George Jones was a hard drinking country singer. Don Imus used to use an excerpt from “The King Is Gone (And So Are You)” as bumper music.
Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis
I soaked the label off a Flintstone Jelly Bean jar
I cleared us off a place on that
One little table that you left us
And pulled me up a big ole piece of floor
I pulled the head off Elvis
Filled Fred up to his pelvis
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you
There is a tragicomic story about how one time his wife wanted him to stop drinking. I might’ve been Tammy Wynette. He had a few of ‘em. The nearest liquor store was eight miles away, so George couldn’t walk there. She hid all the keys to all of their vehicles. George’s stash had run out and he was getting dry. He had one last resort: a riding mower. Those things top out at maybe 5 MPH, but he rode it all the way to the liquor store. It was probably a three-hour trip; longer if he was already drunk.
Jones would often blow off shows. Literally; a manager introduced him to cocaine. So he had another vice. This would lead him to financial ruin and Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would help him out. Jennings had battled his own demons. He’d been arrested for coke possession.
If you were a boy when I was a boy, you remember Jennings; unless your parents wouldn’t let you watch The Dukes of Hazzard. He was The Balladeer. Jennings was part of the outlaw country scene and did a duet album with outlaw godfather Willie Nelson. They had a hit with “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Before he was country, he was a rocker. Played with Buddy Holly. Would have died in the plane crash that took the life of Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper was sick and asked Jennings if he could take Waylon’s seat on the plane. Jennings agreed. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” and Jennings responded, also in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes”. This exchange of words would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.
My dad was a Glen Miller and Frank Sinatra type of guy, but he liked Buddy Holly. Holly was a like the Kurt Cobain of his day. He had a short career with an Everest-high peak. And he’d go on to influence Bob Dylan and the British Invasion bands who were soon to follow. Holly was no longer with the Crickets at the time of the crash, but they were his most famous backing band. Buddy Holly and the Crickets first single was “That’ll Be The Day.” This was a catchphrase that Ethan Edwards used in The Searchers. John Wayne played Edwards in the John Ford film. The director and actor would team up a few years later for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. (I prefer spaghetti westerns, but I cannot deny the greatness of the Ford and Wayne combo.)
Burt Bacharach wrote an eponymous tune inspired by the movie. A young man from Rockville, Connecticut named Gene Pitney recorded it. My mom was a couple of years younger than Pitney and they were in chorus together. He signed her yearbook. Pitney was also a sound engineer and songwriter. Like Buddy Holly, he was a master of the overdub, which was in its infancy at the time. He wrote “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson. He befriended the early Rolling Stones. He even dabbled in country music and collaborated with… George Jones.