Oh, you thought Jones had a hard time dealing with George Richey? Imagine being married to the guy. Today we say one of the saddest and most infuriating goodbyes we’ll ever have to say, the one we say to Tammy Wynette.
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
Transcript of Episode
At the beginning of the 19th century, when anyone referred to “The West” of North America, they meant everything west of the Mississippi River. Throughout the previous century, Spain and France took turns pretending to own maybe 40% of this land, then a massive territory known as Louisiana, never truly controlled by Spain or France in any meaningful way. Other than a few cities (like New Orleans, Biloxi, MS and St. Louis, MO) the vast majority of Louisiana was unchecked wilderness, mainly inhabited by American Indians. And that’s why it was called “The West,” because it was west of anywhere most U.S. citizens ever planned or hoped to be.
Then, in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the whole thing to the United States and President Thomas Jefferson decided we should learn exactly what was going on out there. Most importantly, he wanted to know if it was possible to travel by boat from the Mississippi River all the way to the Pacific Ocean, thereby completing a trade route which would span North America from coast to coast. That’s an entirely different story but when officers Lewis & Clark (and several dozen additional soldiers) shipped out of St. Louis in 1804 to map as much of the Missouri River as they could and hopefully end up on the shores of the Pacific, they were dressed in clean, new U.S. military uniforms made of wool or linen, wearing Hessian or Wellington boots on their feet. When they returned in 1806, they were dressed in what you’d expect to see on any hunter or fur trapper who’d spent over two years letting nature break down his modern clothing: elk leather shirts, pants and moccasins, otter furs stitched together and wrapped around whatever body parts needed warmth or padding, etc. Over the next several decades, migration and massacres would quickly change what and where everyone thought of when referring to “The West” but, up to this point, the way Lewis and Clark were dressed on their return would’ve been the earliest definition of Western wear. Even as popular notions of “The West” moved further west – and, a little later, became heavily focused on the ranching culture of Texas and the Southwest – Western wear never left its earliest influences in the past, retaining looks from American Indians and frontiersmen of the Midwest, Great Plains and Pacific Northwest.
The long fringe hanging off the seams of shoulder yokes and sleeves on buckskin jackets has often been explained as a means of helping the leather dry faster should the wearer be caught in a rainstorm, capillary action wicking moisture away from the body via each strand of leather. In reality, that’s not what would happen in said situation. You’d just be wearing more wet leather. However, there were endless reasons a person who may not see modern civilization for another month could use a long, thin piece of scrap leather to tie something up, off or back together and wishing you hadn’t cut and discarded the excess leather when making a jacket wasn’t something you’d want to spend that month thinking about. It’s also a fact leather can be and was eaten in the absence of proper food, though it’s doubtful many members of the Chicago audience considered the practical applications of Buffalo Bill Cody’s jacket fringe swishing around during the debut of his first play in 1872.
Theater critics in Chicago hated The Scouts of the Prairie because Buffalo Bill couldn’t act to save his life but theater critics were the only ones who thought they were in the room to watch some acting. Everyone else was there to see Buffalo Bill tell stories from the highlight reel of his non-stop thrill ride of a life because they’d read all about it a few years earlier in a series of front-page newspaper articles written by the author of the play, Ned Buntline. Of course, that wasn’t Ned’s real name. By this point, his past contained a long string of failed newspapers, failed novels, various debts, leave-town-in-the-middle-of-the-night class fuckups, several instigations of political violence, more than one imprisonment and the distinction of nearly being hung by a lynch mob. Even though ol’ Ned was privately a committed drinker, the public racket he had going at the time of his meeting with Buffalo Bill was visiting various towns and giving political speeches in favor of temperance. And the wild William of the West he actually set out to meet was Bill Hickok, then gaining fame as the Kansas lawman who’d just as soon kill a criminal as arrest one. When Ned found Hickok in a Kansas saloon, he launched right into the pitch about interviewing Wild Bill and writing a novel based on his life, to which Hickok replied Buntline had precisely 24 hours from that moment to get out of town before going on the list of People Shot and Killed by Wild Bill Hickok. So Ned moved along to someone else in Wild Bill’s crew, someone far more receptive to becoming a larger-than-life legend. In fact, he’d already made his own head start. About ten years younger than Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody was quite eager to make a name for himself and it is impossible to know at what age he began exaggerating or fabricating the details of his past in order to captivate and impress whoever would listen. But it’s not like he or his backstory really needed any help. We’re talking about a man who called himself Buffalo Bill because he either won the nickname in an 8-hour buffalo hunting contest with some other guy named Bill or because he was so good at hunting buffalo the U.S. Army sent him when the Kansas Pacific Railway asked for someone to supply workers with meat as they built a line through Kansas. Whichever story is true (and both of them could be), all this buffalo killing was done with a hunting rifle Cody had named “Lucretia Borgia,” after seeing an opera based on the Victor Hugo play, which itself was based on centuries-old conspiracy theories that Lucretia (sister of Cesare Borgia) was equally talented at treachery and a wickedly successful assassin. That ain’t exactly a modest, down-home pedigree for the name of a weapon. Ned Buntline quickly recognized Bill Cody was the perfect star for his frontier tales and started nailing down the major selling points.
Again, no one will ever know how much of the tall tale that made it into print was fabricated by Ned, told to Ned by Cody or a collaboration from two men punching up the facts. In any case, by the time the story made it to readers of the Chicago Tribune and New York Weekly (then, later, Buntline’s popular line of Buffalo Bill dime-store novels and Cody’s own autobiography) his father’s non-fatal stabbing for publicly speaking out against slavery in Kansas became a pre-teen Bill riding 30 frantic miles on horseback to warn his father of a white supremacist assassination plot, his teenage job of carrying messages from an office of the Pony Express’ parent company down to a telegraph station three miles away became hundreds and thousands of dangerous miles ridden through treacherous wilderness as a messenger for the Pony Express, his trying to enlist with the Union Army in the Civil War but getting turned away for not being old enough became the years he spent as a spy for the Union, etc. But Cody did enlist in the U.S. Army after the Civil War ended and he did become a scout, someone who knows or can quickly learn the local land in order to plan or evade attack, track another party, hunt, survive and so on. He was capable enough at all of this that when Buntline printed the tall tale version of Buffalo Bill for readers back east in a series of articles in 1869, the city slickers who began showing up in Kansas to hire Cody for buffalo hunts and other Western adventures were satisfied by their skillful guide. And where photos from five years earlier show a clean-shaven young man around the age of 20 with short, neat hair, wearing an immaculate military uniform buttoned all the way to the neck, pictures of the Buffalo Bill who became a celebrity show a long-haired, mustached man with a wide-brimmed hat cocked back on his head, holding Lucretia Borgia the Rifle while wearing a fur-trimmed leather overcoat with long fringe hanging from the sleeves.
In 1872, Cody accepted Ned Buntline’s invitation to travel up to New York City and attend another playwright’s live adaptation of the Buffalo Bill novel. By the end of the year, Cody was in Chicago, starring in a different Buffalo Bill play, The Scouts of the Prairie, this one written by Buntline, who decided to also give himself a role onstage. Ned’s attempt at dressing the part of frontiersman involved stuffing what looks like a Stetson “Boss of the Plains” hat down atop a woman’s wig of long, thick curly hair and what seems to be a fake leather jacket made of khaki fabric with pieces of a high-pile rug stitched on the cuffs and lapels to simulate fur trim, then maybe long strips of paper confetti glued on the sleeves to simulate leather fringe. The man looked ridiculous but there’s no record of whether Chicago audiences even noticed a difference between his sham garb and Cody’s real Western clothing, nor how many realized the Sioux and Cheyenne bad guys were White people wearing red body paint. As mentioned, critics trashed the play but it was still a popular enough hit for Cody and another co-star – another actual scout named Texas Jack – to convince Wild Bill Hickok he oughtta join the troupe and spend a few years touring out east in a new play, called Scouts of the Plains. Hickok had already failed at starting a sort of Wild West circus in upstate New York a few years earlier, so he wasn’t entirely averse to show business but he only lasted a few months in the play. There’s a significant difference between speaking in public and acting in public. Turns out, Hickok hated the latter so much he usually tried to deliver lines while partially hiding behind some piece of the stage set. He once drew his pistol and shot out a spotlight when it tried landing on him. Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack toured the play to great acclaim without Hickok for another two years, then split off to each start their own shows.
