Jones was drunk because it started at midnight, ran to 3am, Pappy Daily was not on the premises, there are several technical errors and they only cut two songs, “Have Mercy on Me” and “If You Believe,” both by Darrell Edwards. “Have Mercy on Me” may be a fascinating recording to modern fans. (Is that Jackie Phelps singing harmony or is it, in fact, George Jones disguising his voice to overdub his own harmony? Nobody knows.) But the commercial value of this tape at the time was essentially zilch and it’s not like Pappy Daily received any kind of “George Jones was drunk and wanted to sing about Jesus at midnight” discount when the bill for the session showed up on his desk.
It may be surprising for many fans to learn (according to Pig Robbins’ co-worker, bassist and uncredited producer Bob Moore), Pappy Daily was usually who broke out the bottle in the studio. Now, Pappy was known to drink a lot himself, occasionally to the point of failing to show up for recording sessions. However, establishing he’d be the one to bring the booze sure sounds like a much more subtle than has been recognized method of producing what everyone agreed was the most important part of a George Jones session: keeping him in the sweet spot where he sang a little better but wasn’t too drunk. Having the bottle in the control room prevented Jones from over-serving himself and allowed Pappy to dole out swigs according to both his artist’s temperament and whether or not they were cutting important material.
But, wait. Wouldn’t a good producer treat everything they recorded as important and try to create the best product possible for every track? Looking at it from this side of the LP format’s impact on music history, maybe, but the only reason a producer would take on such a philosophy in the singles-oriented market was if they hated money. A label accidentally putting two huge hit songs on one record made for good ad copy and cool stories but, behind closed doors, they knew they were bragging about losing money by not releasing the two hits as a-sides of separate records. For one thing, they could have charged the artist’s fans full price twice to acquire the songs as separate units, rather than offering a 2-for-1 deal. But even if a label saw into the future and packaged two huge hits as a-sides of separate records, they still wouldn’t release both units simultaneously. Every hit song has a life cycle and putting out records one at a time exploits each to its maximum potential, allowing it to do everything it’s going to do in the market before introducing the most competitive product possible: another record from the same artist. This is how and why the studio system developed a standard of recording four songs in a three hour session.
In the singles-oriented industry, producers only booked studio time when they believed they’d found the right combination of artist and material to cut a hit record or two. Call these songs Maybe Hits. Since we don’t want to put a Maybe Hit on the b-side of a record and potentially cannibalize airplay on the Maybe Hit a-side, we also bring to the studio a pile of songs we’ll call Good Enough. The main priority of any session is to capture satisfactory master takes of the Maybe Hits, even if it means spending more time or even the whole session on those songs and never getting around to the Good Enough pile. But studio time, musicians and engineers are expensive, so when you get done cutting your Maybe Hits and there’s still 20 paid-for minutes on the clock, you don’t let everyone go home early. You also don’t try to rush through and probably waste another Maybe Hit. This is when you pull a song from the Good Enough pile. Sometimes songs from the Good Enough pile end up sounding more like Maybe Hits after they’re recorded. Sometimes the label recognizes this in advance and puts such a song on the a-side of its own record. Other times, it goes to market as a b-side and whatever happens happens. Sometimes songs from the Good Enough pile end up sounding more like Not Good Enough, even for the b-side of a record, and the label puts it on a shelf. This is an unavoidable waste byproduct of the four-songs-in-three-hours, singles-oriented studio system. Then, along comes the LP format, like a big ol’ casserole dish just waiting to be filled with the label’s leftovers. Scraps previously considered Not Good Enough to be 50% of the product on a record now become Good Enough to bury among all the songs on an LP, thereby creating a return on investment for recordings the label would otherwise have to eat as a financial loss.
While some producers and artists did recognize the artistic possibilities of a new medium and adjust their approach, most of the industry originally reacted to the LP by lowering their standards for Good Enough material. This applied to both what they already had sitting on their shelves and what they took into future sessions to record. In fact, after LPs came along, there were entire sessions dedicated to recording as much Good Enough material as could be churned out in a day. These all-filler, no-killer days took place for several reasons. When a label wanted to fast track an album packaged around an artist’s latest hit(s)? Filler session. When a label knew their artist was about to jump ship and wanted to make sure they had enough tape to keep repackaging the hits for years to come? Filler session. When a label needed to quickly build a catalog on a major artist to compete with the catalog said artist left at a previous label? Filler session.
Because of these strategies, the number of times George Jones changed labels and how much more commercially successful he became with each label jump until signing with Epic in the 1970s, it’s possible he is the most over-recorded artist in country music history. There is a consistent uptick in filler sessions during his final year with each label, possibly/probably the result of Pappy Daily working out a favorable exit by agreeing to leave behind plenty of tape on Jones singing popular titles, especially re-recordings of his own earlier hits, songs fans will recognize by name when browsing the racks in a store. Then, as soon as Pappy gets Jones on the next label, they have to turn right around and do more filler sessions, creating a bunch of new product to compete with everything they’ve left at previous labels. For example, after leaving Mercury with the Hank Williams tribute LP they made to compete with the Hank Williams soundalikes in Starday’s catalog, Pappy had George cut another Hank tribute album for the same reason at United Artists. From the early 1960s forward, going to a store to pick up the new George Jones LP could be quite a confusing experience, as shelves were often full of fresh product from various record labels, all claiming to be the “latest” album or compilation, often featuring many of the same song titles. There’s no way around this aspect of being a George Jones fan, knowing the LP you just bought could change your life or it could be a compilation of old recordings George would erase from existence if he had the choice. For this and several other reasons, to be a George Jones fan is to know he’s at least as capable of disappointing you as he is of greatness.
Because Pappy Daily was certainly the reason for all of the pre-1970s label switching, it’s fair to say he’s the reason there is so much filler in the Jones discography. But the matter is not as simple as saying “singles good, filler bad.” There are many, many songs Pappy Daily pulled from the Good Enough pile and never treated as anything more than filler which went on to become the all-time favorite recordings of George Jones fans. Take “Lonely Street,” credited to Carl Belew and two other writers but probably purchased from the true author, Wynn Stewart, then put at #5 on the pop charts by Andy Williams and recorded by Ray Price on his landmark Night Life LP. Years later, Jones cut a version that sounds like he was trying to convince Pappy Daily it should be the title track of his next LP. But it was only ever used for album filler, not even issued as a b-side. Jones’ take on “Lonely Street” came out a few years before a young Emmylou Harris became part of a circle of friends who all made mixtapes of their favorite George Jones songs to share with each other. It is so unlikely these college-age kids would care enough to do such a thing if they didn’t have to first search through Jones’ massive catalog to find the gold. There’s a difference between handing someone a twenty dollar bill and handing them a treasure map. In 1989, Emmylou Harris put “Lonely Street” on her album, Bluebird.
