He Stopped Loving Her Today

He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time

JACK ISENHOUR
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvfs0
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  • Book Info
    He Stopped Loving Her Today
    Book Description:

    When George Jones recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today" more than thirty years ago, he was a walking disaster. Twin addictions to drugs and alcohol had him drinking Jim Beam by the case and snorting cocaine as long as he was awake. Before it was over, Jones would be bankrupt, homeless, and an unwilling patient at an Alabama mental institution. In the midst of all this chaos, legendary producer Billy Sherrill-the man who discovered Tammy Wynette and cowrote "Stand by Your Man"-would somehow coax the performance of a lifetime out of the mercurial Jones. The result was a country masterpiece.

    He Stopped Loving Her Today, the story behind the making of the song often voted the best country song ever by both critics and fans, offers an overview of country music's origins and a search for the music's elusive Holy Grail: authenticity. The schizoid bottom line-even though country music is undeniably a branch of the make believe world of show biz, to fans and scholars alike, authenticity remains the ultimate measure of the music's power.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-102-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. PROLOGUE: Shattering Glass in a Minor Key
    (pp. 3-10)

    First, get your heart broke. Bad. By the love of your life. Those felled by teenage crushes need not apply. Second, light one up for the first time in years and sip something aged in small batches in a barrel all its own. Finally, come midnight, any midnight, listen, rinse, repeat to “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Moan with the steel. Study the lyrics. There will be a quiz. As for cheating, that will be encouraged. Just don’t count on anybody taking your sorry ass back.

    He said I’ll love you ’til I die.

    She told him you’ll forget in...

  5. PART ONE GEORGE JONES LIVE
    • 1 VACANT, INERT CIPHER
      (pp. 13-19)

      Saturday, downtown Nashville. The early arrivals, packed cheek to jowl, flowed downhill on the sidewalks flanking the Ryman Auditorium. On the Fifth Avenue side, the crowd split as it neared the auditorium, the George Jones fans peeling off to the left and the sports fans continuing on down toward the arena. The temperature was in the sixties and the forecast rain, but after a day of sunshine there wasn’t an umbrella in sight. Over on Fourth Avenue, a scalper moved up the slope against the grain, one baby step at a time, holding a small sign above his head: i...

    • 2 ART AND MONEY
      (pp. 20-29)

      Judge-John-Brown reappeared with a fist full of “All Access” passes. They were about half-again as big as a credit card, laminated to last, and had a color picture of George on the front. With these babies we would be able to roam around the Ryman Auditorium at will and, if anybody asked, could answer with that line we’d been waiting a lifetime to deliver: “I’m with the band.”

      “I have to have these back,” said Judge-John-Brown as we looped the passes around our necks.

      We made our way to the alley running down the south side of the Ryman. Like...

    • 3 THE COUNTRY MUSIC DIALECTIC
      (pp. 30-33)

      I don’t know about you, but right about now I’m feeling downright superior to Charles Wuorinen, Lionel Trilling, and that whole elitist crowd who are so hopelessly sequestered in their various ivory towers. Thank God I’m a country boy and all that. Trouble is, first, I’m not really a country boy and, second, many a country music purist shares a Wuorinen-like disdain for the audience. They too want their music to be judged by the smallest group of like-minded people possible, in this case traditionalists, people who prefer fiddles to violins, Gretchen Wilson to Faith Hill. Like classical composer Wuorinen,...

    • 4 THE LESSON OF PADUCAH
      (pp. 34-42)

      Meanwhile back in Nashville, country music’s greatest singer, George Jones, stepped to the microphone to sing country music’s greatest song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” in country music’s most revered venue, the Ryman Auditorium. It should have been a national-holiday, unlimited-hall-passes, chocolate-chip-cookies-right-out-of-the-oven kind of moment. George Jones is the real deal in the flesh, the country singer most likely to be cited by the I-know-it-when-I-hear-it crowd. And so as George stood there on the edge of the Ryman Auditorium stage, seconds away from singing the opening notes of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” you can’t fault me for expecting magic....

  6. PART TWO AUTHENTICITY, A.K.A. THE REAL DEAL
    • 5 HILLBILLIES AND COWBOYS
      (pp. 45-51)

      Whatever you choose to call today’s most virulent strains of country music—“hard core,” “stone country,” “the real deal”—George Jones is still the man. Producer Keith Stegall calls him “the source.” Like Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams before him, back in the sixties the hard-livin,’ drink-it-if-you-got-it Jones came to personify authenticity. And in country music, that’s huge.

      “Authenticity has come to define country music more, perhaps, than any other musical genre,” wrote Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor inFaking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music.

      “Country music isnotrock. It isnotpop. It isnot...

    • 6 COUNTRY CRED
      (pp. 52-60)

      If you want to be in the country music biz, it’s not enough to write it, perform it, record it, and sell it, you also have to live it. Everybody from the label chief to the session musician is expected to have personal authenticity, a country version of the rap artist’s “street cred”—call it “country cred”—if they want to be accepted by fans and peers.