Prior to the existence of indoor air conditioning, most theaters shut down in the summer because it was too hot to pack rooms full of people. So Cody spent about a decade acting in Buffalo Bill plays out east during the theater season, then returning west to work as a scout in the summer, all the while Ned Buntline (and now other authors) continuing to churn out Buffalo Bill novels, adding to his fame by fabricating further legendary exploits. As his time in the U.S. Army coincided with their primary focus being the eradication, subjugation or relocation of American Indians, many of these tall tales were built around the notion of Buffalo Bill as sworn enemy and incomparable slayer of Indians. This is the character he inhabited and reenacted often in this period (including in his autobiography), despite admitting in private correspondence the Buffalo Bill of print killed more Indians in one story than Cody had killed in his entire life. From this acknowledgement we know he was certainly aware the product he spent a decade selling all over the nation in plays was not The Truth but, rather, The Bare Minimum of Truth Necessary in Order to Sell a Lie. At a certain point, he began wondering what would happen if the ratio were flipped. Instead of having a couple actual scouts recreate just enough of their real jobs to get away with telling fake stories on fake sets wearing fake clothes next to fake animals and fake Indians for an audience of people who probably couldn’t tell the difference… What if there was a way to build an act around as many real elements of The West as possible? It’s unclear exactly when in his theater career Cody began wondering this but there’s no chance he ever missed which parts of the plays always got the biggest response from city crowds. What if instead of shooting a few targets onstage to convince a room full of people who’d never even seen a buffalo just how many he had to kill in a day to get the nickname Buffalo Bill, he could stampede a herd of buffalo before their eyes? What if instead of watching Texas Jack perform some tricks with a lasso to get some idea of what it was possible to do with a rope, they were taken to a rodeo? And what if instead of seeing half a dozen White folks in red body paint to represent the enemy in a huge battle, this audience was put in a room with Lakota warriors? However much time Cody spent pondering these things, he was finally given the opportunity to discover some answers in 1882, when a town in Nebraska hired him to throw the biggest 4th of July shindig ever. The Old Glory Blowout began with a parade through town, Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band supplying a lively march while spectators marveled at the long line of rodeo riders, scouts, sharpshooters, bad guys with bandanas covering their faces, good guys wearing white hats or military uniforms and, in traditional clothing (including feather headdresses for the warriors, as if headed into battle), members of the Lakota nation whom Cody had leveraged his celebrity and reputation with the U.S. government to hire away from forced confinement on reservations. The parade ended at an outdoor venue, where the audience took in scene after scene straight off the pages of Buffalo Bill novels: stunt riders, rodeo events, displays of marksmanship with pistols, rifles and bow and arrow, a mock buffalo hunt (with real bison) and reenactments of famous battles from the American Indian Wars, especially those Cody could lay claim to’ve been a part of, even if his involvement was as exaggerated as the sensationalist and exploitative performances Lakota warriors were encouraged to give. In 1883, Cody presented an even bigger version of this event (including a stagecoach robbery – thwarted by Bill, of course) as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, the three to four hour extravaganza he’d go on to spend nearly 35 years touring around North America and Europe, entertaining millions of people, inspiring many copycat shows and branding modern society’s collective consciousness with images of a mythological Old West which to this day are commonly perceived as historical fact.
In the epilogue of Tammy Wynette’s autobiography, she breathlessly shares the wonderful news of her marriage to George Richey. Dated one month after their July 1978 wedding, her statement tells the story of how they were friends for so long it surprised her to realize she’d fallen in love with him. How freeing it felt to give Richey control of her home and finances and career so she could focus solely on music. Gone are her fears of anonymous harassment, break-ins and violence, which readers of so many earlier pages could only expect, as Richey was so frequently her savior during such nastiness. Though we can never know how involved he may have been in possibly helping her to stage any of those incidents, two months after the writing of this epilogue, before the book was even published, it is indicated by multiple sources that Richey and Wynette faked her own abduction in order to provide an explanation for physical evidence of a beating she received at his hands. Nevertheless, she remained married to him and continued feeding the public this Richey-as-heroic-genius, happily-ever-after narrative until… well, until the end of her life, no matter how unhappy that life became behind closed doors.
Aside from a few employees and coworkers (some of whom probably felt obligated to stick to the official story in order to avoid calling Tammy Wynette a liar), there are not many people with nice things to say about George Richey. One of Tammy’s biographers, Jimmy McDonough, asked Merle Haggard, Billy Sherrill and George Jones what they thought of him because all three men had been around Richey quite a bit. Billy couldn’t even describe how “weird” he thought Richey was, Haggard pleaded the fifth amendment and Jones said, “I believe a lot of things went on that shouldn’t have went on.” Tammy’s other biographer, Joan Dew, called George Richey “very two-faced and hypocritical.” When George Richey was assigned to be his producer at Capitol Records, Charlie Louvin entirely walked out on his association with the label he’d been on for over 15 years, both as a solo artist and member of The Louvin Brothers. According to Charlie, he told Ken Nelson it was either quit or go to prison for murdering Richey. Nearly 20 years later, when Charlie and Tammy Wynette recorded a version of “If I Could Only Hear My Mother Pray Again,” Richey had to wait in a car outside the studio. If this isn’t a fire, then all these people choking on the smoke doesn’t make much sense at all.
While pretending she had nothing to do with the dissolution of Richey’s previous marriage, Tammy claimed to’ve been best friends with his wife, Sheila. Most definitions of “best friend” probably don’t include sleeping with a woman’s husband and prank calling her late at night when she was home wondering about the location of said husband, as Joan Dew states Tammy did. But Tammy probably was close enough friends with Sheila to’ve heard about the time Richey celebrated their first wedding anniversary by kicking Sheila out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving her no choice but to walk to a neighbor’s house for shelter while wearing nothing but underwear. Soon after this occurred, Sheila filed for divorce on the grounds of “cruel and inhuman treatment.” For some reason she withdrew this petition, stayed married to Richey a few more years, then filed for divorce again in October 1977, after learning her husband was having an affair with Tammy Wynette. Maybe Tammy didn’t believe Richey could really be so mean or maybe there was something about the nature of their relationship that made her believe he couldn’t be so mean to her. Her daughter Georgette characterized the marriage to Richey as “unromantic,” essentially the business arrangement Tammy herself described in the above epilogue, minus the true love part. If accurate, then we could view this as a PR strategy aimed at cleaning up the Burt Reynolds/Michael Tomlin tabloid mess by making sure Husband #5 lasted for good. This is usually where Richey’s few defenders point out he possessed his own wealth from operating then selling a publishing company, meaning he wouldn’t have been financially motivated to take a job as Tammy’s husband or keep up appearances by waiting on her hand and foot for the next twenty years. That’s certainly true and we know Tammy thought the same thing because she point-blank stated it in her book as a reason she thought she could trust Richey. But she also had something other than money, something Richey did not have and knew he’d be able to share if he took this role in her story: Tammy Wynette was incredibly famous. In fact, she was so famous it was taking her career in the always-undesirable direction of making her more famous than rich. After years spent learning just how much having the media obsess over her dating life did not translate to record sales, here was a one-stop solution, giving tabloids the husband they demanded while placing a sound business mind in charge of her career. By marrying her business manager, Tammy Wynette could finally gain the reputation of being able to stand by one man. And if this marriage really was an act of sacrificing her passion for romance to save her job, then it could explain why Tammy got bombed on Demerol before the wedding ceremony. Alternately, it’s possible she already had good reason to suspect she’d picked the wrong guy for the job. But it was now too late for a rewrite of the story they’d spent the previous year selling to Joan Dew; the story that ended with her marrying a man she said was perfect for her, the story she worried would unravel mere weeks later if anyone found out the beating he gave her didn’t come from an unknown assailant abducting her at gunpoint from a shopping mall parking lot, the story that only grew less credible and more bizarre the longer she tried sticking to it.
All-In on a Losing Hand
Because of the extraordinary effort she went through to cover it up, we’ll never know exactly what happened to Tammy Wynette on October 4th, 1978. Richey’s alibi hinged on being in Nashville to react to the distressing news of his wife’s kidnapping and assault, so we can only presume Wynette drove alone halfway to the Tennessee-Alabama border before parking in a field, tightly tying a pair of pantyhose around her own throat, then stumbling toward the nearest house to sell the play to her first audience: a family she told to phone Richey, which they did. Then, despite Wynette asking them to please not, the family called the police. When an agent from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation met Wynette at the hospital, he noted her visible injuries were limited to one small abrasion on her cheek. The next time this TBI agent saw Wynette was in her home, which is where and when he concluded the entire incident was some kind of publicity stunt because he saw Tammy Wynette giving on-camera interviews to Walter Cronkite and other major media figures while sporting an enormous fake bruise she or someone else had applied with makeup over the abrasion on her cheek, as well as a smaller fake bruise on the side of her lower jaw. Photographs show the size, shape and location of both bruises slightly shifting with reapplication over the following days. She told everyone her cheekbone had been broken. On October 6th, two days after wandering out of a field with pantyhose tied around her neck and a supposedly-broken cheekbone, Tammy played a concert in Columbia, South Carolina. There were 50 hired bodyguards standing between her and the audience when she said into the microphone, “He could possibly be here, I just don’t know.” Evidently, we are supposed to believe he was there because someone “found” a note backstage which read, “I’m still around, I’ll get you.” Evidently, we’re supposed to believe her would-be murderer chose to follow her over 400 miles away to this concert venue and sneak undetected through a security force half a hundred strong in order to leave a note, rather than dispatch her with ease while she was alone and defenseless in the middle of a field two days earlier.
When the CMA awards took place three days later without Tammy being so much as nominated in a single category, the rumor mill kicked into high gear. The inconsistencies in her clearly fabricated story were widely viewed as evidence of a desperate bid for attention from an industry she feared was beginning to forget about her. In truth, there was no possibility Tammy Wynette had been “forgotten about” by the CMA in the year 1978. As the CMA was founded on the mission of rehabilitating country music’s image, it’s far more likely they deliberately avoided nominating her in an attempt to distance the genre from her increasingly embarrassing attempts to lie to police and the media. And the CMA wouldn’t have been able to do that if her fans were still buying her records at the same rate and volume as before. But they were not, likely for the same reason: the more they saw of this act, the less they wanted to watch or be associated with it.
