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In the previous article, the early years of country music artist George Jones were discussed. Jones’ star was rising rapidly; however, his career and his personal life took a tumultuous turn during the 60′s and the 70′s, and his numerous difficulties are discussed below.
In the sixties, Jones had a number of hits which included “Achin’, Breakin’ Heart” in 1962. This would be his last hit for Mercury Records, as Daily became a staff producer for United Artists Records (UA) in 1962 and Jones followed him to the label. His third number one hit was his first single for UA, “She Thinks I Still Care.” In 1963, Jones began performing and recording with Melba Montgomery and their first duet, “We Must Have Been out of Our Minds,” was their biggest hit, peaking at number three. They continued to record together throughout 1963-64 and in 1966-67, though they never again had a Top Ten Hit.
In his solo work, Jones had a number of hits in 1963 and 1964, peaking with the third hit “The Race Is On” in the fall of 1964. The next year, Daily had Jones move to the new record label Musicor. His first hit single for Musicor, “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” was in the spring of 1965. Between 1965 and 1970, he had 17 Top Ten hits for Musicor. During his five years at the label, Jones recorded almost 300 songs. Among them were first-rate songs that included country classics like “Love Bug,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” and “A Good Year for the Roses.”
Like any artist, Jones also recorded mediocre material as he made some records that were genuine tributes or experiments. He also tried to fit into contemporary country styles, such as the Bakersfield sound, and many of his attempts did not result in hits. However, he consistently charted the Top Ten with his singles, if not with his albums. And only two, his 1965 duet George Jones & Gene Pitney and 1969′s “I’ll Share My World With You,” charted.
In the 70’s, Jones parted ways with Musicor and Daily. In the process he signed away all the rights to his Musicor recordings. The label continued to release Jones’ albums for a couple of years, and licensed recordings to RCA, who released two singles and a series of budget-priced albums in the early ’70s. In October 1971, Jones signed with Epic Records. This year was a busy year for the singer as he and Tammy Wynette became the biggest stars in country music, racking up a number of Top Ten hits as solo artists and sold out concerts across the country as a duo.
At the end of the year, he cut his first records for Epic and began working with his new producer Billy Sherrill, who was also responsible for Wynette’s hit albums. At first, Jones and Sherrill had a tense relationship as Sherrill was known for his lush, string-laden productions and his precise, aggressive approach in the studio. Under his direction, musicians were there to obey his orders and that included the singers as well. Jones had been accustomed to the relaxed style of Daily, who was the polar opposite of Sherrill. Eventually the men developed a positive working relationship and because of the that, Jones became an official ballad singer.
Jones’ successful career at Epic started in 1972. His first solo single for the label, “We Can Make It,” was a celebration of Jones’ marriage to Wynette, and was written by Sherrill and Glenn Sutton. “The Ceremony,” Jones and Wynette’s, also became a Top Ten hit. “Loving You Could Never Be Better” followed its predecessors into the Top Ten at the end of the year. Though Jones’ music career was making even more gains, his personal life wasn’t. His marriage to Wynette had become an interest to their fans, and privately the couple had problems. They fought frequently and Jones was sinking deep into alcoholism and drug abuse, which escalated as the couple continued to tour together. In August of 1973, Wynette filed for divorce. Shortly after she filed the papers, the couple decided to reconcile and her petition was withdrawn. However in 1975, the couple divorced.
Throughout this time, Jones’ music continued to be a success. In 1973, every single that Jones released was in the Top Ten. He and Wynette also had a number one single titled “We’re Gonna Hold On.” In the summer of 1974, Jones had his first number one hit since “Walk Through This World With Me” called “The Grand Tour,” a song that described a realistic picture of a broken marriage. He followed it with another number one hit, “The Door.” Not long after its release, he recorded “These Days (I Barely Get By),” which featured lyrics co-written by Wynette.
Soon enough, Jones began to have trouble musically. Between 1975 and the beginning of 1980, he had only two Top Ten solo hits — “These Days (I Barely Get By)” (1975) and “Her Name Is” (1976). Though divorced, Jones and Wynette continued to record and tour together, and that is where he stacked up hits, beginning with the back-to-back 1976 number ones, “Golden Ring” and “Near You.” The decrease in hits was a direct result of the downward spiral in Jones’ health in the late ’70s, when he became addicted not only to alcohol, but to cocaine as well. Jones became notorious for his drunken, intoxicated rampages, often involving both drugs and shotguns. Jones would disappear for days at a time. He began missing a substantial amount of concerts — in 1979 alone, he missed 54 shows — which earned him the nickname “No-Show Jones.” In her 1979 autobiography Stand By Your Man, Wynette recalled waking at 1 AM to find her husband gone:
“I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away. When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, ‘Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.”
Flirting with rock & roll, Jones’ career began to pick up in 1978, when he covered Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” with Johnny Paycheck and recorded a duet with James Taylor called “Bartender’s Blues.” Both singles went Top Ten and led to an album of duets, ‘My Very Special Guests,’ in 1979. Though the album was set to be a return to the top of the charts for Jones, he was absent from the scheduled recording sessions and had to overdub his vocals after his partners recorded theirs. His self-destructive behavior brought him close to death, and doctors told the singer he had to quit drinking. Jones checked into a rehab clinic but left after a month, uncured. He was also in an Alabama psychiatric hospital by the end of the decade. Due to his cocaine addiction, his weight had fallen from 150 pounds to a mere 100. He was often penniless and admits that Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash came to his financial aid during this time.
Part three discusses how he overcame these obstacles and regained his momentum on the charts and his later years.
Image credit: George Jones via Facebook