      “The verbal accent, vocabulary, grammar, and prior rough work experience affirm that a person is from the great geographic cradle of country music and hasn’t let education get the better of working-class identification,”...

    • 7 JIMMIE AND THEM
      (pp. 61-70)

      In the novelDeliverance, the town of Oree, Georgia, was a “sleepy and hookwormy and ugly, and most of all, inconsequential” mountain community with a Texaco station and “a little whitewashed” town hall/jail combo.

      In the movieDeliverance, the town of Oree, Georgia, was a jumping-off place for hillbilly hell. And before “the weekend they didn’t play golf” was over, one of the four Atlanta businessmen (Ronny Cox) would die, another (Ned Beatty) would be sodomized, and the other two (Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight) would become killers as the four took on not only white water, but what one...

  7. PART THREE THE NASHVILLE SOUND
    • 8 VIOLINS FROM HELL OR THE SHORT, OFFICIAL, PRETTY-MUCH TOTALLY BOGUS HISTORY OF THE NASHVILLE SOUND
      (pp. 73-80)

      More than fifty years after the birth of the Nashville Sound, a lot of country music fans still get riled up at the sound of a roomful of violins. To them, a string section is inauthenticity personified. For all those who insist on holding this grudge, it’s time to reveal who is really to blame for all the sweet-tea, string-laden confections that have been making their way out of Nashville and onto a radio playlist near you since the early sixties. And it’s not who you think. Forget Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins and Billy Sherrill. They were all at...

    • 9 THE LONG, UNOFFICIAL, PRETTY-MUCH TOTALLY TRUE HISTORY OF THE NASHVILLE SOUND
      (pp. 81-86)

      When the Feds lifted the wartime freeze on radio licenses in 1945, the number of AM stations in the U.S. exploded from a little over nine hundred in 1945 to over twenty three hundred in 1952. (In those days, there were so few FM stations they weren’t worth counting.) Before the expansion, ninety-five percent of stations were affiliated with one of the four national networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, and Mutual. But now there were a lot more stations than there were network slots. This led to the birth of a new force in broadcasting, the independents, who by 1952 accounted...

    • 10 YEAH, BUT IS IT COUNTRY?
      (pp. 87-90)

      The Country Music Association (CMA) was formed in 1958 out of the remains of the Country Music Disc Jockeys Association and then and now serves as kind of a trade association for the business. Back in the early days, as Diane Pecknold reported inThe Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry, the CMA saw the country audience as “the rural to urban white migrants from the South and Midwest who made up a significant portion of the newly affluent blue-collar middle class.”

      Hillbillies made good.

      In 1960, wrote Pecknold, the CMA mailed copies of a magazine article...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. PART FOUR MUSIC MAKERS
    • 11 FOLLOW THE MONEY
      (pp. 93-101)

      Early April, just another strip-mall, Hillsboro Road, Nashville, Tennessee. The nine o’clock show time was fast approaching and my songwriter friend Ellen Warshaw and I stood in a long, motionless line outside the Bluebird Cafe waiting to hear some of Nashville’s premiere songwriters ply their trade. Forget the front porch, barnyard, and Blue Ridge mountain home, listening rooms like the Bluebird are where it really happens these days. Where an idea that came out of nowhere while taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or cruising aisle two at the nearby Green Hills Kroger—Dried Fruit, Rice, Jello—is heard out...

    • 12 THE WRITING OF “HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY”
      (pp. 102-112)

      Back at the Bluebird, the music continued as a pretty young woman in a good-God-almighty, it’s-spring! turquoise dress cozied up to guest songwriter Gary Nicholson. “Honey can you squeeze me in,” she sang, dishwater blonde hair spilling over the microphone.

      Suddenly the rain hammered on the plate glass windows, and heads turned, as a Tennessee “gully washer” blew through. Dean Dillon called a reluctant Paul Overstreet (“Same Ole Me”) up out of the audience. He sat to the left of Dillon in Matraca Berg’s seat, borrowed her guitar. Overstreet was wearing a cowboy hat that looked to be white straw,...

    • 13 THE QUONSET HUT
      (pp. 113-119)

      In the mid-fifties, Owen Bradley converted the basement and most of first floor of a two-story brick house at 804 Sixteenth Avenue South into the first recording studio on what would become Nashville’s Music Row. Outside, its original columns removed, front porch reconfigured, the finished building was fainting-architect ugly, but inside, it worked.

      “We recorded down in that basement a lot. We did Burl Ives records down there,” recalled background singer Millie Kirkham.

      About a year after it opened, the facility they called Bradley’s Film and Recording Studio got even uglier when a military-surplus, World War II-era, prefabricated metal building...