There’s really no other satisfying explanation for how her biggest single of the year and final Top 5 hit as a solo artist was neither a #1 hit nor nominated in any category when the CMA gave Single of the Year to an objectively worse record which had hit #1 on a similar (and sexual) theme, made far creepier by the fact it was from the father-daughter duo The Kendalls. “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” was a cheatin’ song, written as vaguely and poorly as any quickly tossed off, first-generation rock & roll record, complete with more “whoa oh”s than anyone would ever need or want. Comparatively, Bobby Braddock’s “Womanhood” was a masterpiece about a young woman trying to lose her virginity in a way that won’t displease the Lord. Between Tammy Wynette’s delivery and Billy Sherrill’s dynamic arrangement, the record became a timeless classic, released at a very unfortunate moment in an overly-complicated life and career. Same thing with her next single, Bobby Braddock’s “They Call It Makin’ Love,” covering the spectrum of sad sex from one-night stands to married couples barely going through the motions. Released in January 1979, the commercial response was even worse than “Womanhood,” possibly a result of Wynette’s attempts to hard-sell her ludicrous kidnapping story. She’d given a press conference about it in November 1978, was still taking bodyguards everywhere she went and generally spent the next several years talking too much, too often and too publicly to not slip up and contradict herself.
In February of ‘79, she did an episode of Donahue, taking questions from Phil and his Chicago audience for over 45 minutes, covering everything from what it’s like to be a rich and famous country music star to what it’s like being hated by so many feminists to what her diet was like and whether or not she had a weight problem. Phil himself seemed particularly interested in all of Tammy’s divorces. After grilling her for maybe 20 minutes on her previous husbands, Donahue introduced Richey in the audience by calling him a “dreamboat.” There’s a pretty good chance Donahue meant the remark sarcastically because, without having any idea what kind of interactions they may have had earlier in the day, when the camera pans to Richey (who, by the way, is dressed like a complete asshole, as if he’s married his way into becoming a country music superstar himself), it sure looks like he does that thing where you pretend to scratch your face with your middle finger in order to covertly tell someone to fuck off, directly at Phil Donahue, on national television. Tammy covered much of the same topical ground in a 1980 interview with Alanna Nash, speaking with almost alarming verbosity (as if she was just glad to be talking to someone… and talking to someone… and, still, talking to someone), she rambled at Alanna about the recent developments in the kidnapping case: how her attacker had snuck back into her basement to cut the burglar alarm wires, tap her phone and cut her phone lines – apparently, without realizing there would be absolutely no sense in this uncatchable criminal mastermind tapping a phone line they were also going to cut, thereby rendering it unusable. Here and in following years she expressed surprise the police and the FBI hadn’t made any arrests, claiming she and Richey were able to determine the kidnapping was a conspiracy and multiple people knew she was going to be abducted before it had occurred. At one point, she began telling everyone there was a prisoner who said his cellmate confessed to the crime. In a 1982 TV interview on Miller & Company, while displaying many speech patterns of a person struggling to remember their previously-stated version of events, Tammy went back over the night of the kidnapping and gave several details of various things her attacker said, which directly contradict the account she gave on camera only days after the event when she was adamant the kidnapper only repeated one word, over and over, “drive.” For all but the most die-hard or dense fans, this was simply too much bullshit to stomach. The numbers of her career steadily dropped across the board. In 1980, San Francisco punk band The Maggots released a single, titled “(Let’s Get, Let’s Get) Tammy Wynette,” and the sleeve was a photo of Tammy looking miserable with the makeup bruises on her face. (It’s unclear whether The Maggots believed Tammy’s kidnapping to be real or staged when they wrote, recorded and released this song.)
All this time, Richey was engaged in what Georgette calls The Great Divide, pushing away Tammy’s friends, family, employees and coworkers in order to entirely surround her with people he knew were in his pocket, many sharing his last name. Brother Paul Richey was put in charge of Tammy’s publishing company and Paul’s wife ran Tammy’s business office, placing eyes on all pieces of paper that came through the door and keeping both Richey men informed of everything. With all their income on a decline, her husband set Tammy a $500 per week allowance. Whenever she decided to make some big credit card purchase as a “fuck you” to Richey, Paul’s wife got the statement and narced her out. If she wanted to buy a washing machine or similarly expensive gift for one of her daughters, it was sure to at least be an argument and one she may not win. Meanwhile, Richey’s kids tooled around town in fancy cars. Tammy’s children recall their mother defying Richey somewhat more often during the early years of the marriage. Every now and then, they’d get in a huge argument and she’d even threaten divorce. But each reiteration of that threat only made it more apparent she would never follow through. Many witnesses accuse Richey of exacerbating and manipulating Wynette’s pre-existing drug addiction in order to foster an us-versus-the-world environment where he and his crew of loyalists became the only voices who told her she didn’t have a problem, which is of course what she wanted to hear. And the Great Divide grew wider. By this time, no member of her inner circle could have remained oblivious to her constant dependence on painkillers or attributed it to proper use of prescribed medication, no matter how many doctors and surgical procedures were involved. Her relationship with Demerol began in pill form but Richey soon learned to administer higher doses of the wildly addictive opiate through intravenous injection, thereby becoming her own private nurse. Tammy spent the two days prior to her 1980 interview with Alanna Nash laid up because she allegedly fell down some stairs. During the talk, she pulled down her shirt to show Alanna all her newest bruises while sharing her recent medical history: an alarmingly long list of major and minor operations, all followed by a return to work too soon to properly heal, inevitably resulting in further trips right back to a hospital for more treatment and more painkillers. According to Georgette, once Tammy’s daughters reached adult age and moved away from home, whenever Tammy wound up back in a hospital, Richey would sit by her bed and talk about how surprised he was none of her daughters had come to visit or at least called on the phone, all the while knowing damn well they hadn’t been informed of her hospitalization. So Georgette was fairly shocked when Richey came to her and said it was time to stage an intervention for Tammy. He said everyone needed to admit she had a drug problem and help her get the proper treatment. Then, when Richey and Tammy walked into the room where everyone was gathered for this intervention, he pretended to know nothing about it and became outraged at Tammy’s daughters for suggesting their mother was a “junkie.” There were many nights on the road when her bus took a detour to the nearest hospital to score drugs. According to her personal hairdresser, Jan Smith, who always rode with the backup singers and Richey on that bus, Tammy once waited until they were alone to ask if people in Nashville were calling her a drug addict. When Jan said they were, Tammy only wanted to know if Billy Sherrill was likely to have heard such talk. This must have happened at the very beginning of 1980 or earlier because when Jan said Billy did know about the drugs, Tammy started making plans to go to rehab, Richey found out, told her she was not an addict and – come spring of 1980 – Billy Sherrill was no longer her producer.
Cause and Effect
The only explanation Tammy was able to give for how she could possibly walk away from the one person she always credited for handing her a career basically came down to his just being too busy to find or write good songs for her. Whether she came up with this line herself or it’s what Richey told her to say, there’s no chance she really believed it. The lists she gave of artists supposedly taking up all of Billy’s time were always too short and that’s with usually including Charlie Rich, who had left Epic two years earlier, and Tanya Tucker, whose split with Billy caused a huge stir in the industry… all the way back in 1974. Out of respect for her, Billy always tried his best to go along with Tammy’s story, invariably saying something like, yeah, he must have been so burned out it just stopped being fun and they decided Tammy should try a different producer. But if he was so burned out on the whole business in 1980, someone forgot to tell his work with George Jones, then presently at its peak of critical and commercial response and remaining phenomenal into the ‘90s. All it takes to verify he never became bored and started phoning in Tammy’s records is listening to ‘em. “No One Else in the World,” a one-night-stand-becomes-instant-soulmate anthem, written by Billy Sherrill and Steve Davis and released as a followup single to “They Call It Makin’ Love,” is as great as any song David Lynch has ever used on a soundtrack. Sure, it wasn’t as successful as Tammy’s earlier records but that probably had a lot more to do with her off-putting dedication to telling absurd lies on national TV than it had to do with the music. And, even then, it was still a Top 10 hit in 1979. It’s true Billy wrote none of the songs on Only Lonely Sometimes – his last album with Tammy – not because he was burned out but because there were, in fact, only two songs that didn’t come from her publishing company, the one entirely under Richey control. The final single released from the album, “Starting Over,” barely made it into the Top 20 country records but if you happen to think it does sound like Billy Sherrill was checked out or paying little enough attention to miss the mark with this overly-serious rendition of a Bob McDill song (which, whether intentional or not, could have played just as well as a comedy), please recall this is the same formula Billy applied in the same year to give George Jones the biggest hit of his life on “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” We have every reason to assume he wanted the same success for Tammy and that he worked just as hard to give it to her.
Many witnesses say Tammy ending the partnership was not a decision based in mutual dissatisfaction and that it bothered Billy a lot more than he ever publicly admitted. His name appears as a writer on more songs originally cut by Tammy Wynette than any other artist he produced. And all one has to do, again, is listen to hear hers was the voice he had in mind when writing most of the songs he ever wrote. For example, Billy is credited on five of the eleven songs on 1970’s The Ways to Love a Man LP. The only one he wrote all by himself is “Still Around,” which I don’t believe he ever had any other artists record because what could be sadder than Tammy Wynette being the only person to sing this lonely song with its circular chord progression and fadeout implying she’ll be singing it, alone, forever? Has anyone ever heard Billy Sherrill sing harmony with George Jones? After Emmylou Harris had a hit on the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” Billy had Tammy cut the song as an album track and that’s his uncredited vocal accompanying her throughout. Tammy and Billy never called Richey the cause of their split but Georgette said she couldn’t imagine it ever happening without Richey’s involvement. The timing is impossible to ignore. Tammy quit working with Billy as soon as the first reunion single with George Jones came out. They didn’t even wait for the release of the full LP, which was rush-recorded immediately after Paul Richey became Jones’ manager, the same month Tammy made her final album with Billy. It’s almost as if her seemingly charitable but controlled-by-Richeys-on-both-sides reunion with George Jones put the right kind of attention on her career and it felt to a certain someone like a now-or-never moment to wedge Tammy and Billy apart. By the time “Two Story House” hit #2 – Tammy’s final appearance in the country Top 5 – Billy Sherrill was no longer around to be her producer or take credit. And it would be a pretty big surprise to learn he had anything to do with selecting “A Pair of Old Sneakers” as the follow-up single. With a collection of legitimately moronic shoe-based puns by Glenn Sutton and Larry Kingston, the funny lyrics/serious delivery trick again failed, the record barely made it into the Top 20 and there wasn’t another Tammy/Jones single released for fifteen years.
