Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tammy and George: A Love Letter

Good morning!

So yesterday, I mentioned that the return of my beehive came from a place of love for a rediscovered musical interest-- and this one's very close to home! Ladies and gentleman, the focus of my laser-like latest obsession, George Jones and Tammy Wynette:

I recently finished Jimmy McDonough's fantastic biography, Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, on audio-book from the library's Overdrive ebook collection. Folks, were my eyes welling up a little on the bumpy ride home from work on the bus, earphones spelling out the final days of the First Lady of Country? They were. This is one of only two times I've been reduced to sentimental tears over a biography on a MTA bus, the first incidence involving an equally stellar dual biography of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Sam Kashner's Furious Love. Like Burton and Taylor, the former Wynette Pugh of Tremont, Mississippi and country's acknowledged king of the sad song, George Jones, were a glamorous, tempestuous pair, both onstage and off. I started listening on a Monday and by Tuesday afternoon, I was trying to think up things to do while wearing headphones. Didn't the dishes need doing? Yard need mowing? Some mindless task I could complete while absorbed in this compelling life story as big as anything a Hollywood screenwriter could dream up? At the end of the week, my house was clean and my heart was full with feeling for that oft-dismissed period on music's 20th century timeline, country music of the sixties' and seventies'.

It's funny how living in Nashville makes one both hyper-aware of and somewhat inured to the charms of country music. Johnny Cash, who inhabits a pop culture air pocket where his associations with country are somehow transcended by his folk hero like place in common conception, is a given. Rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson or historic icon Patsy Cline might sneak her way into a playlist or two of the uninitiated, but it's funny how "separate" and "other" country music can seem from people with otherwise open-minded iTunes libraries. I don't know what it is about country hits of the post-Kennedy, pre-Reagan era that cements those songs to kitsch or ironic appreciation, if not an out-and-out dismissive attitude, but I'm telling you, I AM HOOKED on this former husband and wife pairing's solo and collaborative catalogs!

Early publicity photos of the future married couple (source, source)
Wynette Pugh decided she wanted to sing country music listening to George Jones's duets with Melba Montgomery on the radio in the late 1950's. A pretty and popular teenager, member of the school basketball team, Wynette left school at seventeen to embark on an ill-fated union with her older, carousing first husband Euple Byrd (what a name!). Leaving the ne'erdowell Byrd a few years later, pregnant Wynette packed the car with her two daughters and all her belongings to drive to big city Birmingham, and soon thereafter, Nashville. Here, her tenacity and lungpower sufficiently impressed producer Billy Sherrill to sign her to Epic Records in 1966, renaming her "Tammy Wynette" after the Debbie Reynolds movie role. 

Wynette was married to husband number two, songwriter and motel manager Don Chapel, when she started touring with her hero Jones the next year. Jones and Wynette maintained a platonic friendship until one night, visiting the Chapel family home for dinner, George became incensed by overhearing Don, arguing in the kitchen, call his then-wife a "son of a b-tch". Jones recounts in his hit-and-miss 1996 biography, I Lived to Tell the Tale, that he intervened, flipping over the already-set-with-dishes dining room table, declaring Chapel wasn't going to talk to Tammy that way. Chapel, fairly enough, asked what business it was of Jones's how he talked to his own wife. Jones replied that it was plenty his business because he was in love with Tammy, and what's more, Tammy was in love with him! "Isn't that right, Tammy?" he asked a thunderstruck, on-the-spot Tammy. "I guess I am in love with him!" she replied, and thereafter, George told her to go get the kids and went off with her into the night.


Jones and Wynette went on to marry that year (after several starts and stops around the legality of either her first divorce or their Mexican wedding), and moved to Florida, building the Old Plantation theme park on the grounds of an antebellum home they fully restored as their personal residence (now for sale, here). The Jones's welcomed a daughter, Tamla Georgette Jones, in 1970. The duets they recorded together on a flurry of releases during their marriage are electric...between the natural teardrop in Tammy's plaintive, powerhouse vocals, and George Jones's ability to weave a heartache into every living syllable that comes out of his mouth,  the songs are both compelling intimate and compulsively listenable. My favorites are "Golden Ring", "We're Gonna Hold On", and the conspiratorially blue-collar "We're Not the Jet Set". The marriage fell apart towards the six year mark, and ultimately dissolved in 1976 (Jones ascribed its failure to her "naggin' " and his "nippin' " being essentially incompatible), but George and Tammy worked together professionally up to 1980, and even reunited, after a decade long estrangement, for a final album, 1995's One. While Tammy clocked another two marriages and a serious affair with Burt Reynolds, and Jones, for his own part, finally got "straightened out" by his last wife, Nancy, the Wynette-Jones fan base continued to see Tammy and George as the quintessential and inseparable first-family of country song.