    • 14 MAKING MUSIC
      (pp. 120-128)

      During that first “He Stopped Loving Her Today” session at the Quonset Hut, Sherrill and the boys didn’t take long to rough out the song. That’s because there really wasn’t much to it. Guitar player Pete Wade kept charts in a notebook for all of the thousands of songs he cut over the years. A normal song would “take like half a page,” said Wade. Not “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

      “There’s a little bitty chart up in the corner. Sixteen bars,” said Wade. “It’s all the same thing over and over. The smallest one in the book, but yet...

  9. PART FIVE GEORGE GLENN
    • 15 PLUM CRAZY
      (pp. 131-134)

      During the same time Sherrill was trying to piece together “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” he was also cutting a series of ten duets with George and partners Elvis Costello, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Dr. Hook, Pop and Mavis Staples, Johnny Paycheck, Willie, Tammy, Waylon, and Emmylou for what would beMy Very Special Guests. This album came at the end of a longstanding effort by CBS to take George and country music mainstream.

      The idea was hatched in 1976 after CBS booked George at Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July picnic to see how he would go over. This...

    • 16 SPOILED ROTTEN CHILD PRODIGY ADDICT
      (pp. 135-142)

      George Glenn Jones, the second son and youngest of eight, was born on September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas, to George Washington and Clara Patterson Jones. He weighed in at twelve pounds, and maybe that had something to do with the doctor dropping him and breaking his arm. It would not be George Glenn’s last fall.

      He was born into a mixed marriage: his mama a born-again Christian, his daddy a hopeless alcoholic who had developed a drinking problem after his favorite child, first-born daughter Ethel, died of malaria five years before George Glenn came along.

      “From the day he...

    • 17 HEART BROKE
      (pp. 143-152)

      George and Tammy married, each for the third time, on February 16, 1969.

      “I was in love with her before I ever met her,” George told biographer Dolly Carlisle. “I loved her singing.”

      “Tammy loved George Jones, the singer,” Joan Dew, the coauthor of Tammy’s autobiography,Stand By Your Man, told Carlisle. “She idolized him. He was the epitome of the great country singer. What would anyone do if they had a chance to have an affair with their idol? I’m real doubtful about whether she loved George Jones, the man.”

      Daughter Georgette was born in 1970, and in late...

  10. PART SIX THE MAKING OF “HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY”
    • 18 NOW IN SESSION: GEORGE JONES
      (pp. 155-159)

      In late 1979, George Jones stopped showing up at all. “He was subsisting off a diet of crackers, roasted peanuts, and canned sardines for weeks at a time,” wrote biographer Bob Allen. “He had walking pneumonia, his gums would sometimes bleed from malnutrition, his weight had dropped from 145 pounds all the way down to ninety eight.”

      At times homeless and destitute, living out of his car, George continued waving a handgun around, threatening to kill himself and others. Witnesses spotted him loitering on Music Row, chatting it up with an eight-by-ten glossy of Hank Williams.

      Finally, mercifully, on December...

    • 19 EYEWITNESSES V. PAPERWORK
      (pp. 160-167)

      In a town then known for routinely cranking out three songs in one four-hour session, the time it took to produce “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was headline news.

      “Eighteen months,” wrote Jones in his autobiography. “Over a year,” Sherrill told Jones biographer Dolly Carlisle. “A year and a week,” said engineer Ron “Snake” Reynolds. But the paperwork on file at Sony contradicts these eyewitness accounts. The paperwork says the production of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” took as little as a month. So which is right?

      Here’s some of the most compelling testimony that the eyewitnesses, not the paperwork,...

    • 20 COLLABORATION AND COMPILATION
      (pp. 168-180)

      Now back to the big picture. Whether “He Stopped Loving Her Today” took a month or a year to produce, the finished recording ended up being a collaboration—like most recordings. To make the greatest country record of all time, George Jones needed Billy Sherrill who needed Pig Robbins who needed Ron “Snake” Reynolds who needed Charlie McCoy who needed Millie Kirkham who needed Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman who needed Jerry Carrigan and on and on. Like Hillary said, “It takes a village.”

      “I think toward the end when they’re all playing is one of those strange blessings you...

  11. EPILOGUE: True Love Purgatory
    (pp. 181-186)

    Sunday, the Ryman Auditorium, downtown Nashville. A gorgeous spring day, temperature in the seventies.

    It had been just shy of three years since last I’d seen George Jones perform here. Enough time for Sun Trust Bank to erect a perky, thirteen-story, blue-tinted, glass-and-steel office building in what had been the Ryman’s north parking lot and for the Baptists to throw up a Bible-toting, larger-than-life statue of Billy Graham a couple of blocks west. For what that’s worth.

    The George Jones show wouldn’t start for another couple of hours, but his glistening purple and silver tour buses and two white Mercedes,...

  12. SOURCES
    (pp. 187-196)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 197-209)