The Richeys may not have been able to keep Jones going in the studio with Tammy but they still had him on the reunion tour, pulling down more money than either artist could ever earn in royalties (since a greater percentage of every purchased concert ticket goes to the artist than their percentage of profits from sale of a single or album). The nearest thing to a compliment most behind-the-scenes sources could pay to George Richey was by pointing out his relentless tenacity in getting Tammy as much money as possible from every kind of business deal. He knew promoters, sponsors and other corporate entities capable of sending a big check could almost always afford to send a slightly bigger check and he rarely agreed to a deal without first bumping up Tammy’s take whatever extra little bit he could get. Other behind-the-scenes sources acknowledged all of this while also pointing out Richey controlling the money and keeping his wife on an allowance meant Tammy’s income was basically his income and making sure she stayed on the road all the time certainly contributed to her near-constant state of physical infirmity and drug dependency. It’s true Tammy wouldn’t spend much time sitting at home before asking when they’d be back on tour to perform for crowds of adoring fans who gave her applause and asked for autographs. Being on the road also sometimes gave her moments away from Richey, which by most accounts put her in a good mood. On occasions he wasn’t around, Wynette was more likely to socialize with her band and crew, laugh and tell stories about the old days with George Jones. But the other thing about being on the road is it gave her plenty of great excuses to acquire and inject more drugs, more often. And the reason it’s called “enablement” is because it’s helping a person do the self-destructive things they want to do. Nevertheless, touring remained Tammy Wynette’s primary source of income, even after Jones bailed from the reunion, even when ticket sales started to slow, even as her recording career continued to decline.
Following her departure from Billy Sherrill, Richey first took Tammy to Chips Moman, the Memphis producer who did Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” Chips either never spent much time listening to Tammy Wynette or mistakenly believed it was a good idea to try taking her in a new musical direction. For evidence, sample the chorus from either single on the only album of hers he produced, You Brought Me Back. “Cowboys Don’t Shoot Straight (Like They Used To),” co-written by Chips, crammed in far too many lyrics for a torch singer like Tammy to sound anything but clumsy trying to spit out all those syllables. On her version of the Everly Brothers’ hit “Crying in the Rain,” rather than belt out a huge chorus like those found on so many of her biggest records, Chips had her do the opposite: by-passing her vocal chords to produce a hoarse wheeze when she comes to the title lyric. It sounds less like an emotional affectation and more like she’s losing her voice. Surprising no one, George Richey then took over and produced the next three Tammy Wynette albums, doing his best impersonation of Billy Sherrill the entire time. At first, bringing back the Sherrill-esque arrangements and allowing Tammy to actually sing seemed to do the trick. Her first single with Richey, “Another Chance,” gave Tammy a rare up-tempo hit and her first Top 10 record in three years. But it was also her final Top 10 record ever and the other rare thing about it is that it was a good song, unlike much of what Richey brought to recording sessions. Considering he was credited as a writer on some of her last big hits, it’s worth asking why Richey never wrote Tammy another one after the split with Billy, especially because at this point his primary determining factor for whether a song was good enough to cut seems to be that it belonged to the catalog of their publishing company. Her next three singles were all terrible, each one charting worse than the last. I won’t make you listen to them all, only the worst, and only in case there’s a single person out there who can’t tell a song is bad as soon as they found out the title is “I Just Heard a Heart Break (And I’m So Afraid It’s Mine).” Tammy and Richey wrote this one themselves (with help from their go-to songwriter in this period, Jerry Taylor) but you don’t get to see very many zeroes on a royalty check as a writer or publisher by charting a country single at #46.
Despite his other faults, George Richey was not a delusional man. He saw some kind of change was necessary and, in April 1983, hired Stan Moress to manage Tammy, thereby freeing up Richey’s time to look outside the publishing company for at least the singles from the next LP. The first one he found was “Unwed Fathers” with lyrics (by Bobby Braddock and John Prine) speaking to an issue Tammy brought up in her autobiography and often raised in interviews: society’s practice of dumping the responsibility of pregnancy solely on young women. Everything about the record was right. The song was great. The performance and production were exactly what Tammy Wynette fans wanted. The message aligned with her persona while simultaneously ceding some ground to her feminist critics. So it must have been a surprise when it came out in June of 1983 and performed worse than any regularly released single of her entire career to date. The followup single did even worse and her team reached the only logical conclusion: her record-buying audience was finished with the Tammy Wynette revealed over the previous five years. Booking her on more and bigger television shows wasn’t going to help if viewers disliked the person they saw, fumbling to remember what was supposed to be her own version of events, struggling to add new details to the various conspiracies against her and so on. Richey still wasn’t going to send her to rehab but he, Stan Moress and Epic’s VP of Marketing Mike Martinovich all agreed her image was undeniably and immediately in need of rehabilitation. Returning to the strategy she and George Jones had used to place distance between his alcoholism and the Nashville media, she and Richey moved to Florida. They got rid of all the wigs she’d worn ever since her first album and gave her a close-cropped hairstyle. Her whole wardrobe was updated to more modern fashions: relaxed-fit pantsuits, business-like skirt and jacket outfits, sparkling Bob Mackie dresses, etc. Most surprisingly, given her decades-long reputation for standing still while producing one of the loudest voices in country music, they even brought in a choreographer for six weeks of dance lessons. Tammy was apprehensive of such big changes but gained confidence through the process of making them. Her oldest daughter claimed Tammy started talking more often in this period about actually divorcing Richey. At one point, Tammy enlisted the help of all her children except Georgette in a plot to discover why Richey had suddenly started going to different banks to set up multiple lines of credit. He had this briefcase nobody was allowed to look inside and Tammy wanted to know what he kept in there, so she and her daughters came up with a plan: Tammy would get Richey out of the house to give her children a window of time in which they’d make it look like criminals had broken in and forced open the briefcase during an attempted robbery. At the last minute, Tammy chickened out, told Richey about the plan and he went into a rage, banishing her daughters from the house.
The debut of Tammy 2.0 took place at a Las Vegas concert in May 1984. The makeover was a hit with her ticket-buying audience and it’s a good thing, too, because her next single was released the same month. On “Lonely Heart”, producer Jerry Crutchfield (who’d done all of Tanya Tucker’s biggest post-Billy Sherrill hits) supported Tammy’s updated image with an updated version of the Nashville Sound, which is to say it sounded a lot like the records Billy Sherrill was making at the time. Enough fans bought it to send the single to #40 but, the way her record label saw it, Tammy had fewer fans than ever and wasn’t likely to gain more. They decided it wasn’t worth releasing the rest of the Crutchfield album and shelved all plans to do so.
Out of the Spotlight
The failure of “Lonely Heart” was the beginning of Tammy’s sunset era, the final fifteen years of her life, during which her focus shifted to near-constant touring. Epic did keep her signed for another ten years but you can tell they were sprawling, trying anything and everything to resurrect album sales. It’s likely they’d have dropped her contract earlier if not for several sporadic moments which brought unwarranted hopes of a comeback. In November of 1984, Epic had Tammy record a duet with Mark Gray of Exile, called “Sometimes When We Touch.” Because Tammy Wynette is still a famous person and Mark Gray is not, modern sources tend to refer to this as a Tammy Wynette single with a guest appearance from Mark Gray. However, Exile kicked off a five year streak of releasing almost nothing but #1 hits in 1983. Mark Gray was much more successful than her at this time and this single was from his second solo album. Anyone who saw her name on the label and happened to expect a Tammy Wynette record was put right as soon as they pressed play. After “Sometimes When We Touch” became a hit, Richey fired Stan Moress and started managing Tammy again himself, repeating the move of taking more control (and credit) at what he believed was the beginning of a comeback, the same way he replaced Billy Sherrill in the first moments of renewed success from Tammy’s reunion with George Jones.
Steve Buckingham had already produced some hit singles for Mark Gray and Tammy enjoyed working with him on the duet single, so Epic hired him to produce her next LP. As Tammy 2.0 still hadn’t appeared on an album cover, there was a lot of pressure to make the record store debut of her big makeover at least seem to result in some increased measure of popularity. To this end, they threw the Mark Gray duet on the tracklist and named the album Sometimes When We Touch, which was enough to significantly outsell the previous two Richey-produced LPs. However, the album’s only single, “You Can Lead a Heart to Love (But You Can’t Make It Fall),” tanked worse than her previous solo record, probably because that awful title gets repeated three times in every chorus and the production sounds like a karaoke backing track. Returning to the drawing board, retracing their steps to the last time everyone was consistently happy with her sales, Epic landed on Billy Sherrill, who hadn’t missed the Top 10 with a solo single from George Jones since “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” All of the sudden, Richey and Tammy no longer believed Billy Sherrill was the albatross they previously claimed. The only problem was Billy could now be regularly found in interviews complaining about how difficult it had gotten to scrounge up hit songs in Nashville. Perhaps not coincidentally, Billy wrote very few songs after Tammy suddenly quit working with him and these days there were too many preferential and financial relationships within the studio system for the best material to not be promised elsewhere, often before it was even written. All anyone seemed to find anymore were songs with hacky lyrics like “if I could I’d take a gun, aim it at the past and shoot to kill,” which does nearly derail “Alive and Well” before it reaches cruising speed. But Billy’s production – as lush, dynamic and (yes) alive as ever – keeps his reunion with Tammy on track, reminding us why they were made to work together in the studio, why there’s no generic substitute for either half of this kind of partnership, even on subpar material they wouldn’t have cut as filler ten years earlier. Released in July 1986, their lone comeback single was a flop.