It’s also not as simple as classifying all George’s re-recordings of his earlier hits as inferior versions. Most of ‘em? Sure. Blatant examples of Jones half-heartedly going through the motions. But there are some iconic exceptions. For whatever reason, he was sometimes able to go in the studio and reconnect with a song he’d performed thousands of times as if he’d fallen in love with it all over again. The day he recorded “She Thinks I Still Care” in his first session for United Artists, he also rush-recorded the other 11 songs on his first album for the label, The New Favorites of George Jones. “Poor Little Rich Boy,” “She Once Lived Here,” “Imitation of Love,” “Open Pit Mine,” “She Thinks I Still Care” and “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – all phenomenal takes – were put down on the same day. When “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” was put on the b-side of “She Thinks I Still Care,” it wound up charting at #17. Eight years later, Jones cut the song again, it came out as an a-side and it hit the Top 10. There are obviously fans who prefer the relatively understated original and fans who prefer the bombastic arrangement on the remake but Jones’ performance is amazing on both takes and neither can be written off as a redundancy. This same logic applies to the followup rewrites on his biggest hits. As a general rule, most come nowhere near the greatness of the original song. It’s not likely many fans of “White Lightning” react as strongly to “Who Shot Sam” or “Revenooer Man” or “Root Beer,” a years-too-late post-script on The Moonshine Trilogy, recorded the same day as the rest of Jones’ first United Artists LP for all the reasons just mentioned. It’s like listening to George Jones rip himself off. But, again, if we were to classify all rewrites as filler and somehow delete them from Jones’ catalog, we’d be losing some awesome songs. Because George Jones sometimes did awesome work while ripping himself off. After Cowboy Jack Clement got him to record “She Thinks I Still Care” and it became a huge hit, Cowboy did two rewrites: “Not What I Had in Mind” and “A Girl I Used to Know.” Listening to the three songs in succession, the motives and intentions of everyone involved couldn’t be any more clear. But these shameless rewrites also happen to be great and the existence of each as a standalone record is justified. Cowboy was a genius songwriter. The musicians, singers and arrangements are all wonderful. George Jones showed up to do work on both records. When issued as a-sides, “Not What I Had in Mind” went #7 and “A Girl I Used to Know” hit #3. And the unsung quality doesn’t stop there. Check out the b-side of “Not What I Had in Mind” because “I Saw Me,” cut in the same session, is one of George Jones’ most impressive vocal performances. From the back side of a record, it broke into the Top 40 country singles.
All of which brings us to the final subset of the quantity-over-quality complaints lodged against Pappy Daily: the lack of quality songwriting in much of the filler material he chose for Jones to record, which is supposedly a result of Pappy’s refusal to consider songs from outside his own publishing companies. As with virtually every other criticism of Pappy Daily, this is more aptly applied to the entire recording industry of the time than it is to him. Remember Don Pierce’s statement: “Why would we go to a publisher who lets us be privileged enough to use their song and then put all of our money into promoting their stuff? Fuck that.” Such attitudes were not invented by Pappy Daily and, despite their near-universal acceptance in the business, he’s not even a good example of someone who rigidly stuck to them. United Artists A&R man Kelso Herston once said Pappy’s artists always selected most of the material they recorded: “I never heard the man make a suggestion. He wasn’t a producer, even though he got credit for being one.” To be clear, Kelso was saying what we already knew, Pappy Daily wasn’t a producer by modern definitions but he’s also saying Pappy wasn’t really even a producer in the original, A&R sense of the term. The evidence supports this claim. Whenever George Jones had a song he wanted to record, Pappy Daily worked out the best deal he could then booked studio time. When George didn’t have a song he wanted to record, which was more and more often the case after Phase II began in the 1960s, Pappy brought songs from his publishing companies into the studio. Whenever George found some songwriter he enjoyed writing and/or drinking with – like Melba Montgomery’s brother, Peanutt – Pappy simply signed that writer to one of his publishing companies and sat back to let nature take its course, as it did when Peanutt became one of George’s main suppliers of songs. The second time Jones went in the studio with Melba Montgomery, they were coming up with last minute ideas for duets to record and George’s mind, of course, went straight to the Louvin Brothers. He asked Melba if she knew the song “She’s My Mother” and, of course, Melba did. So they had someone call Acuff-Rose to send over some copies of the lyrics, along with lyrics for the Louvins’ song “Alabama,” which they also recorded, even though Pappy had no piece of the publishing on either song.
But what about songwriters who didn’t happen to be personal heroes of George Jones and the new songs they brought to Pappy? Didn’t he insist on getting the publishing and having Jones’ name added as a writer on songs he hadn’t written? Well, it would be more accurate to say that’s how he opened negotiations. And it would have been ignorant not to in a period when this was so routinely done most writers agreed without any hesitation. If and when a writer did push back, future negotiation was based on the quality of the song. Was it worth recording without the extra royalties from having publishing or getting his artist credited as a writer? If not, walk away from the table. If so, could the song’s publisher perhaps be talked into split-publishing? This is what Pappy did with Cowboy Jack on “She Thinks I Still Care” and the publisher of “The Race Is On.” In the rare instance when Pappy couldn’t secure a publishing split or writing credit for his artist but the song was just that damn good, he’d still cut it and still release it as a single, as he did in 1970 with “A Good Year for the Roses,” 100% written and published by Jerry Chesnut. Accepted industry practices meant Pappy almost never had to leave so much money on the table but, if that’s what it came to, he would and did do that very thing for the sake of a song.
Now, if a songwriter had more than one meeting with Pappy end in failure to negotiate a suitable deal, they’d probably get the idea he just wouldn’t record anything without having a piece of the action. One writer with such a story was Darrell McCall, Johnny PayCheck’s singing buddy who also did harmony work on some George Jones sessions. Darrell said he had this song Jones really wanted to record but couldn’t because Pappy wouldn’t let him when Darrell refused to credit George as a writer. But the song was called “If You Don’t Believe I Love You, Just Ask Me” and one of the lyrics is “I’d even marry your cat just to get in your family.” So we’re not talking about “A Good Year for the Roses,” here, and the way Darrell tells this story makes it sound like George probably asked Pappy to be the bad guy and pretend to be the reason George couldn’t record the song. Darrell said the first thing Pappy asked was who had publishing on the song, to which Darrell responded it wasn’t yet published so Pappy could have all the publishing, which is when Pappy did a hard pivot like getting writing credit for George Jones was the only thing he cared about and Jones had to have 50% of this song to even consider recording it. Darrell walked away from the table and spent the rest of his life telling everyone Pappy Daily wouldn’t let George Jones record songs unless Jones’ name was added as a writer. Multiply this by however many songwriters could tell a similar story and you’ve got the makings of a solid rumor. Another young writer who in 1958 was already under the impression he didn’t want George Jones to record one of his songs was Glenn Douglas Tubb, Ernest Tubb’s nephew and co-writer of Henson Cargill’s “Skip a Rope.” Jones heard Glenn sing a couple songs at a party and said he’d record them but Glenn said he’d rather Jones didn’t, as they were already assigned to a different publishing company and everyone knew Pappy Daily had to have publishing or he’d never release a song as a single. Well, Jones recorded Glenn’s songs anyway and, sure enough, they went entirely unreleased for many years, only eventually seeing the light of day as rarities on compilations. Just as Glenn suspected, right? And this is the story he told ever since. Except both Glenn’s songs were amateur at best. “There’s Gonna Be One” is a cheeky number about how if there’s one woman out there who would love the singer then there’s probably another and he may as well go ahead and find out how many more fish there are in the sea. Holding to the oceanic theme, “Stay on Board” likens a romantic relationship to being the captain of an actual ship. The only other song Jones recorded on the same day was called “The Likes of You.” Considering it, too, makes reference to “fish in the ocean” and bears a nearly identical arrangement to the other songs, it’s possible this material was intended for some sort of concept LP which never came out. Even though “The Likes of You” was Jones’ best take of the day and Pappy Daily had the publishing, it was also left entirely unreleased until two years after Jones left Mercury. There are all kinds of possible explanations for why Glenn’s songs were shelved along with the rest of this entire day’s work but Pappy Daily’s alleged greed is not one of them.
