Sunday, July 5, 2009

He was just playing Possum

The bottle had let George Jones down, no two ways about it. "The Rolls Royce of Country Music'' had been hiccupping and misfiring badly, even though the hits had kept coming for him. With that voice, it was no wonder.

But you can only abuse yourself so long before it catches up to you. The game was getting old, and Jones wasn't getting any younger. It had been 25 years since he first hit the country charts with "Why Baby Why'' in 1955. He had charted an amazing 108 songs during that time, nine of them ascending to No. 1.

But this was early 1980, and Jones hadn't scored a No. 1 in four years. Good god almighty, Eddie Rabbitt had FOUR chart-toppers during that stretch. Jones was living from song to song and bottle to bottle. His prospects were dimmer than an ABC Liquor Lounge when he entered CBS' Studio B in Nashville to record the song. Especially THAT song.

Jones felt the Bobby Braddock-Curly Putnam offering was too melancholy to go anywhere. He was hungover and ornery, and when he got to the song's talking parts he couldn't get it right without slurring the words. Ol' Possum was hurting, but good.

In other words, it was the perfect storm for a country classic -- which "He Stopped Loving Her Today'' surely became. It entered the Billboard chart on May 3 and less than two months later -- on this very day in 1980 -- it became Jones' 10th No. 1 song. It also would win the CMA Single of the Year and earn Jones a Grammy award. And it would save more than his bacon.

As Jones recounted years later: "A four-decade career was salvaged by a three-minute song.'' Three minutes and 19 seconds of heart-wrenching, tear-jerking bliss that today is widely regarded as the greatest country song of all time. Hear it for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. At this very moment I'm listening to "George Jones Talkin' Cell Phone Blues" off the Drive-by Truckers' upcoming album, "The Fine Print."

    Better stay on that lawnmower/ if you're gonna keep carryin' on that way