A few months later, Tammy finally went to rehab. She wouldn’t admit it but she had to know her drug use was a problem. Too many friends, employees and family members over the years had tried to intervene. The mistake most of these people made was first coming to Richey with their concerns, only to have him act shocked and appalled at how they could say such an insulting thing about Tammy Wynette, the gall it took to suggest she was some kind of “junkie” rather than a sick woman receiving medical treatment. Again, Tammy probably was legitimately in physical pain nearly every day of her adult life from, say, the early 1970s forward. We’re talking about a person who had more operations performed on their body than would be reasonable to assume anyone has ever been able to accurately number – perhaps a dozen on her stomach alone by the early ‘80s – with all the accompanying external and internal scarring to show for it. But she was also indisputably a drug addict and it wasn’t much of a secret. A 1984 article in The Tennessean detailed an episode from years earlier, when Tammy had to be airlifted to a hospital because she was in such great pain… right up until the doctor refused to give her pain meds, which is when she stood up and walked out, unassisted. A spokesman for the hospital said, “Sometimes a patient comes in for severe stomach pains and wants something for the pain. Maybe a doctor has administered a certain pain-killer before, but most doctors would not administer pain medication until they know what’s wrong.” Also in 1984, when asked to describe the relationship between Tammy and George Richey, Joan Dew said, “Look, the only reason Tammy stayed with Richey this long is the drugs.” Some took this to mean Richey, like a garden variety pimp, made sure Tammy stayed addicted to drugs so she’d feel the need to stay with him, her easiest avenue to the next fix. Others speculated Richey always performed this role at Wynette’s behest because procuring and administering her drugs was part of his job description from day one; he was so intent on helping her score and use because if he became unable or unwilling to do so, she’d fire him and the whole fame trip would be over. By the mid-‘80s, though, her increased drug use was itself a threat to the fame trip and her whole career, especially now that she was throwing Butalbital in there with the Valium and Demerol.
She could survive poor record sales as long as there was an audience who bought tickets to her concerts. But there weren’t that many people out there who wanted to watch Tammy Wynette forget lyrics, mumble incoherently between songs while hallucinating and fall asleep on a stool. Whenever she got this bad, the band and crew referred to her amongst themselves as “Virginia,” as in their real boss, Virginia Wynette Pugh, had gotten too fucked up to play the part of Tammy Wynette. If you were sitting in a crowd waiting for a Tammy Wynette concert to start and someone walked out to put a stool on the stage, you were probably about to see a performance from Virginia. And nobody ever knowingly paid for a ticket to watch Virginia Wynette Pugh sit on a stool. By October of 1986, Virginia’s stool shows were taking place at a rate Tammy’s career could not survive and she checked into the Betty Ford Center in California. The following day, she checked herself out, claiming she could kick Valium on her own. This is perhaps telling, perhaps an indication she regarded only her Valium use as problematic and had the mistaken impression Betty Ford could help her selectively drop one but not all of her favorite narcotics. A couple weeks later, when her continued drug use led to more stool shows, she checked back into Betty Ford. At the beginning of November, newspapers reported the cancellation of all her concerts for the rest of the year and the headlines told everyone why. This time, she was able to stay in rehab for a few weeks before leaving, not because she successfully completed the program but because she physically collapsed from a bowel obstruction. She was checked out of rehab and into a medical hospital, where she was given major stomach surgery and then laid up in bed for two months with some of her favorite painkillers on a drip. She spent the rest of her life praising the Betty Ford Center and acting like they’d fixed her right up. The truth was she never checked back into the program and never successfully kicked narcotics. She and Richey merely got better at hiding her addiction from the public. At least, for a while.
Perhaps thinking the George Jones playbook would work for Tammy, as soon as she got out of the hospital Epic put her in the studio wit, eh, may as well try Steve Buckingham again? They recorded her parts for a full album in only two days. Taking another page from the Jones playbook, they paired her with a notable guest artist on every song. Released in July 1987, the back cover of Higher Ground prominently advertised each song’s famous guests. Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Gene Watson, The Gatlin Brothers, Dennis Wilson and others could be heard as background singers. There was a duet with Vern Gosdin. The first single, “Your Love,” hit #12 with Ricky Skaggs singing harmony. “Talkin’ to Myself Again” hit #16 with The O’Kanes on background vocals. And “Beneath a Painted Sky” made it to #25 featuring Emmylou Harris. These were Tammy’s final Top 40 country singles and the album’s gimmick was not enough to inspire sales remotely comparable to those her special guests were used to seeing. Still, she assumed Steve Buckingham would produce her next album and was surprised when he said he didn’t have any ideas for what else to try. To make up for poor sales and the lost concert revenue from shows canceled during her long stays in rehab and hospitals, Tammy hit the road harder than ever.
On top of everything else, it turned out Richey’s frequent bank visits in Florida may have been in connection with some stupendously bad business investments. In the process of defaulting on a $750,000 loan, they were forced to sell their Florida home, borrow $50,000 from Burt Reynolds and move back in to the Nashville house, which was then repossessed by federal marshals in September of 1988 after Tammy filed for bankruptcy. Apparently, she thought bankruptcy meant they were entirely broke and Richey did nothing to correct the misunderstanding, allowing her to believe non-stop touring was the only way to keep them out of poverty. In 1989, he secured General Motors Truck Company as underwriter of an 18-month tour, meaning GMC covered nearly all the tour’s expenses and paid a mid-six figure sponsorship fee to Tammy on top of her regular concert guarantee for each stop. This was maybe twice as much money as she’d ever made on the road, millions of dollars over the course of the tour, and she only had to do a 35 minute set each night because she was essentially playing host to a different headlining act on each leg of the tour. These were younger and more popular artists like Randy Travis, Clint Black, Shenandoah and The Judds. (Wynonna bonded with Tammy, often going to her tour bus or dressing room to hide out after arguing with Naomi Judd. And when Wynonna got a little pet pig, she named it Tammy Swine-ette.) The tour was great publicity and a big payday but, again, failed to translate to record sales.
The album Tammy released in conjunction with the tour was another flop. Since Norro Wilson’s production sounds only slightly better than demo recordings and neither of the singles ever mattered, we may as well check out the album’s best track, “If You Let Him Drive You Crazy (He Will),” written by Curly Putman, Don Cook and Max Barnes. The plodding rhythm guitar, bass and drums are a shame because Tammy’s voice still sounds great on this “he’ll love you then leave” song Billy Sherrill could have turned into a home run. Her next notable recording session was a duet with Randy Travis for his 1990 Heroes & Friends LP, a reversal of the “aging legend collaborates with young stars” trope. There were two singles put out from Randy’s album. The first, a duet with George Jones, went Top 10. The title track went Top 5 without a guest vocalist. Even though Tammy’s duet was only an album cut, her label must have thought there was a chance it may generate some buzz because they released her final solo LP the following month. If anyone in Nashville still believed giving their best songs to Tammy Wynette made any kind of financial sense, Bob Montgomery’s wonderful production work would make Heart Over Mind the best of her post-Sherrill LPs. But, since they didn’t and since this whole album fell through the cracks, we again may as well just take a look at the best song, “What Goes with Blue.” Tammy had to’ve been exhausted the day they cut this because her voice comes out sounding more than a little like Tanya Tucker, which is never a bad thing, especially on a song about a not-exactly-young-anymore woman, heartbroken and nervous about getting back into the dating scene after her marriage has failed. This was Tammy Wynette’s final single as a solo artist.
In 1991, her mother passed away, which most of the inner circle has cited as something of a green light for Tammy to give up trying to curb her drug use. Also in 1991, the TNN Music City News Awards (now known as the CMT Music Awards) made Tammy the ninth person to receive their Living Legend award. It’s clear from watching video of the telecast Tammy had no idea she was about to hear the previous year’s winner, Merle Haggard, say her name and present her with this honor, which no doubt pleased her very much. But “living legend” awards aren’t necessarily a sign of a thriving career. For example, that same award went to an 81-year-old Roy Rogers the following year and even George Jones only charted one Top 10 hit after receiving it in 1987. When Epic released a new greatest hits compilation in 1991, they threw in Tammy’s duet with Randy Travis and released it as a single, which did the same amount of nothing everyone by now expected. And it’s frustrating because, listening to “We’re Strangers Again,” everything’s there. The song, written by Merle Haggard and Leona Williams, is amazing. Tammy and Randy both sound great. Kyle Lehning’s production owes an audible debt to Billy Sherrill and is perfect, here and on the nine or so #1 singles he’d done for Randy Travis by this point. One has to wonder what more anyone could have done to prolong Tammy’s career?
A Fairy Tale Ending?