The most accurate thing we can say, here, is the music business rarely proves as simple as it may appear from the perspective of any single entity within the system. And rumors do have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of what they’ve heard, many writers who’ve never pitched their songs to Pappy Daily or George Jones never even try, making the pool of material available for Jones to consider smaller and smaller, making Maybe Hits more and more difficult to find, at which point it’s easier to just keep recording whatever Pappy’s writers have ready to go. Bear in mind, Roger Miller was once one of those writers, as were Leon Payne, Dallas Frazier, Melba Montgomery, Peanutt Montgomery, Eddie Noack, Darrell Edwards and George Jones himself. So, yeah, nearly all of George Jones’ singles “produced” by Pappy Daily were supplied by Pappy’s stable of hit songwriters because that’s the entire point of having a stable of hit songwriters, all of whom were equally capable of churning out the Good Enough stuff then viewed by the industry as a practical necessity.
Of course, none of this stops some of the filler in George Jones’ discography looking downright embarrassing from this side of history. Hell, Jones was embarrassed by the worst of it at the time. One of the most infamous examples is Peanutt Montgomery’s “Unwanted Babies,” recorded in 1967. It is mind-boggling to consider how many people actively participated in the creation of this recording without wondering if someone was pulling a practical joke on them. And there’s no telling what kind of social commentary Peanutt thought he was delivering in this sort-of folky protest anthem, covering everything from social strife between neighbors to mistreated veterans and capping it all off with the chorus’ vague and unpacked references to, yes, unwanted babies. For some reason, Pappy chose to release this as a single but Jones refused to put his name on the label, telling them to use his middle name and his mother’s name to give “Glenn Patterson” all the blame. Ralph Emery once played this song on his radio show while Jones was there in the studio and Jones is supposed to have said on air, “It’s not me, Ralph!” It’s unclear whether he meant the song didn’t represent his own idea of what a George Jones record should be or if he was trying to outright deny the voice they were hearing belonged to him. But if we’re imagining a scenario where Jones’ filler would be of higher quality had it been pulled from more varied sources, we’re dealing in pure fantasy, ignoring the history of an industry and hating on one individual player who didn’t even play the game as ruthlessly as most others did.
Johnnie & Gene
Pappy Daily was a pinball, slot machine and jukebox operator who followed the money trail over to the record and publishing industry, where he was involved in starting the careers of several major artists before attaching himself primarily to one, around whom he then structured the rest of his operations. The music business was and is built on top of such arrangements. One somewhat similar character from the pop music world was Aaron Schroeder. Technically, Aaron even had coin-op amusement devices to thank for bringing him into the business. He started out trying to be a songwriter and, in 1948, the first notable single with his name on it was one of Rosemary Clooney’s early releases, “At a Sidewalk Penny Arcade.” This record wasn’t a huge hit or anything but it did make Aaron Schroeder a professional songwriter at the age of 22. While his is not a household name, about twelve years later it started showing up as a co-writer on the labels of several Elvis Presley hits, including his global bestseller, “It’s Now or Never.”
When Aaron started making that Elvis Presley money, he partnered with Art Talmadge of United Artists to launch an independent record label, named Musicor. Talmadge’s investment in Musicor seems to have been personal and unaffiliated with his role as VP of United Artists but UA did distribute Musicor’s records. And, as most singles “produced” by Pappy Daily were also published by him, partially or in full, the a- and b-sides of nearly every early Musicor single were filed with one of Aaron Schroeder’s several publishing companies. Aaron bought Sea-Lark’s catalog from Dick Clark after a payola scandal led Dick to “take a step back” from his publishing interests. Aaron’s Arch Music pub. co. is where he signed writing partners Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And January Music is where Schroeder signed Gene Pitney, a young writer barely in his 20s when he turned in three massive songs: “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee, “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and “He’s a Rebel” for The Crystals. All were international pop hits. After Bobby Vee cut “Rubber Ball,” Aaron Schroeder decided to see what would happened if he released one of Gene Pitney’s demos as a single on Musicor. This was not a recording Pitney created to be commercially released or suspected ever would be. It was just a demo tape he made to file the song and suggest to artists or producers one way it could sound. Pitney used multi-track recording to play and sing everything himself (except the bass), laying down one instrument and vocal part at a time. Clearly owing a huge debt to Buddy Holly, “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away” was released the same month as Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball” and made it all the way into the very bottom of the pop Top 40, which was enough to let Aaron Schroeder know he should probably back this kid as an artist, not just a writer. By the time “He’s a Rebel” hit #1 for The Crystals in 1962, Gene Pitney’s own recording career had taken off.
However, it would be pretty irresponsible to launch into any discussion of Gene Pitney and his voice without the necessary context. And that necessary context is named Johnnie Ray, who came out of nowhere in 1951 with the #1 pop record, “Cry.” Johnny Ray’s impact on popular music is best illustrated by first listening to the way Ruth Casey sang “Cry” earlier in 1951. It’s a fine example of how pop singers sounded prior to Johnnie Ray. A clean, precise and skillful performance, there is nothing wrong with it at all. But listen to the way Johnnie Ray sang “Cry.” The first time the record label suits heard this, they thought it was a recording of a Black woman, not just because of the timbre or range of Johnnie’s voice but because of the dynamics and naked emotion in his performance. White male pop artists did not sing this way. To be honest, no pop artists sang this way. As far as the guys at the record company were concerned, Johnnie Ray’s “Cry” was a novelty record. Then they went and saw Johnnie’s live show and quit trying to figure it out because, whatever it was, they could tell it was big.
Johnnie Ray developed and honed his act in the desegregated Detroit nightclubs known at the time as “black and tans.” These establishments welcomed all paying customers regardless of race but typically featured Black entertainers on the bandstand. Johnnie Ray was usually the only non-Black artist on the regular lineup at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar, where he was discovered in 1951. Some of the legendary performers who came through the Flame Show Bar include Billie Holiday, Della Reese, Nina Simone and Etta James. Berry Gordy’s sisters sold cigarettes out of the coat check ten years before the founding of Motown. Johnnie Ray’s main mentor on the Detroit scene was R&B singer LaVern Baker (who also performed under the name Little Miss Sharecropper). Later in the 1950s, LaVern had several hit records, like “Jim Dandy” and “I Cried a Tear.” While Johnnie Ray’s vocal style does not owe a sonic debt to LaVern’s, she did once hand over a piece of advice without which none of this could have happened. When Johnnie asked LaVern how to sing the blues she told him nobody sings the blues. A person can cry the blues or shout the blues but the blues cannot be sung. With this as his philosophical foundation, Johnnie began creating a persona of a man unable to suppress his intense emotions as he would need to do in order to perform in the cool and composed style nightclub audiences were accustomed to seeing professional singers bring to the stage. He did still sing – his voice filled the room with a melody and he mostly hit the right notes and everything – but he did so through sudden and drastic changes in pitch, the way a person’s voice jumps and breaks when they’re trying to not cry while speaking at a funeral. Billie Holiday sang kinda like this and, of course, she was one of Johnnie’s most direct influences but she was a jazz singer who happened to sell in pop numbers and not even she at her most dramatic carried on in this manner. He used his whole body to sell the act. When he sat to play piano, his shoes would flail around beneath him on the stage then suddenly plant themselves as he bolted upright, the backs of his legs sending the piano bench clattering away years before Jerry Lee Lewis became famous with similar moves. At the beginning of the 1950s, Johnnie Ray would stand at his piano and slam his hands into the body of the instrument in time with the band instead of playing music on the keys, all the while continuing to wail and cry and scream. He’d fall to his knees and rip his shirt open, literally rending his garments. As tortured as any Hamlet in history, he’d pull at his own hair with both hands like he was losing his mind, then leave the disheveled hair hanging down in his face like it didn’t even matter anymore because nothing mattered anymore except the lyrics of this song. The Flame Show Bar’s crowd ate it up and Johnnie’s act became nearly impossible to follow, especially for singers who tried remaining true to the standards of professional performance Johnnie just left laying in pieces on the stage. If you sent Ruth Casey out there to do her version of “Cry” after Johnnie Ray did his, you may as well have her wear clown makeup, too.
