I was saddened to learn that country music icon George Jones died yesterday at age 81. Although I am not a huge country fan, over the years I’ve heard plenty of George Jones songs, and it’s easy to appreciate his great talent. So, I hoped there had been some sort of connection between Elvis and George Jones, because I really wanted to write an ElvisBlog article about him. Guess what – there were several connections.
Jones was born in 1931, and by his twelfth birthday, he was playing his guitar and singing for tips on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. Although he and Elvis got their starts at almost exactly the same time, Jones was three years older due to serving a stint in Korea with the marines.
Elvis began recording at Sun Records in 1954, the same year Jones signed with Starday Records. By the end of the year, Elvis had regional success with the Rock-a-Billy songs “That’s All Right” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” Jones had less success with his first two honky-tonk releases “No Money in This Deal,” and “You’re in My Heart.”
In November 1954, Elvis signed a contract with the Louisiana Hayride to perform every Saturday night for a year. In addition, the Hayride took performers out on tour to cities not too distant from Shreveport. Louisiana. In August 1955, Elvis was on the bill of one of these shows in Conroe, Texas. George Jones drove over from Beaumont and managed to get in to see Horace Logan, the director of the Hayride. Logan later described Jones as kind of skinny, with a crew cut, and looking like a teenager (he was actually 24). Jones sang his latest Starday release “Why Baby Why,” and impressed Logan so much he was allowed to open the show as an unannounced act.
After the Conroe show, Logan signed George Jones to a contract, and he became a regular Hayride performer, sometimes appearing on the bill with Elvis.
Then “Why Baby Why” quickly became a national country hit for George Jones, and his career took off. He became the headliner at the Louisiana Hayride. Notice the playbill below with Jones at the top and Elvis as a special guest.
Jones has been quoted saying this about that show, “I still have a copy of one of those posters – well Elvis made it really, really big, but I had one up on him for that one night.” However, as the hits piled up for Elvis and his fame exploded, he leapfrogged back ahead of Jones as the headliner.
One of the most interesting things I found on the internet was a song Jones wrote and recorded titled, “The King is Gone (So Are You).” As best I can find out, it is autobiographical. Here’s the scenario. George Jones was an alcoholic for most of his career, and he had four divorces. After one of those divorces, Jones was alone in his home, and the ex-wife had cleared out everything – all the furniture and all the china and glassware. Among the few things she didn’t take was a small table, an Elvis Jim Beam whiskey decanter, and a jar of Flintstones jelly beans..
Jones dumped out the jellybeans and used the jar as a glass to drink the Jim Beam, all of it. As he got good and drunk, he had imaginary conversations with Elvis and Fred Flintstone. Soon after that, he wrote this song.
The kicker to this story is that Hanna-Barbera Productions sued George Jones for unauthorized use of their trademarked Yabba Dabba Doo. Poor Jones couldn’t catch a break.
Let’s end with one last story about George Jones. It has nothing to do with Elvis, but it is classic George Jones lore.
One of the best known stories of Jones’ drinking days happened when he was married to his second wife, Shirley Ann Corley. She tried to make it physically impossible for him to travel to Beaumont, located eight miles away, and buy liquor. Because Jones would not walk that far, she would hide the keys to each of their cars before she left the house. On night, Jones was upset at not being able to find any car keys, but he happened to look out the window. The light that shone over their property spotlighted their large riding lawn mower. He is quoted saying, “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagined the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
Good bye, George Jones. You were a classic.
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