It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since George Jones passed away. But a new tell-all biography by longtime friends Charlene and Peanutt Montgomery keeps Jones’ memory alive as well as sets the record straight on the country music icon’s life and career.
The Legend of George Jones: His Life And Death is a collection of stories that traces Jones’ early years, five marriages (including one to another legendary artist – Tammy Wynette) and a career unequaled in the world of country music. From his humble beginnings playing guitar and singing on the streets of Beaumont, Texas, to his ascension to the Country Music Hall Of Fame, Jones’ journey is told by the two people who knew him better than anyone.
George Jones was one of the most important and influential singers in music history and the voice behind many of country music’s most enduring hits, including “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, widely regarded as one of the greatest country singles of all time.
Peanutt Montgomery, co-author of the new book wrote 73 songs for George Jones and nine popular Jones / Montgomery hits are included on a CD that accompanies the book as well as two previously unreleased songs, newly recorded by some of country music’s top players.
Although Jones himself never got a chance to read the finished book, the story remains for fans young and old to enjoy. I spoke with Charlene and Peanutt about the book and their memories of George.
What made you decide to write a book about George’s life?
Charlene: I actually started writing the book about five years ago and knew even before then that I wanted to write one. In a way, I wrote it out of sympathy for George. A lot of bad publicity had come out about him over the years. People have this picture of George being a drunken musician and a bar room brawler, but that wasn’t George at all. And although I wont deny that he did do some rough stuff, there were so many good things he did during his life that people never really knew about. He had such a good heart and was so good to people.
The stories in the book really make you feel like you’re right there with George. What was the writing process like?
Charlene: I knew about George’s childhood almost as if I had lived it with him. Only because I had heard him tell me about it so many times. He would always talk about things like his mother cooking and how wonderful it smelled. Or how he really missed things like listening to the wind whistling through the tall pines in the big thickets.
A lot has been said over the years about George and Tammy Wynette’s marriage and their fights. Most of it tabloid fodder. Was a lot of their disputes over domestic issues?
Peanutt: Many of their fights had nothing to do with domestic issues. Sometimes, if Tammy would get a bigger royalty check or one of her songs went higher in the charts than George’s it would aggravate him [laughs]. Even though they were both making money together, he often didn’t look at it that way.
At what point do you remember seeing George at his lowest?
Charlene: The time he shot at Peanutt was probably the lowest I had ever seen him. At the time, he was terribly addicted to cocaine. All the years that we had spent with him, he suddenly became a man that we did not know. He got paranoid and didn’t know who to trust. He didn’t even trust himself.
Can you tell me about the time George first told you about “He Stopped Loving Her Today”?
Peanutt: One day George came by and asked me if I could help write on this song he had. Then he played me a demo tape of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. I told him that I couldn’t write on that song without getting permission. Then he said, “Well, to me it doesn’t sound like it’s finished.” So the two of us went out to eat to talk about it some more and at the time he was so messed up that he was dropping food on the table and would even lap his food off the table like a dog. That’s when I knew I had to do something.
A few days later, I went down to the judge and told him that George was in danger of hurting someone or himself. The judge eventually had George committed for thirty days and I think that was the beginning of really helping him come out of his problems. But I’ll never forget those days when he would try to get me to help him write on that song. Looking back now, I probably should have called up Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman ["He Stopped Loving Her Today" songwriters] and asked to help them with it! [laughs].
Do you have a good story about what it was like writing a song with George Jones?
Peanutt: I remember one time George was up in New York for a week or so and when he came back he said to me, “Peanutt? Old George is gonna be a hard act to follow!” I said, “George, that’s a good title for a song!” At the time, George had a little concert piano in his living room. We both went in and started banging on it and wrote “A Hard Act To Follow”. That was the song on the b-side of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.
What would you like people to remember most about George Jones?
Charlene: The thing that usually stands out is that George was a drinker, but he was also a common man who could relate to common people. I would like people to remember that George had a good heart.
Peanutt: I always put the spiritual world in with our lives. I claimed George Jones years ago and told him that he was going to be a Christian and was going to go to Heaven to be with God and all the rest of us one day. George would often question God, wondering how God could permit little children to be born crippled or people to grow old and be mistreated. I told him, “George, we don’t know the answers to all of that, but just believe in the Lord.”
There’s an old saying in psychology that says there’s something called a self-fulfilling prophecy. That if you say something over and over and believe it enough, it can come true. Be positive and look at the good side of life, even in the bad. I really believe that because I heard that on his death-bed, George accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Charlene: If there’s one thing that George Jones taught me that was of great value, it happened back in the 1960′s. He was mad at Jimmy Peppers, who was a songwriter he was working with. I remember he said, “I don’t ever want to speak to that boy again!! Our friendship’s over!!” Then a few weeks later I saw George laughing and cutting it up again with Jimmy Peppers. I took him off to the side and said “Hey, I thought you said you didn’t want to have nothing to do with Jimmy Peppers?” He said, “Well Charlene…you can’t ever hold a grudge!” So whenever I get into a situation like that, I always go back to the advice he gave me that day. It was way back when I first met George Jones, and I’ve never forgotten it.
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