The year “Cry” broke and made Johnnie a superstar, a parallel catalyst hit the movie business when the Stanislavski method-trained Broadway cast of A Streetcar Named Desire were given starring roles in the film adaptation, thus creating a sex symbol of Marlon Brando crying and yelling for “Stella” like he really meant it while wearing a soaking wet, torn t-shirt in the rain. As Brando did for actors, Johnnie Ray changed which emotions were available (if not crucial) to concepts of masculinity in commercial music. What Elvis Presley would later do for unabashed sexuality in the performance of popular music, Johnnie Ray did for naked emotion in the same venue and he did it years before the music caught up to his act. “Cry” hit several years before “Tutti Frutti,” several years before Johnnie Ray’s manager signed Jackie Wilson and broke him as a star. In 1951, Elvis Presley was a 16 year old kid working as the usher in a Memphis movie theater. A 1952 issue of LIFE magazine showed Johnnie Ray in the studio, vocal mic positioned low enough to the floor for him to lay on the carpet while delivering a particularly tortured take. He was almost 25 years old when “Cry” came out but the record connected with teenagers across the industry-imposed racial divides in the marketing and distribution of commercial music, so the single went #1 R&B as well as pop. When rock & roll music did appear in the mainstream, Johnnie Ray was one of very few reference points available to cultural reporters attempting to explain this teenage phenomenon to adult readers. After Johnnie Ray, the most successful teenage heartthrobs – that first wave of rock & roll stars – were those most adept at repeatedly working themselves up to the edge and, for the grand finale, over the line into complete frenzy, seeming to lose control over their own physical behavior due to the intense ecstatic or lovesick emotional energy coursing through their bodies. The very nature of this performative conceit guarantees, even hinges upon a decline in technical quality of singing. Because what better way to sell a struggle against powerful emotions than occasionally seeming to lose the struggle, allowing a note to falter here and there while making a great physical display of exuberance or torment? And here is where rock & roll’s detractors would say to play the role of a singer unable to properly sing is to not properly sing…
In 1956, after five years of nearly every record he put out hitting the Top 40 in major markets around the world, Johnnie Ray told Edward R. Murrow he never considered himself to be a singer. Johnnie thought of himself as a “performer,” someone who could “project sincerity,” using his voice and face and hands and whole body if that’s what it took to sell the narrative in a work. In this interview and many others, Johnnie connects his drive to become a performer with the physical and emotional trauma he suffered in childhood. See, Johnnie was a Boy Scout back in the day when Boy Scouts still did that thing where everyone stands around holding the edges of a big blanket, then uses the blanket to toss a person up in the air and catch ‘em when they come back down. One day the blanket toss game didn’t go so well for Johnnie and he hit his 11- or 12-year-old head on the ground. Hard. It took a while for anyone to realize the subsequent changes to his speech and personality were a result of hearing loss rather than brain damage. As he later explained, trying to talk and listen to others was too confusing for him, so he stopped trying and became withdrawn. When a doctor finally realized what was going on, they gave Johnnie an early transistor hearing aid unit with a cable running from a box hanging by a lanyard around his neck up to a large earpiece worn over one ear. He spent his early teenage years refining certain fundamentals of his speech, like enunciating clearly and regulating his volume. In effort to make sure he was understood, he consciously began to support the emotional intent of his words with more pronounced and elaborate versions of common facial expressions and hand gestures.
The jump from reinventing one’s methods of communication to acting is not very far and Johnnie was soon bitten by the showbiz bug, recruiting other kids in his neighborhood to put on backyard variety shows. Some would say he initially wanted to be an actor but found more early success as a singer and switched career paths. But the way Johnnie tells his story, what people wrote in the memo field of checks was of no concern to him. He wanted to become an actor, so he became one. The end. Johnnie Ray’s most popular role as an actor was Johnnie Ray, The Singer. The best evidence for this post-modern fact is Johnnie’s 1953 guest appearance in a sketch on The Jack Benny Program. The set for the sketch is supposed to be Johnnie’s apartment, where Jack Benny has come to finalize the deal for Johnnie to be a musical guest on his show. Rather than pay the $10,000 flat fee in Johnnie’s contract, though, Jack has a five-foot long piece of paper with a complicated counteroffer he wants Johnnie to sign, etc. Johnnie’s a good actor and he doesn’t break his straight man character once during the seven-minute sketch but where it gets interesting is when they make their way over to a piano for Johnnie to prove he’s worth the $10,000. He first plays an upbeat song and Jack Benny sits there, determined to be unimpressed and save himself some cash. Then Johnnie launches into his “Cry” routine and Jack is immediately overcome by the performance. Awestruck, he reaches pleadingly toward Johnny with his hands, messes up his own hair, untucks his shirt and tears off the sleeve of his suit jacket, essentially doing a comedy version of Johnnie’s act, which plays for riotous laughs from the audience. The thing Johnnie does that is so incredible and bizarre, though, is his act, 100% unchanged, as if this were his big closing number at any normal concert and to acknowledge Jack Benny’s slapstick antics or the laughter of the audience would be to break with his Johnnie Ray, The Singer character and simply unprofessional. He somehow manages to keep his schtick going even while in physical pursuit of Jack, who fights his way against the invisible force of his powerful emotions across the room to sign Johnnie’s contract, which is when Johnnie Ray, the actor, breaks character and the fourth wall to shoot the audience a huge Bugs Bunny wink and a smile.
Johnnie Ray’s persona set a pendulum in motion at the beginning of the 1950s. Rock & roll swung that pendulum as far as mainstream culture could sanction toward Dionysian displays of excess energy. By the time Gene Pitney came along at the beginning of the 1960s, the pendulum had swung back towards the middle and the new model of emotionally vulnerable, male pop star did not send his body reeling and flailing to show how much and how strongly he felt. Instead, he channeled the dynamics and drama of such physical behavior into the phrasing, timbre and attack of his vocal performance. Pop singers searched with their voices to find tender, aching tones on a soft verse, then reached for the upper limits of their vocal range or even falsetto when they came to an epic bridge, chorus or outro. This was passion as technical ability, rather than an altar upon which to sacrifice technical ability. It was emotion-as-bravado, performed to great success by artists such as Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison and Franki Valli. To be clear, this is the only way we get to Franki Valli on “Big Man in Town” in 1964, screaming like a woman about how much of a man his neighbors will soon realize he is.
We do partly have Phil Spector to thank for Gene Pitney discovering certain facets of his voice but it’s no credit to Spector as a producer. After Pitney spent less than $50 making a Top 40 record on accident, Phil Spector spent close to $15,000 missing the Top 40 by keeping Pitney in a session for nearly six hours with only two usable takes of the a-side to show for it. Since Gene Pitney didn’t know Spector was going to do this to him, he’d already done a full session earlier in the day. Phil Spector, being a genius and all, also had Pitney spend the first hours of this never-ending session recording the b-side (you know, to get warmed up), so by the time they got to the a-side Gene’s throat was shot. His voice came out with a raspy, strained edge and he found himself locked out of his true upper range, forced into falsetto whenever he had to go high. When “Every Breath I Take” was not a smash hit, Aaron Schroeder took over Pitney’s sessions in name while Pitney did most of his own production. They did appreciate the gravel Spector found in Gene’s voice but easily achieved the same effect without risking Pitney’s career as a vocalist by straining his throat for hours on end.
