George Jones, the last of eight children, was born inside of his parents homemade log house in Saratoga, Texas today in 1931. He was over twelve pounds and shortly after delivery had to be treated for a broken arm because the Doctor dropped him.
The stories people swap about being poor usually pale next to the East Texas childhood of George Jones. They had nothing but what they made or fixed. Water came carried from a well. Work was done by hand. A sister, Ethel, at seven years of age died of what might have been pneumonia, there was no hospital to go to. A few days after the funeral George’s father, broken-hearted, started drinking.
It’s easy to write about drinking and drugging when it comes to George Jones. He has peers, but no eclipses. It’s also a tired story that everyone knows and while those legends will certainly live on, it’s the songs and the voice that now, just as then, rise above even the most tawdry tales.
The last few years have been something of a album renaissance for Jones with many of his out of print records from the 60s, 70s and 80s being pressed again. While the various greatest hits have long been available and albums like I Am What I Am have stayed in print, the reissues have shown just how deep his cannon really is with great lost albums like Alone Again, The Grand Tour, Nothing Ever Hurt Me and One Woman Man. I blogged about the wonderful Hannah Barbara song, The King Is Gone from One Woman Man a couple of years ago and continually find myself drawn to his novelty numbers which sneak up on unsuspecting listeners and lay down some pretty heavy truths.
Which takes us to songwriter Bobby Braddock. Braddock wrote Would You Catch A Falling Star, (We’re Not) The Jet Set, Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You), He Stopped Loving Her Today, Golden Ring, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and Let’s Talk About Me. Any of those songs, excepting the Toby Keith clunker, are worthy of a few words. These are some of the best known and best loved country songs of all time. Golden Ring and (We’re Not) The Jet Set are defining duets for Tammy Wynette and George. He Stopped Loving Her Today often makes the top cut in country music countdowns and has become something of a hillbilly version of Freebird or Stairway to Heaven.
There’s another song though that Braddock wrote that gets me every time. Really, it’s a terrible son. I’m telling you it’s just bad. If I had written I would have snickered and then crumpled it up in fear someone else might hear it. This song took guts. It took guts to write and then more guts to play for someone and big and bloody Lee Marvin guts to record it.
George Jones is country music. He sings happy when he feels sad and sings sad when he’s happy. He is tragicomedy. And don’t believe for one second that anyone else, and I mean Hank, Merle, Patsy or anyone, with the possible exception of Tammy Wynette, could sing the songs he sang. The mere fact that this song works – and see above, this song is terrible – is because who is singing it. Maybe it’s not classic Jones, and it’s not, but think of it as a sparrow and find the love in your heart.