Yes, George Jones himself admits to taking a lawn mower to the liquor store on MORE THAN ONE OCCASION when another source of transportation was unavailable (source)
On the bookshelf of items from the library on one or the other of them:
  • Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death by Jackie Daly
  • Ragged But Right: The Life and Times of George Jones by Dolly Carlisle
  • Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette
  • I Lived to Tell It All by George Jones
  • The Three of Us by Georgette Jones
In addition to building that bibliography, I spent a lot of this weekend culling the record bins at two Great Escape locations, Cd Warehouse, and McKay's for records of the two, either together or separately, with greater or lesser success. Great Escape Madison had TONS of Jones albums, but most of them had lived a harder life than the Possum himself. As I was trying to grab these recordings mainly to use my USB turntable to convert them into listenable cds, these trashed vinyl copies were of no use to me, and the cd section yielded up a sparse incidence or two of late-career releases. At Great Escape Charlotte, I found the excellent compilation record George and Tammy by Country Music magazine for $3.99 and five or six duet and solo albums in decent condition. Like old times, I got about six albums for $20, a great savings over trying to track the songs I wanted down on cd (the listings of which are often pasted together in "Super HITS!" collections that aren't worth anything). I can't wait to get everything converted so I can listen to a playlist of my own concoction wherever, whenever I want.

A mirage at the Gallatin Rd Great Escape-- all these were in terrible shape, scratch-wise!!
I've also made this spotify playlist, which has been seeing heavy rotation in the workplace at my cubicle:


So if you're interested, listen! Enjoy! Report back to me on what you think! I'd love to talk Tammy and George with some fellow fans!

Do you divide and conquer subjects you're interested in in a similar manner to the way I've described? What's the last thing you got "crazy into" as far as pop culture? Are you a country fan, or do you shy away from sad songs and steel guitars? 

That's all for today, but I'll see you back here tomorrow for more vintage-o-philia. I'll see you then!


  1. Whoa. I thought that first photo was Jim Carey in a George Jones biopic. IDENTICAL.

    1. TRUER WORDS WERE NEVER SPOKEN. ((As I look at George Jones with new eyes for the first time)) Jim Carey is missing the role of a lifetime!!

  2. I LOVE Tammy & George... and really, any old country, for that matter. Although my current obsession is Hank Williams & Marty Robbins (though not together - I WISH!). I agree with you, I don't understand the aversion to classic country music - especially when coupled with the statement "I hate country, except Johnny Cash." uhmmm most classic country - including Johnny Cash - sounds the same! Meaning if you like him, you should give the rest of it a listen because chances are... you'd like that too! Drives me crazy. New country is so so SO bad, it really turns people off of the good stuff.

    1. Amen, sister! I'm always like..."Have you HEARD any country that isn't Johnny Cash?" when people say "I hate country, I only like Johnny Cash". What is with that? His music is steadfastly rooted in country music, so why wouldn't one give other classic country artists a shot? ((shakes head))

      And I agree that a lot of the modern "my tractor, my cut off jeans, muddin' in my 4 x 4" makes people just write off the whole genre. Not fair!

  3. "The higher the hair, the closer to God".

  4. What a fun read! I love your humorous & informative writing style and of course your subject matter is very intriguing to me, a die-hard classic country fan. Man, what a bummer that all those George Jones records were all scratched up. It’s a cryin’ shame. I’m gonna listen to your playlist this evening, and I can’t wait.

    1. Thanks, Crystal! And I was so bummed about those records...imagine me walking in trying to find some Jones albums, seeing that DISPLAY'S WORTH OF THEM, and then realizing they were all beat to bejesus. Oh well! Hope you enjoy the playlist, I can't stop listening to it! :)

  5. Haha I find myself fervently looking up old, famous couples and snooping into their personal lives all too often. It's just so interesting and full of great drama. Especially Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. I was JUST looking up Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart the other day-now THAT'S a great couple.

    I love old country. *hiccup* Oooooo White Lightnin'! I can't tell you how many times my parents got drunk and blasted George Jones when I was growing up.

    1. Burton and Taylor and Bacall and Bogart are two of my favorites!!!!! Lauren Bacall's "By Myself" and Eric Lax/AM Sperber's "Bogart" are just killer, killer in telling about one of the romances of the century. So glamorous!

      Also, I love the image of your parents playing George Jones and swinging around the living room. Too cool for school! :)



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