Gene’s first post-Spector single was the theme song to the 1961 Kirk Douglas movie Town without Pity, the entire plot of which unfolds from an opening scene where American soldiers commit a gang rape in occupied Germany after World War II. So, naturally, this movie bombed at the U.S. box office. Still, several months later, Aaron Schroeder went ahead and released Gene Pitney’s recording of the title song as a single. The lyrics, unconnected to the movie’s plot in any way, explore the confusion of being young and in love while living in a society with heartless priorities. Gene uses his new sandpaper voice trick throughout the song, most importantly on every instance of the word “town” in the chorus. And it went #12 pop. When the record hit, the movie studio shipped their film back out to theaters and enough suckers bought tickets to mitigate most of the studio’s losses. So, Hollywood kept calling. Director John Ford thought the Burt Bacharach/Hal David lyrics gave away too much of the plot, so he didn’t actually put “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” in the movie of that name but the song gave Pitney another Top 5 hit in the beginning of 1962. Later in the year, the same month Phil Spector released “He’s a Rebel” on The Crystals, Pitney continued his successful run of Bacharach/David songs with “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” It hit #2 pop while the song he wrote for The Crystals sat at #1. Near the end of 1963, Pitney came out with another Bacharach/David single. Whatever Kenny Rogers was doing the first time he heard “24 Hours from Tulsa,” I’ve got to assume he stopped in order to pay attention to the radio. Gene Pitney sold a lot of records in the United States before this but “24 Hours from Tulsa” was an international hit and made him a star around the world. So he was in better shape than most young, American, male singers when records by The Beatles hit the States in early 1964 and instantly changed the spending habits of teenagers. Pitney’s records still sold in other countries and he leaned into it, cutting Italian and Spanish versions of his singles. But his sales and success in the U.S. weren’t so great anymore, which is probably why Aaron Schroeder said “yes” in May of 1964 when Musicor co-owner (and now President at United Artists) Art Talmadge offered to buy out Schroeder’s shares in the label and become sole owner of Gene Pitney’s recording contract.
It’s also possible the relationship had already become strained between Schroeder and his artist. In the terms of his buyout, Schroeder was to remain Pitney’s manager and continue to “produce” half of Pitney’s sessions (a.k.a. choose 50% of the songs Pitney recorded, almost certainly sourced from one of Schroeder’s publishing companies). However, these terms were not honored, Pitney soon fired him as a manager and Schroeder ended up in separate lawsuits against both Gene Pitney and Art Talmadge. As often happens when lawsuits are involved, Gene rarely talked about all of this or how he felt when Schroeder basically sold him to Art Talmadge. Based on court documents and taking into account the fact Schroeder’s relationship with Burt Bacharach and Hal David also fell apart around this time, it seems fair to say Aaron Schroeder was more like the overly controlling industry figure most histories try to create of Pappy Daily.
He’s Gone Country
By 1964, Art Talmadge knew Pappy Daily wasn’t gonna build a major country roster for United Artists. Talmadge had also been aware of George Jones’ sales figures ever since the first time he poached him to a record label in the 1950s. So it seems pretty likely Talmadge bought Musicor in 1964 with every intention of moving Jones over there at the end of the year when his contract at United Artists expired, which is what happened and is how George Jones and Gene Pitney came to be on the same record label. Or, more accurately, it’s how a national country star and an international pop star came to be a record label. Pappy Daily negotiated for Jones to receive a percentage of ownership in Musicor. But we’re talking about a guy who lit cash on fire and flushed it down toilets. It’s unlikely he cared about much other than Melba Montgomery also being moved to the new label – which she was – so Jones could continue his romantic obsession with his singing and touring partner. The only real difference for Jones between United Artists and Musicor was Musicor wanted him to make records with a pop star, which, by the way, was the very first thing they wanted him to do.
Gene Pitney did have a couple Top 10 records in the U.S. in the second half of 1964, after Talmadge took over. But how your success ranks in a magazine chart doesn’t really matter during a craze like the British Invasion, when the vast majority of sales go to singles representing the new fad in the Top 5, leaving everyone below to fight over the scraps. And while Gene Pitney continued to have a long career with many huge hits around the world, even some more Top 40 records in America, he never hit the pop Top 10 in the U.S. again. But the British Invasion meant approximately nothing to the country music industry or their adult consumers. (This is why when Pete Drake got the phone call to play on All Things Must Pass near the end of the ‘60s, he had no idea who George Harrison was.) By the time George Jones moved over to Musicor, Talmadge and Pappy had a plan to try selling his American audience of adult album buyers on the vocal stylings of Gene Pitney. The first time Jones went in the studio for Musicor was a duet session with Gene in January of 1965. Nobody involved with this experiment has ever said they knew ahead of time it would work, commercially or creatively, but Pitney knew he and Jones at least sounded good together when they started warming up in the studio and all the musicians stopped what they were doing to listen. As Gene predicted, George changed nothing about his singing style or phrasing in consideration of his new partner’s pop background but you can hear he had fun working with and around such a peculiar and dynamic voice as Gene’s. Even though all the songs were covers of old country hits Jones had sung thousands of times, the unique sound and nature of the session kept him engaged. Pitney didn’t alter much about his style, either, though if you pay close attention to their version of the old Faron Young hit, “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night,” you’ll notice him change the way he throws around a few vowel sounds in order to hang with Jones. The most noticeable concession made to Pitney’s background as a pop artist was the arrangement on some songs being slightly poppier than we’d typically hear on a George Jones session. The bass may be a little busier, the beats a little stilted, the fiddles do sound more like violins at times. But they also often sound like fiddles and there’s plenty of pedal steel guitar on these recordings. In the truest sense of the term, this is pop country music. My personal favorite cut from their first session is the old Ray Price hit, “I’ve Got a New Heartache.” Gene and George each take a verse, then pair up on the chorus, where you can hear Gene do that thing he talked about doing, singing around George Jones instead of with him. George begins most of the lines in each chorus on his own, then Gene comes in a little later and a little faster in order to catch up. It’s like an audio version of the little kid who has to run in short bursts to keep pace with his big brother’s longer stride.
The way the label packaged these duets for release was a pretty clever bit of business. After these duet sessions, Jones spent the next two days recording his first Musicor solo album, which did not contain his first Musicor solo single. Instead, since the whole idea was to introduce Gene Pitney to Jones’ adult audience of country music fans, who were known to prefer buying LPs over 45s, George Jones’ first solo single for Musicor was placed on the George and Gene LP, along with the first George and Gene single. As a result, “I’ve Got Five Dollars (And It’s Saturday Night)” went #16 on the country singles chart while the album’s strategically boosted sales sent it to #3. Happy with the results of their test, Musicor continued to record Gene Pitney with George Jones. They also put him in the studio with Melba Montgomery to similarly great ends, both sonically and financially. The first Melba and Gene single, Dallas Frazier’s “Baby, Ain’t That Fine,” sold about as well as Pitney’s first single with Jones. Their second single did nothing to speak of, which is a shame because it’s a wonderful piece of music. Melba Montgomery wrote “Being Together” with her brother, Peanutt. The lyrics are about two platonic friends, driven by heartache to pretend to be in a relationship, which then destroys their friendship. It’s a heavy story and the vocal performance sells every line. Technically not a duet because they accompany each other the whole time (you know, being together and all), this record is a master class in synchronized phrasing and delivery. The large gaps between each line of the song present a challenge for two singers to come in not only at the exact same time as each other but with a matching level of emotional intensity as the song continues to build and build. Gene and Melba absolutely nail it. Even with the drummer providing a helpful metronome on the rim of his snare, nothing about this is easy, jumping back in together with such precision, over and over and over. After a couple years, Musicor ended Gene Pitney’s country music experiments, probably deciding his continued international success as a pop star was enough to not have to reconquer America in any genre. For those who’ve enjoyed any of the songs mentioned, his full discography is worth exploration.
