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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

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Thanks to Joan Barnfield, who served time at the original Possum Holler; Connie Woods and Glynn and Brenda Dowdle, who knew somebody who knew somebody; Judge-John-Brown for the goat roast and backstage passes...

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Prologue: Shattering Glass in a Minor Key

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pp. 3-9

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...

Part One: George Jones Live

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pp. 11-41

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1. Vacant, Inert Cipher

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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...

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2. Art and Money

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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...

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3. The Country Music Dialectic

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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...

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4. The Lesson of Paducah

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pp. 34-41

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...

Part Two: Authenticity, A.K.A. The Real Deal

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pp. 43-69

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5. Hillbillies and Cowboys

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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...

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6. Country Cred

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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...

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7. Jimmie and Them

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pp. 61-69

In the novel Deliverance, 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...

Part Three: The Nashville Sound

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pp. 71-90

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8. Violins From Hell or The Short, Official, Pretty-Much Totally Bogus History of the Nashville Sound

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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...

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9. The Long, Unofficial, Pretty-Much Totally True History of the Nashville Sound

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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...

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10. Yeah, But Is It Country?

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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...

Part Four: Music Makers

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pp. 91-127

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11. Follow the Money

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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...

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12. The Writing of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”

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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...

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13. The Quonset Hut

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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...

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14. Making Music

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pp. 120-127

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...

Part Five: George Glenn

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pp. 129-152

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15. Plum Crazy

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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...

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16. Spoiled Rotten Child Prodigy Addict

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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...

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17. Heart Broke

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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...

Part Six: The Making of "He Stopped Loving Her Today"

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18. Now in Session: George Jones

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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...

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19. Eyewitnesses v. Paperwork

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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...

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20. Collaboration and Compilation

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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...

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Epilogue: True Love Purgatory

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pp. 181-185

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...


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pp. 187-196


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pp. 197-209

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031021
E-ISBN-10: 161703102X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031014
Print-ISBN-10: 1617031011

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jones, George, 1931-.
  • Country music -- History and criticism.
  • Country music -- Production and direction -- History.
  • Sherrill, Billy.
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