Turns out, the answer was hire her to sing on a Jimi Hendrix-infused club remix of a song about the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu by The KLF, a bizarro act from the UK. (Or, more accurately, ripped straight from the pages of one of the funniest books ever written, The Illuminatus Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.) In pursuit of their mission to either save pop music or mock it to death (or possibly both), The KLF decided to travel overseas and record Tammy Wynette for this remix because it was the thing that made the least amount of sense to do and/or because they suspected it could be a #1 pop song in multiple countries, which it was.
One half of The KLF, Bill Drummond, flew to Nashville and went in the studio with Tammy. The session was not easy. According to Drummond, Tammy couldn’t find the beat in this style of music which was completely alien to her and, consequently, didn’t know where or how to sing on it. Being a devoted fan, Drummond was crushed to not record a take they could use. But when he got back to London, the other half of The KLF (Jimmy Cauty) applied early rate stretching and pitch correction technology to the tape. This is possibly what you’re hearing when Tammy sings the word “justified” for the second time in the song and the first two syllables sound a little like a tape being fast-forwarded.
The single came out in November of 1991 and was at or near the top of pop charts around the planet by the end of the year. It went #11 Pop in the United States. The KLF flew Tammy to London to shoot an epic-scale music video with nearly a million dollar budget, which was also an international hit. Her appearances in the video were accompanied by scrolling text, reading: “Miss Tammy Wynette. 25 years in the business. 11 consecutive #1 albums. 20 #1 singles. 5 times voted CMA Vocalist of the Year. “Stand By Your Man” still the biggest-selling country song of all time. 2 Grammy awards, 5 marriages, 3 children. First lady in the world to sell more than 1 million copies of one album. June 10th 1991, presented with the most coveted Living Legend award sponsored by TNN and Music City News. Miss Tammy Wynette is the most successful female country singer ever. Miss Tammy Wynette IS the First Lady of Country.” Some of these fan worship statements may not have been fact-checked or entirely accurate – she had 4 children, for example – but this was the crash course in Tammy Wynette history received around the globe in late 1991.
It’s pretty likely the ubiquity of this song and video was why Hillary Clinton even thought to reference her during the infamous 60 Minutes interview in January 1992 and one reason so many people who hadn’t thought of Tammy Wynette in years came so aggressively to her defense. Such pervasive and positive exposure surely caused some sort of surge in sales of at least her various greatest hits compilations. However big such a boost may have been, Epic didn’t feel it was significant enough to warrant recording or releasing another solo LP and they never did. What The KLF had managed to accomplish for her, though, was to open several new geographical markets around the world to her booking agents and drive up her asking price everywhere she toured. In 1992, she (or, really, George Richey) was able to purchase the Nashville home Hank Williams had bought for his wife Audrey, who then spent who-knows-how-much money renovating and expanding it into the extravagant house Richey was adamant about buying, even though Wynette – still cautious from the recent bankruptcy – said she didn’t want to live in a big house again. After someone (incorrectly) told her Audrey died in the main bedroom of the house, Tammy began sleeping on a couch when she was home, which wasn’t often.
If her 1992 tour of Australia hadn’t been prematurely cut short because of her failing health, several collapses and multiple hospitalizations, it may have taken much longer for Epic to get her back in the studio but they finally did in February 1993. Still regarded as unsellable on her own but a potentially high-value “participant,” the label grouped Tammy with Loretta Lynn, whose career was then in an even worse state, and Dolly Parton, who was still capable of releasing the occasional #1 single and clearly the main sales strategy for this project. Dolly was by this time co-producing her own albums with Steve Buckingham, so they ran the sessions for Honky Tonk Angels. All the songs were genre standards or significant cuts pulled from the back catalog of each artist. They invited Kitty Wells onto a track so the album could open where its title (and history) demanded, with an update of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” the first ever country single by a solo woman artist to go #1. There’s another interesting throwback later on the LP, where Dolly, Loretta and Tammy overdub background vocals on the Patsy Cline recording of “Lovesick Blues” produced by Owen Bradley. (Please note that Floyd Cramer was still alive when Dolly cracked the joke about his age during the piano solo.) Released in November 1993, the album sold well enough to enter the Top 10 Country albums and Top 50 albums in all genres. And it did this without radio support for the only single, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” which only reached #68 Country.
By the time Honky Tonk Angels came out, Tammy had already begun her next project but sessions went on hold when she was hospitalized two days after Christmas, due to breathing problems and a new type of pain which she said made it impossible to sleep through the night. Then her blood pressure plummeted and she dropped into a coma. Though doctors feared she was dying, they performed emergency surgery on what turned out to be an infected bile duct and Tammy pulled through. Two weeks later, even though she had to wheel around a portable IV everywhere she went, Richey had her back onstage.
Not a Fairy Tale Ending
In April 1994, Tammy Wynette performed at Carnegie Hall. In September, TNN launched a new talk show, called The Legends of Country Music, with Tammy hosting the first six episodes before Willie Nelson took over to finish the season. In her time on the show, she brought on longtime friends (like Loretta Lynn) and recent collaborators (like Randy Travis) for casual chats on working in the music business, stories about sharing time on the road, songs sang together, all the usual country music talk show stuff. Since there were moments one could see her struggling for breath while just sitting and chatting, Tammy’s brief run as a TV show host didn’t give Crook & Chase anything to worry about.
In October, the record label took advantage of her TV platform by releasing her next album, Without Walls. While there were two tracks where Tammy sang lead vocals on her own, all the others have special guests – this time pulled from outside country music – artists like Sting, Elton John, Smokey Robinson and Cliff Richard. Elton, who gave her an autographed picture of himself with the inscription “To the Queen of Country Music. From the Queen of Pop,” was fond enough of his duet with Tammy to put it on his own “guest artists” album from the same period. But Epic chose not to release “A Woman’s Needs” as a single. The track with Joe Diffie probably would have made the most sense as a single, both because Diffie was at the peak of his popularity and because it’s one of the few high points on the album. But Epic chose not to release “Glass Houses” as a single. Instead, they picked the Wynonna Judd track, “Girl Thang,” the kind of “sassy lady” number The Judds dominated radio with in The ‘80s and Shania Twain was about to use to become the best-selling woman country artist in the 20th century. But Tammy Wynette wasn’t The Judds and she wasn’t Shania Twain. This single would almost certainly have bombed no matter what but Tammy’s shaky live performances of it weren’t any help. On David Letterman to promote the song, she loses the rhythm several times, precluding any hope of delivering her lyrics with the confidence required to pull off this kind of performance. After the show, Richey yelled at her for messing up the song and they spent most of the night arguing in their hotel room. The next day, tired from fighting instead of sleeping, they had to get up early for Tammy to do morning television. Right before she walked out to do an interview – knowing she was nervous and embarrassed and tired because of what happened on Letterman the night before – Richey told her she looked like shit and, according to Georgette, said the orange outfit she was wearing made her look like “a carrot with boobs.” By most accounts, this was not a rare argument and the marriage had become more toxic than ever. In 1993, Wynette was showing off all her surgery scars to a couple friends when she revealed bruises on her ass and upper thighs that she said were given to her by Richey. She then swore those friends to secrecy, terrified of what Richey would do if he knew she’d told anyone of the abuse. This was around the time she confessed to one of her daughters the kidnapping stunt in the late ‘70s had been faked to cover up a beating she took from Richey. One day, Georgette found Wynette crying in the kitchen and asked what was wrong. Her mother said she’d been arguing with Richey and he yelled at her that the entire marriage had been nothing but a waste of his time, which hurt her feelings. When Georgette asked why she didn’t just leave, Wynette said she couldn’t because Richey had told her if she ever left him, then he’d write a book and make sure the entire world knew she was “a fucking druggie and a whore.”
In June of 1995, Tammy Wynette and George Jones released their final album together. The groundwork for this last reunion was laid by Tammy’s near-death coma in December ’93. After surgeons saved her life, Jones came to visit her in the hospital. In ’94, Tammy sang on one of his “special guests” albums and both artists’ teams agreed another reunion album and tour would be great for everyone involved. Despite the official story and their statements in interviews promoting the album and tour, this had less to do with any creative or nostalgic desire to work together again and more to do with how much financial sense it made, as Jones in recent years began to find country radio playing his records as often as they’d played Tammy’s in the previous decade: little to not at all. The title track and only single from the reunion album is easily the worst song. It’s almost as if the writers heard Harlan Howard talking about how the best thing to do with a plain and boring song title is repeat it often in the lyrics, then decided to prove him wrong. The title, “One,” is repeated in every line, sometimes multiple times, and at a certain point it starts to feel like the song was written on a calculator. The rest of the album had better writing (and versions of some genre classics) but it’s really just not fair for anybody to expect any kind of fireworks, here. They recorded One soon after Jones underwent heart surgery and, by this point, Tammy’s body was so wracked by drugs and malady, studio musician Harold Bradley didn’t even recognize her when she walked up and said hello in the first session. Still the publicity generated by their reunion sold enough copies to just miss the Top 10 Country Albums, coming in at #12. On the tour, Tammy’s failing health caused many of the concert delays and cancellations Jones’ drug use had caused in previous years. They were supposed to do The Tonight Show in coordination with the album release but Tammy had to cancel. Two months later, she also pulled out of the makeup date at the last minute, leaving Jones to do The Tonight Show by himself. On days she was feeling good, Tammy enjoyed singing with Jones, who had never stopped being her favorite country singer. And, of course, Jones couldn’t resist pulling her leg from time to time. At the very first concert of the tour, he cut the last song from his solo set and had the band start playing the first duet with Tammy, knowing she’d be caught off-guard and have to rush to the stage. At some point on the tour, though, the sheen wore off and gave way to bickering and ego clashes with both artists’ teams trying to corral the whole thing forward in the name of cashing in for all it was worth. When the tour rolled into Nashville in October of 1995, they played the Grand Ole Opry House. During this hometown show, Tammy made sure to give special thanks to Epic, her record label for the past 30 years, not knowing they’d made the decision the previous week to drop her from her deal.