The King of Broken Hearts
[Since most Musicor releases we’ve discussed so far were at least partially designed to cater to Gene Pitney, you may want to prepare yourselves for some devastating country music before listening to the songs mentioned in the rest of this episode.]
The way George Jones tells it, all Musicor did was make him record a ton of songs in marathon sessions produced by someone who wasn’t really a producer. And he wasn’t lying. Driven by the need to build a catalog to compete with those he’d left at all his previous labels, George recorded nearly 300 songs in the seven years he spent at Musicor. Just in the first five years he was on the label, Musicor released over twenty George Jones albums. But, just so we’re clear, if you love country music, Pappy Daily bringing Jones and a few hundred songs to the Nashville A-Team in the mid-to-late-1960s and getting out of the way was not a bad thing. Because this is the period when Owen Bradley’s understudy Bob Moore usually took over and provided Jones’ sessions with much of the same Nashville Sound heard on, for example, Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison records. Bob Moore recognized the uniqueness of the instrument he had in George Jones’ voice and the version of the Nashville Sound he placed around it rarely opts for musical cues or any other gimmicks. The adjectives commonly used to describe the arrangements in Jones’ Musicor years include words like “elegant,” “sublime,” and “poised.” Restraint and subtlety form small, spotlit stages for Jones to spill out tragedy. And here’s as good a place as any to acknowledge the inherent sadism of being a George Jones fan. Someone once explained his allure as knowing, no matter how bad you felt, there was someone out there who felt worse. Whoever said it first, it’s since been repeated ad nauseam. George once said, “I know when I go in to record or I’m onstage singin’ each song I sing, I’m actually livin’ that two or three minutes. I put my heart and soul in it. I see this person. I see this happening. I live the words, the idea, the story of the song.” He’s also on record many times as this being the only way he knew how to process his own emotions. When we hear him sound sad, it’s because he’s drawing on his own misery as a fuel source and the fact is he came to Musicor during the most miserable years of his adult life to date. He’d ruined his marriage and his wife was in love with another man. George was in love with Melba Montgomery but she couldn’t love him back. He was drinking and taking pills at a higher rate than ever before, leaving his body in no condition to weather all of this mental and emotional stress. And, man, you can hear him goin’ through every bit of it on the sad ones. His first Musicor single, the one originally packaged on the LP with Gene Pitney, is literally a man listing all the ways his life has fallen apart. Jones was probably just drunk in the session but something about how close he gets to butchering the word “faucet” in the intro sounds like he’s trying to keep from crying before the song even gets started. Then he manages to stutter out a few more syllables before breaking apart with the rest of the song. By the end of Leon Payne’s “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” Jones has nothing left but the memories of his broken dreams, which is a template for characters he will go on to portray or embody in the most popular and enduring songs of his career.
This is how Jones came out of the gate at Musicor. “Things Have Gone to Pieces” went Top 10 and, even though it was rush-recorded the same week as the Gene Pitney collaborations and contained no singles, Jones’ first solo LP on Musicor is one of the finest he ever made. The cover of Mr. Country and Western Music features an illustration of him dressed more than a little like a matador in a red suit with gold stitching, strumming an acoustic guitar in front of some ranch house in the middle of nowhere. Among the advertised “Twelve Brand New Hit Songs by George Jones” are tracks from such great writers as Hank Cochran, Leon Payne, Eddie Noack, Darrell Edwards, Wayne Walker and Melba, Peanutt and Carl Montgomery. Jones’ take on Joe Poovey’s “Worst of Luck” is one of the best versions of one of the best “I’ll hate you forever for breaking my heart” songs. If you’re trying to figure out what hooks Jones fans to his Musicor period, you won’t find a more perfect encapsulation than “I Can’t Get Used to Being Lonely.” Here’s everything you need to know… It’s a song about being doomed to loneliness because you’re in love with someone who doesn’t love you back… and it was written by Melba Montgomery. From the sweeping intro – more violin than fiddle – to perhaps the most subtle kick drum in the history of the genre and one of the greatest harmony vocals ever, this is a dangerous recording to become obsessed with but if I could visit every country musician’s house and make them listen to this on repeat for three hours, I would do that. The best/worst part of how miserable Jones sounds on the sad songs in this era is how relaxed he also sounds, as if he’s accepted his open wound will never heal. This is the way things will be for him from now on and if anything about the situation does change it’s sure to be a change for the worse.
It’s not like everything was all doom and gloom from here on out. “The Race Is On” was such a huge hit for United Artists they were still working it hard enough to be the title track of an LP released in April 1965. So, two months later, Pappy Daily had Jones cut “Love Bug,” the kind of upbeat, goofy song every artist in Nashville was trying to find after Roger Miller finally broke in 1964. Few songwriters hit the mark as well as Wayne Kemp on “Love Bug.” With a Nashville-does-Bakersfield arrangement, it went Top 10 country and even gave George Jones another rare appearance at the bottom of the pop Hot 100. But the happy ones were just something he sang so the audience would let him do more sad ones. And for every hit like “Love Bug” or “The Race Is On” there are at least three singles where George Jones is trying to destroy you, like “Least of All,” the Top 20 record sandwiched between those two uptempo hits. Here, Jones wouldn’t wish the pain of his broken heart on anyone, even and especially the woman who broke it. Or, after you’ve recovered from putting “I Can’t Get Used to Being Lonely” on repeat for three hours, perhaps you can handle how much more tortured Jones sounds a year later in May of 1966 on another song about being lonely, also written by Melba Montgomery. By this time, Melba was dating Jones Boy guitarist Jack Solomon, who she’d go on to marry a couple years later. But if you’re assuming this relationship put a stop to Jones drunkenly proposing marriage to Melba onstage during concerts, you are wrong. And if it sounds like he spent the previous year continuing to hopelessly pine over the woman who wrote “Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long,” it’s because he did.
Two nights after recording “Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long,” in his sixth session of the month, Pappy Daily had to get Jones drunk so he’d cut a song he absolutely hated. Since the lyrics of “Walk Through This World with Me” so perfectly describe the way George Jones felt about Melba Montgomery, it may be more accurate to say he was afraid of it. Because if he was able to get through recording it without crying in the studio and if it became the hit Pappy said it was sure to be, then Jones was gonna have to sing it on tour every night with Melba Montgomery right there in the room. Even though this song is essentially a marriage proposal, Jones sings it like a funeral dirge. When Pappy released the single and everyone recognized the immediate response as early indicators of a particularly massive hit, George convinced Pappy to let him record it again. Because he now knew for a fact he’d have to sing this fucking thing every night for the immediate future, he wanted to do it faster, in a higher key and sing it like there may be some way to consider it a happy song rather than an audio document of the depths of George Jones’ depression. And since “Walk Through This World with Me” was his first and only #1 record at Musicor, he did have to sing it quite a lot over the next several years. There’s one video of him doing it on TV near the beginning of the hit’s life cycle. There are two ways you can tell this appearance is from when the song was still fresh and he hadn’t yet sung it enough times for repetition to numb some of the pain. The first is his flattop Marine haircut, which he got rid of within the next year or so. The second is he barely makes it through the performance. Once you learn to recognize the look in his eyes as terror drowning in alcohol, most clips of George Jones singing on television become difficult to watch. This one is especially bad. He’s visibly trashed, which is no surprise during Phase II. But when the camera goes in close on the first line of the song, we can see his eyes are unfocused in a maybe-not-alcohol-induced way as he sways too far back from the microphone and remains there for a little too long. At first, it seems he’s on drunken auto-pilot and spacing out a bit. But, then, after mangling a couple words, he smiles about his mistake and overcorrects into an emotional connection with the lyrics, which it now becomes clear is what he was trying to avoid doing at the beginning for fear of breaking down on television. After that come several visible tics unique to this performance, tics you won’t find in clips of him doing the song later, once he’s gained some distance from it. His eyelids begin to blink more frequently, the way yours sometimes do when you’re trying not to cry. His jaw goes a little slack, the way yours sometimes does when you’re trying not to cry. And his eyes seem to get a bit shinier around the time he finishes the line, “I’ve looked for you a long, long time.” He appears to have great difficulty with the last line of the chorus. In order to deliver the words “come take my hand and walk through this world with me,” he has to put on the smile you try to wear while swallowing the lump that forms in your throat when you walk into a party and see the person who broke your heart three days earlier. His reward for making it through the first chorus is the chance to get himself back in focus during the guitar break. But he spends the rest of the song looking like he’s playing it at Melba Montgomery’s wedding to another man. He stares his dead eyes at the camera, only occasionally remembering to fake another smile and spends a lot of time glancing down at the floor or up at the ceiling in order to avoid accidentally making eye contact with anyone. His most genuine smile comes at the end, when the applause means he’s allowed to stop. A little slurred enunciation aside, his singing is flawless. But anyone who witnessed any song do this to him on television or in concert must have known they were looking at a broken person. And no matter what his stage clothing looked like, George Jones was no matador. The songs were the matadors. Jones was the bull no matador could kill.
It’s not like we’re terrible people for witnessing this tragedy, right? There is also sympathetic resonance in being a George Jones fan. If we’d never known pain, we wouldn’t recognize what it sounds like. And it’s not really a bullfight because, if it were, we’d pardon any bull still standing after such performances as this. Most fans (and George Jones himself) seem to’ve believed Tammy Wynette was this pardon. He’d already met her when he gave this miserable TV appearance but, similar to the way Melba entered his life, it’s unlikely he remembered meeting Tammy and he definitely didn’t yet have a clue he’d soon be in love with her. The way they met was in connection with George recording a song written by Don Chapel, the man who would soon become Tammy’s second husband. Don Chapel brought his young bride-to-be to meet the Greatest Country Singer Ever, who then cut a song Don wrote about how awful a man’s life was gonna be once his partner improved her own life by leaving him. “From Here to the Door,” Melba Montgomery’s “Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long” and the drunk “Walk Through This World with Me” all wound up on the 1966 LP We Found Heaven Right Here on Earth at 4033, which also included “Your Stepping Stone,” about how the same woman has broken Jones’ heart so many times he just wants to make sure she knows he’ll keep letting her do it. These songs are all representative of the love-scarred character George Jones became while at Musicor, to such a degree even his old record labels updated his persona when repackaging his back catalog. In 1965, Mercury released an LP named Heartaches & Tears while United Artists came out with The King of Broken Hearts. This is who he was to his fans in this period.
In 1966, Tammy Wynette’s debut single was a minor hit. In 1967, she signed with the booking agency who represented George Jones, which led to them spending a lot of time together on tour, which led to them singing together, both onstage and off, bonding over their shared influences and sharing their favorite country songs with each other… And we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? Only, this time, Jones gets the girl. His loyal subjects who’d spent years watching the King of Broken Hearts eviscerate himself on stages across the land now saw the beginning of what they believed would be the fairy tale ending, the love story of a couple they would soon begin calling the King and Queen of Country Music.
Thank you for reading Cocaine & Rhinestones. Every episode is written and produced by me, Tyler Mahan Coe. While you’re on the website, please check out the Support page for information on the various ways you can help me continue making this podcast at this level of quality and without ever putting it behind any kind of paywall. I appreciate any degree of support, even merely considering the ways you may be able to help. My preferred option is the C&R Patreon. I’ve come to appreciate the monthly work journals I share with patrons because taking the time once a month to sit down and find a way to talk about whatever I’m working on forces me to think about that work in a way I don’t believe I otherwise would and gives me a useful perspective I don’t believe I’d otherwise have.
When the podcast returns, we’re taking a little bit of a break from the George Jones narrative but not much of one because it’s an episode on Dallas Frazier, one of the greatest songwriters ever and one who wrote well over 50 songs recorded by Jones. This Dallas Frazier episode was determined by the results of a series of polls I conducted on Patreon (which I guess is another reason to check out what’s going on over there because that’s the closest I’m ever going to get to taking requests). It seems pretty likely that each season will present a handful of options for stories which would be equally worth including but render the others redundant, so I plan to try letting supporters on Patreon play Choose Your Own Adventure with one episode each season. That’s what we’re doing in a couple weeks.
This episode featured excerpts from the following songs, in this order [with links to purchase or stream where available]:
- George Jones – “Window Up Above” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “She Thinks I Still Care” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “If You Believe” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Have Mercy on Me” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Wedding Bells” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Andy Williams – “Lonely Street” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Ray Price – “Lonely Street” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Lonely Street” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Emmylou Harris – “Lonely Street” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” (re-recording) [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Root Beer” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Not What I Had in Mind” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “A Girl I Used to Know” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “I Saw Me” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Melba Montgomery – “She’s My Mother” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Melba Montgomery – “Alabama” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Darrell McCall – “If You Don’t Believe I Love You” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “There’s Gonna Be One” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Stay on Board” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “The Likes of You” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Unwanted Babies” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tony Pastor’s Orchestra ft. Rosemary Clooney – “At a Sidewalk Penny Arcade” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Bobby Vee – “Rubber Ball” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Ricky Nelson – “Hello Mary Lou” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- The Crystals – “He’s a Rebel” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “I Wanna Love My Life Away” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Ruth Casey – “Cry” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Johnnie Ray – “Cry” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- LaVern Baker – “I Cried a Tear” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- The Four Seasons – “Big Man in Town” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “Mr. Moon, Mr. Cupid and I” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “Every Breath I Take” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “Town without Pity” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “Only Love Can Break a Heart” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “24 Hours from Tulsa” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Gene Pitney – “24 Horas de Tulsa” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Gene Pitney – “I’ve Got 5 Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Gene Pitney – “I’ve Got a New Heartache” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Melba Montgomery & Gene Pitney – “Baby Ain’t That Fine” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Melba Montgomery & Gene Pitney – “Being Together” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Things Have Gone to Pieces” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Worst of Luck” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “I Can’t Get Used to Being Lonely” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Love Bug” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Least of All” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Don’t Keep Me Lonely Too Long” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Walk Through This World with Me” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Walk Through This World with Me” (re-recorded) [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “From Here to the Door” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones – “Your Stepping Stone” [Amazon / Apple Music]
These videos were excerpted in the episode. For any number of reasons, YouTube may remove them in the future but here they are for now:
Commentary and Remaining Sources
Okay, when I said most of the Liner Notes for the rest of Season 2 would be short, this was one of the exceptions because we’re about to be here for a while…
First, Musicor did release singles by other artists besides George Jones and Gene Pitney. The full story of the label has other interesting periods, like the final minor hits released by The Platters. But George Jones and Gene Pitney were really the label’s only sustained successes. There is one thing I think a lot of you would be interested to know about, though, and that is the time Gene Pitney was produced by Swamp Dogg. The song is called “She’s a Heartbreaker” from 1968 and it’s pretty great. They only gave Jerry Williams credit for the vocal arrangement but he said he was the true producer of the whole session and I believe him, although I don’t think he had anything to do with “Conquistador,” the terrible b-side.