On April 6, 1998, at the age of 55, Tammy Wynette died on a couch in her kitchen. For the previous several years, this is where she spent her days and nights while at home, watching TV whenever she wasn’t sleeping.
She had once told a friend she would rather die singing than laid up in some bed somewhere. The way she spent the final years of her life ceaselessly touring through all manner of health problems does seem to back up this statement. Yet Jerry Taylor, longtime songwriter for Tammy’s publishing company, stated outright it was Richey who worked her to death: “She was married to and managed by one of the greediest people ever in this business.” Several sources said no amount of money Tammy could earn was enough to make Richey happy. Georgette knew he kept her mother on a tight allowance and made her account for every purchase because she’d seen Wynette squirreling away whatever money she could – stashing ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills in various hiding spots – just in case she needed to help out one of her daughters with any cash, something Richey rarely allowed. In a 1987 interview for a BBC documentary, Tammy said she’d enjoy doing “5 or 6 more years of steady work” before she’d like to slow down on her touring schedule. The following year is when she and Richey filed for bankruptcy and Tammy never did get the chance to slow down. Booking agent Tony Conway remembered talking to her before a performance at a state fair, where she told him she was worn out, just plain exhausted, to the point of insecurity over whether she could put on a good show. By the mid-’90s, she felt this way often.
She developed hand signals to flash the band behind her back and let them know when she needed to speed through the rest of a song, cut it short entirely or when she wasn’t even going to try reaching a particular note so the backup singers could pick up her slack. Years earlier, someone came up with the idea of putting a segment in the middle of the show where the band would do a few songs without her while she left the stage to take a break and catch her breath during a costume change. Various backup singers and band members would take turns singing the songs. By the mid-‘90s, Tammy needed such long breaks they started letting the bus driver take the mic for a song, anything to fill their contractually-obligated time. One night, Tammy prepared for bed the same way she did every night, removing the rings from her fingers one at a time and massaging her sore knuckles as she slowly drifted off to sleep. The only problem is she was onstage, already half unconscious and entirely oblivious to the audience of people sitting in front of her. Booking agent Tony Conway eventually quit his job, saying he couldn’t keep his conscience clear helping Richey to work Tammy so hard while she was in such bad shape. She played her final concert in March of 1998.
The last month of her life was spent much the same way she spent downtime on tour, watching TV with her husband. Back when they only had a VCR on the bus, it was a lot of the same movies over and over. Wynette loved westerns – cowboys, good guys, bad guys, damsels in distress – whereas one of Richey’s favorites was Reversal of Fortune, based on the true story of Claus von Bulow, who was convicted but then acquitted of attempting to murder his wife by administering an insulin overdose. Once the bus got a satellite dish, Tammy became obsessed with true crime television, following the OJ Simpson, Menendez brothers and JonBenet Ramsey cases as closely as her favorite soap operas. At home, Tammy and Richey traded the couches of the tour bus for two couches – his and hers – in the kitchen, the only room in Audrey William’s large house Tammy had much use for in her final years. Towards the end, there was a lot of religious programming in Tammy’s television diet and usually a Bible somewhere in close proximity, along with a yellow legal tablet on which she inventoried personal items and assets, each entry annotated with who should inherit it upon her passing.
Georgette was working a shift as a hospital nurse when she found out her mother died because some coworkers who saw the news on television asked if she was alright. She didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Tammy’s other daughters had been contacted sometime after 7pm that evening, nearly two hours later than others in Richey’s inner circle remember being called with the news. It would take another two hours (9pm) before anyone called 911 to report the death. When Wynette’s daughter Jackie showed up around 9:30, the kitchen was full of Richey’s friends, who were hanging out, talking, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes like Tammy Wynette’s dead body wasn’t on a couch in the room. The skin of her face had begun to crack from the swelling of a few hour’s death. By the time two police detectives arrived, Richey had taken to screaming about how there would be no autopsy. According to Georgette, Richey appeared “drugged up” and seemed to be putting on some kind of performance depending on who was in the room. One minute he’d be wailing, as if overtaken by grief, the next he’d be handling business on the phone, talking excitedly about how he wanted to make sure Tammy’s memorial at the Ryman Auditorium was an even bigger media event than Princess Diana’s funeral. Though only family and close friends were supposed to be at the house on this first night, Richey called all sorts of celebrities and invited them over to hang out in a kitchen with Tammy Wynette’s corpse.
Despite a police report stating the body was discovered by Richey and their housekeeper, the version Richey told for the rest of his life said the housekeeper had left to run some errands when Richey came back from a trip to the bathroom and realized his wife was no longer breathing. Whatever really did happen that day, the housekeeper from the police report never spoke of it on record again. Rather than call 911, Richey’s first call was to a Dr. Marsh, who lived in Pennsylvania. According to Richey, Dr. Marsh said to not even bother calling 911, that he’d get on a plane to Nashville and sign the death certificate himself. Marsh determined the cause of death to be a pulmonary embolism (a diagnosis that is impossible to confirm without autopsy), then sent the body to a mortuary, where it was embalmed, thus precluding the possibility of anyone ever being able to secure an accurate toxicology report. Dr. Marsh told police Tammy was only on four antibiotics and a blood thinner at the time of her death. A Tennessee medical examiner named Bruce Levy accepted this as fact.
Most of Tammy’s friends and employees described the scene at the house over the following days as being a little different than what you’d expect, unless what you’d expect is Richey’s family and friends hanging out and partying, before grabbing some kind of “dead celebrity” keepsake on their way out the door. One person who came for a private viewing swears they saw one of Richey’s relatives walk up to Wynette’s body, remove a diamond necklace from around her neck and leave with it.
Naturally, Tammy’s public memorial at The Ryman was always going to be a huge deal, regardless of whether Richey wanted that or not. Everyone who was anyone in country music was there. Dolly Parton spoke and performed a song she’d newly written, called “Shine On.” Merle Haggard sent in his eulogy on video, along with an acoustic performance of “If I Could Only Fly” but he was clearly too upset to play guitar, to the degree he practically apologized afterward, saying “That’s the best I could do and it’s not very good but… Goodbye, Tammy.”
Richey’s displays of grief at the memorial were again questioned by many who were close to Tammy. Off-camera, in private, all he could talk about was how many viewers he heard were watching the live coverage on CNN and even the BBC overseas. But if a famous person or a camera crew walked in the room he’d suddenly erupt with emotion or drop into the broken-by-despair behavior he brought to the unsettling comments made onstage during the service. Richey began by thanking Billy Sherrill for discovering Tammy, then spoke of the constant care she required from him over the previous five years. Then – for some reason, maybe to ensure millions of people heard his version first – Richey started talking about the day Wynette died. As soon as he says they were alone on the couch when she died (potentially about to deviate from both whatever story he told in the police report and the story he told about finding her upon returning from the bathroom), Lorrie Morgan – standing nearby and waiting to sing a song – starts reaching for the microphone while others approach Richey from behind to try to get him to stop talking and leave the stage. More than one of Tammy’s friends remembered thinking Richey was about to confess to her murder right there. But all he did was ramble off a few more thanks, beginning with George Jones, another person he’d want to appear friendly toward in public, in case they ever decided to reveal some unpleasant history.
After the memorial, Richey returned home, went in his office and began making phone calls and plans to exploit Tammy’s legacy for – quoting him – “millions.” Among these plans, a collectible Tammy Wynette figurine he sold on TV and a tribute album plagued by completely senseless arrangements of her hits, like a version of “Apartment #9” from Melissa Etheridge featuring the kind of brushed snare you’re used to hearing over slow-motion footage of the underdog athlete breaking through victor’s tape to win a gold medal at the end of a movie. Richey, his brother and their sister were named executors of the Tammy Wynette estate. Since the yellow legal pad on which Tammy carefully detailed how her assets should be divided was never seen again after her death, each daughter (except Tina, who refused the insult) was given $5,000 and each grandchild was given $10,000. A life insurance policy her daughters had been told would pay out to them instead went toward “debts on the estate.” A few weeks after Tammy died, George Richey bought a new BMW.
Some friends stopped visiting the house because they were disturbed by all the women thirty years younger than Richey hanging out in skimpy swimsuits. These were possibly acquaintances or old coworkers of Richey’s new girlfriend, Sheila Slaughter, who used to be a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. Richey and Sheila denied that they were romantically involved at the time of Tammy’s death. But Sheila did start coming around a lot in the last year or so of Tammy’s life, to the degree Wynette told at least one friend there was something weird about it. One of Tammy’s credit cards was used to purchase women’s clothing in the days preceding her death, the day of her death… and three days after her death. In the weeks after the memorial, Sheila Slaughter was seen driving around in Tammy’s Rolls-Royce, wearing Tammy’s clothing and wearing Tammy’s jewelry.
September 1998: Tammy Wynette is inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame the same month tabloids report her daughters have hired a private investigator to look into the death of their mother.