Speaking of conquistadors, the intro of this episode was not about the wars, skirmishes and political machinations which led to the evolution of what we think of as the American West. The intro was about western wear, which required a few extremely simplified statements regarding the history of Mexico and the American West. I am sorry if anyone’s mad about me glossing over that stuff or the way I tried to sum it all up real fast. The history of how Texas came to be Texas, for example, is very important, very controversial and the subject of much argument. As I hope you know by now to expect from me, that’s not a can of worms I’m going to open unless I’m ready to dump out every worm in the can, which would totally derail the narrative I’m currently creating. I also happen to know the vast majority of people listening to this show are in the United States, so I tend to assume most of you already know a little or a lot about American history, at least in relation to things like how much of an influence Spain was on that history.
Many George Jones fans will be wondering why I didn’t discuss what is certainly the most offensive song in his catalog during the discussion on album filler. I honestly don’t even want to say the title of this b-side but the reason it was left out of the episode is the same as why I didn’t go in depth on the history of Texas, Mexico and the American West: unpacking the complete story would have been too complicated within the main narrative of the episode. But I will do it here. When Brett Harte wrote a poem called Plain Language from Truthful James in 1870, he intended to use the racist language of white supremacy within a satirical narrative he was certain would be understood as criticism rather than an endorsement of stereotypes and discrimination against people from China. He was heartbroken when that did not happen, his poem was taken at face value and celebrated by people who thought Harte was making fun of Chinese people with those racist stereotypes and white supremacist language. Worse, a newspaper in Boston used that white supremacist language when they republished the now-very-popular-for-all-the-wrong-reasons poem under the title The Heathen Chinee, which was soon converted into many songs in many genres by many people. When Eddie Noack worked up a country version titled “The Poor Chinee,” he did make the Chinese character the first-person protagonist and one we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with in the song. If these lyrics had nothing to do with a Chinese person, the story would be precisely the same as a hundred other songs recorded by George Jones – boy loves girl, girl cheats on boy, boy has a broken heart. But the lyrics are about a Chinese person and written in a form of pidgen which most modern listeners will hear as offensive, especially when the song gets around to kicking off its chorus with a reference to eating dog meat. And it would be a lot more comfortable to believe George Jones was aware of the original poem’s author’s satirical intent but the reality is he and most other Americans at the time probably just thought this song was funny because it comes from a time when this type of humor was perfectly acceptable in mainstream society. For example, it’s debatable whether this is more or less offensive than “Hong Kong” by The Quinns, whose singer spends a jaw-dropping amount of time delivering an entire verse in nonsense, donkey-sound syllables meant to depict a Chinese language. And maybe if someone ever explained to him how hurtful “The Poor Chinee” may be to Chinese people, George Jones would have understood and felt bad for doing it but it’s unlikely anyone ever did. The last remaining legislation outlawing interracial marriage in the United States was on the books until June of 1967, only a few months prior to this recording session. The culture which sanctioned this humor in mainstream entertainment survived well into the 1980s, as evidenced by Genesis taking “Illegal Alien” halfway up the Hot 100 with an unbelievably racist music video. And the culture which sanctioned this humor stuck around at least long enough for Tim McGraw to have a Top 10 Country Song and Top 20 Pop Song with “Indian Outlaw” in the middle of the ’90s, by which time nearly nobody remembered a George Jones recording from 1967 that was never a hit or added to his regular set list at concerts. So, yes, I will include all of this information in the Liner Notes because it matters and it is important to not whitewash history but it wasn’t placed in the main narrative because of how long I’ve been talking about it and how much this one song doesn’t have anything else to do with the story I’m telling.
For everyone playing degrees of separation throughout the season, soon after “Cry” broke Johnnie Ray into the mainstream, he started dating Dorothy Kilgallen, the famous reporter and panelist on What’s My Line? Dorothy Kilgallen was one of the specific people who would’ve made George Jones terrified to play in New York City under any normal circumstances because she, a very influential person, was always badmouthing what she derogatorily referred to as hillbilly music. In 1961, when the Grand Ole Opry took a country music package up to Carnegie Hall, Dorothy said something like everyone should get out of the city because the hillbillies were coming. In 1964, a year before Dorothy was probably murdered, possibly because of a story she was going to write about the Kennedy assassination, matador Luis Miguel Dominguín was a guest on What’s My Line?
There are about 900 ways a storyteller could use bullfighting as an allegory and I am confident in the creative choices I’ve made here. However, I do want to clarify I’m not only using it as a metaphor. Bullfighting is directly relevant to this story, a massive chunk of 20th century country music and the culture around it, which you heard more about in this episode intro and will continue to hear about in this season, just as you would any other informed history of country music.
There’s a funny little post-script to the story about Darrell McCall’s song “If You Don’t Believe I Love You Just Ask Me.” The version clipped in the episode was recorded by Darrell in 1975 and produced by Glenn Sutton, who is credited as a co-writer on the song. Now, it’s possible Glenn changed the song up a little bit from its original form – I have no idea – but it doesn’t look like Darrell ever did get that one cut without sharing the writing credit with someone. And another reason Glenn Douglass Tubb wouldn’t have wanted George Jones to record those songs of his ties into the whole “blessing and a curse” thing when it came to Jones doing one of your songs. In Nashville, there was never any secrecy over which artists had recorded the songs being pitched around town, so anything Jones was known to’ve recorded was extremely unlikely to be picked up by anyone else, since his label could just release Jones’ cut as a single if anyone else started to get traction with a version of the same song.
Although I did gather information from all over the place, my main sources on Western wear in this intro were two books by Tyler Beard, 100 Years of Western Wear and Art of the Boot. Both of these books are in what I guess you’d call a coffee table book format and both have wonderful pictures by Jim Arndt. The pictures really do matter when it comes to researching something like Western wear. I did check as much of Tyler Beard’s history by confirming it with various other sources. If you’re at all interested in Western wear, I can strongly recommend owning either or both of these books.
As mentioned in the episode, the archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum were crucial to my research process in this season. When I was invited to go down there, the first name I typed into their system to see how much data was exclusive to that room was “Melba Montgomery” and that was because of how little has been written about her life and career despite how much she matters to this story. Let’s just say there were a lot of results, which made it a lot easier to put together narratives based around the facts of figures like Melba and Pappy Daily, another important person about whom most people know nearly nothing other than what they were told by George Jones, who by that time had several reasons to package things the way he did.
You’ve seen me talk about Bear Family Records box sets a lot in the Liner Notes this season and that’s because of how useful they were to me. Jones recorded so much material while at Musicor that Bear Family had to split it up into two box sets to compile everything. (Part 1, Part 2) These sets and the accompanying booklets by Rich Kienzle were just as useful as all the other Bear Family boxes I’ve talked about. As said in the episode, there are definitely a lot of bullshit recordings in the mix but if you’re a George Jones completist or if I’m turning you into one, then there’s just a mountain of stuff I think you’ll want to hear. Even though there are who knows how many hundreds of George Jones song clips in this season, I’m not going to come anywhere near excerpting all the songs in my notes which were equally worth inclusion and discussion. I give all of Bear Family’s George Jones box sets a strong recommendation.
Not having written a book about George Jones, he hasn’t been a primary source for anything in this season but there have been a couple little things I was grateful to have him confirm and he’s one of my favorite writers on the topic of music so, while I’m talking about Bear Family Records right now, I’d like to mention Colin Escott. He’s published many book about country music and/or its intersection with rockabilly. Everything I’ve read has been great. What I’d most recommend to fans of this podcast, though, is the Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music series Colin put together for Bear Family Records. Each installment is one CD with about 27 or 28 major hits or important recordings from a certain year, packaged with a 72 page booklet containing info on the songs, artists, songwriters and other relevant history. Since there are 26 installments, spanning the years 1945 to 1970, those booklets add up to an 1,800 page book on the history of country music with a motherfucking amazing soundtrack.
Alright, that is enough talking from me for now. Come back in a couple weeks and I’ll get you as hip as it’s possible to get on the mind-blowing career of Dallas Frazier.