October 1998: Daughter Tina gets kicked out of a Tammy Wynette tribute concert for accusing George Richey and Sheila Slaughter to their faces of pretending to be heartbroken while freely spending Tammy’s money on fancy clothing and cars and throwing parties in her house.
December 1998: Daughters Tina, Jackie and Georgette officially request an autopsy of Wynette’s body. Their request is denied.
February 1999: The daughters are able to meet with Bruce Levy, the medical examiner assigned to Wynette’s death, and convince him to contact Dr. Marsh in Pennsylvania, who finally admits Tammy died with painkillers in her system, a fact he hadn’t previously disclosed.
April 1999: The daughters file a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against George Richey and Dr. Marsh after local reporter Jennifer Kraus discovers among the shipments of prescription painkillers Wynette received at home was Versed, a powerful drug which should only be administered in a hospital or in an ambulance on the way to a hospital because of the risk of respiratory depression and/or cardiac arrest. Tammy’s old booking agent, Tony Conway, talks Richey into allowing an autopsy, saying he has nothing to fear if he didn’t do anything wrong. Richey announces there will be an autopsy during a press conference he also uses to shame Tammy’s daughters for being “willing to work so hard to discredit their mother.” Even though the cause of death is ultimately undetermined, no evidence of the previously-pronounced embolism is found in Wynette’s body.
May 1999: Bruce Levy reports his suspicion there was an attempt to provide the authorities with minimal information at the time of Wynette’s death. In addition to revealing the painkillers, it turns out Dr. Marsh confessed he’d been contacted the day prior to Tammy’s death because she felt unwell with symptoms he suspected were caused by a potentially fatal blood clot. Even though he strongly suggested she immediately be taken to a hospital, she was not. Richey claims it was Wynette who said she didn’t want to go to the hospital because she started feeling better. Richey is removed from the daughters’ wrongful death lawsuit and Dr. Marsh eventually settles out of court.
In the year 2000, Jackie became the first daughter to write a book revealing her side of the story, which Georgette mostly backed up ten years later in her own book. Both daughters shared previously undisclosed and damaging things Wynette said about George Richey, abusive things he’d said or done to Wynette and the lies told to cover it all up. Richey instantly responded to the allegations in Jackie’s book by going to the media and campaigning his own innocence. He and Sheila Slaughter appeared together on 20/20 to deny they were romantically involved at any point prior to Tammy’s death. Richey denied having anything to do with Tammy’s death and said Dr. Marsh never told him Versed was such a dangerous drug. Richey said he had “absolutely” no plans to marry Sheila Slaughter. About a year later, he married Sheila Slaughter. George Jones sent a letter to talk radio personality Don Imus, wondering why Richey was never arrested for practicing medicine without a license when “enough Versed went through her home to kill a bull,” which is a great question.
In the late 2000s, George Richey and his new wife Sheila decided to forego a typical family Christmas card in lieu of mailing out homemade DVDs, featuring interviews with Tammy’s daughters which had been edited out of context in an attempt to undermine their allegations against Richey. These clips were combined with various footage of Tammy Wynette over the years, sticking to the official story about George Richey being her knight in shining armor. Richey then gave the official Tammy Wynette website an overhaul in order to further the narrative he was the best thing to ever happen to her. At least one user who posted comments critical of Richey was doxxed through the website and Tammy’s fans were encouraged through the website to harass this person.
When George Richey, a longtime cigarette smoker, died of lung disease in July of 2010, the news was kept private for nearly a month, as he had requested to be buried without a public memorial service and before the public could be notified of his death.
Thank you for reading Cocaine & Rhinestones. Every episode is written by me, Tyler Mahan Coe.
If you enjoyed the episode, I’ll hope you visit the SUPPORT page. The most helpful thing you can do to keep this show running, especially right now and in the coming months between seasons, is throw a little money my via regular donations on Patreon, where you can get monthly insights to my work behind the scenes in text or video, the ability to vote on a listener-determined episode each season and things like that. As you’ll find on that support page, though, there are other means of helping me with the show and I’ll take whatever I can get to keep this my job.
This episode featured excerpts from the following songs, in this order [with links to purchase or stream where available]:
- Tammy Wynette & Charlie Louvin – “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- The Kendalls – “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Womanhood” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “They Call It Makin’ Love” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- The Maggots – “(Let’s Get, Let’s Get) Tammy Wynette” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “No One Else in the World” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Starting Over” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Still Around” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Emmylou Harris – “If I Could Only Win Your Love” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “If I Could Only Win Your Love” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Tammy Wynette – “A Pair of Old Sneakers” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Cowboys Don’t Shoot Straight (Like They Used To)” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Crying in the Rain” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Another Chance” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “I Just Heard a Heart Break (And I’m So Afraid It’s Mine)” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Unwed Fathers” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Lonely Heart” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Mark Gray & Tammy Wynette – “Sometimes When We Touch” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “You Can Lead a Heart to Love (But You Can’t Make It Fall)” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Alive and Well” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette & Vern Gosdin – “Some Things Will Never Change” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Your Love” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Talkin’ to Myself Again” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Beneath a Painted Sky” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “If You Let Him Drive You Crazy (He Will)” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “What Goes with Blue” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Randy Travis & Tammy Wynette – “We’re Strangers Again” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- The KLF ft. Tammy Wynette – “Justified & Ancient (Stand by the JAMs mix)” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton & Tammy Wynette ft. Kitty Wells – “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Patsy Cline ft. Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton & Tammy Wynette – “Lovesick Blues” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton & Tammy Wynette – “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette & Elton John – “A Woman’s Needs” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette & Joe Diffie – “Glass Houses” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette & Wynonna Judd – “Girl Thang” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- George Jones & Tammy Wynette – “One” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Tammy Wynette – “Out of the Spotlight” [Amazon / Apple Music]
- Melissa Etheridge – “Apartment #9” [Amazon / Apple Music]
These videos were excerpted in the episode. For any number of reasons, YouTube (or DailyMotion) may remove them in the future but here they are for now:
Commentary and Remaining Sources
This was the final Tammy Wynette episode in the season, so I do hope that I’ve proven what I said in the earlier episodes’ Liner Notes: I may not respect everything she did but I do respect and feel for her. I can see how a lot of people would see me telling a story about millions of fans getting sick of Tammy Wynette and believe I’m just talking about how sick of Tammy Wynette I am but those people are mistaken. Before the first Tammy episode came out, I posted on social media that I find her saddest recordings to be much sadder than the saddest of George Jones. I meant that and I imagine many more people now feel the same way than before Season 2. There was never anything I was gonna be able to do about the fans who can’t handle the truth but, in my opinion, it’s far more disrespectful to Tammy Wynette’s legacy to repeat lies than it is to try and discover the truth. My job here was to explain how and why her career played out the way it did. I believe that’s what I’ve done.
All of my main sources for this intro were mentioned in the intro itself and I used too many various sources to mention to fact check and correct those main sources. As with the rest of the intros in the season, you’re getting what seems to me to be the general consensus from everyone who’s been paying attention and using the latest credible sources to update their opinions of history.
One connection to something from earlier in the season that’s worth noting: prior to Lewis & Clark heading west on the Missouri River, President Jefferson sent Meriweather Lewis to Philadelphia in order to learn some basics of curative medicine from a doctor, named Benjamin Rush.
While we’re on presidents…
In the previous episode, when Epic’s new Nashville marketing department arranged for Tammy Wynette to perform at The White House, the First Lady of the country who The First Lady of Country sang for was, of course, Betty Ford, because Gerald Ford was president at the time.
One last thing on this specific episode, there’s really no reason to expect The Maggots or anyone else suspected there was a small, real bruise hiding beneath the huge, fake bruises they could see on Tammy Wynette’s face or that her story of a violent abduction was intended to cover up an instance of domestic violence. A lot of the reactions you’ll see from people making comments at the time (and there are much worse ones than that Maggots song floating around out there) were from people who had every reason to think Tammy was making up the whole thing out of thin air. So, while certainly insensitive, perhaps not as insensitive as it may seem.
Today, I should give some commentary on the books from Tammy’s daughters.
There are two unfortunate trends when it comes to using children of famous artists as sources on those artists. One is how rarely the kids have much of a relationship with the artist, unless they choose to work as part of their organization, because – as you heard Tammy herself say in this episode – the artist was never home. The second unfortunate trend is that fans tend to regard artists’ children as the most reliable sources when they are, in fact, usually the people with the most to gain from reinforcing whatever version of the official story has been sold to fans. (Because of the first trend or because the child may not have even been born during the events they’re discussing, the official story sold to fans may even be the only version they know.)
Because of what Georgette calls “The Great Divide,” these books from Tammy’s daughters are (unfortunately) examples of the first trend. However, Tammy was around enough for both daughters to get a sense of how much was wrong behind-the-scenes and, because they did not inherit a meaningful portion of the estate, they stood to gain nothing from reinforcing the official version of events and the purpose of these books was, therefore, to debunk it. Both daughters told the world about the abuse Tammy secretly suffered for years and drew attention to the infuriating circumstances of her death. Jackie is older than Georgette, so she has more first-hand details of the earlier years and her co-author is who worked with George Jones on his official autobiography, which lends a greater awareness of the Jones side of the story. Georgette being Tammy’s youngest means she lived at home later into the story than the other children, so she has more first-hand memory of what Tammy’s home life was like in the late 1970s and 1980s. Because she’s the only child of Tammy and George, I referred to Georgette more times throughout this season but both books were equally valuable.
Alright, come back in a couple weeks because we’ve still got to get to the end of George Jones’ career and life.