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How George Jones Made “Tennessee Whiskey” A Country Music Staple


After nearly forty years, the song “Tennessee Whiskey” remains a country music staple. George Jones’ recording in 1983 brought the song into the spotlight after it peaked No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

But did you know George Jones was not the first country singer to cut the song?

“Tennessee Whiskey” Became A Mainstay George Jones’ Live Set

It turned out “Tennessee Whiskey” was first pitched to George Strait; however, the country singer turned it down. David Allan Coe became the first country artist to cut the song, making it the title song of an album he released in 1981. He brought the song to the 77th spot on the chart, which set the framework for the success it would come across in later years.

The song was later covered by George Jones, whose version was released in August 1983 as the third single from his album Shine On. Jones’ version reached a new peak commercially as it claimed the second place on the country chart, and even peaked No. 1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.

Ever since then, the song remained a mainstay in George Jones’ live set. He would often substitute the name of whatever city or town he was in for “Tennessee” in the second chorus. In 1985, he performed the “Tennessee Whiskey” at the Farm Aid concert. And in the middle of his performance, David Allan Coe went up the stage and joined him in a duet on the first chorus. Although the two country superstars only shared the stage for a brief moment, it became the highlight of the concert.

Meanwhile, at George Jones’ concert in Chattanooga on March 22, 2013, the country superstar performed “Tennessee Whiskey” for the last time. While introducing his now-iconic song, Jones spoke a little about the rough life he lived, and how he’d been sober for almost twenty years.

 “I haven’t drank or smoked for 17 years now, and I know a lot of them out there still don’t believe it,” he told the crowd. “But anyhow, it happened and what a wonderful life. You find out what you got after all the fun. Here’s my favorite drinkin’ song, it goes like this.”

George Jones sat on a stool, tapping his toe to the beat and singing his heart out. Although his health was already declining, he gave everything he had into this performance. You could even tell he was trying extremely hard to hit the higher notes, though he struggled a little bit.

Less than a month after that performance, he was admitted to the hospital for a fever and irregular blood pressure. He sadly passed away a few days later from hypoxic respiratory failure at 81 years old.

“Tennessee Whiskey” was written by Dean Dillon with Linda Hargrove. “It was 4 o’clock in the morning, and I had been drinking all night, and I met a young lady by the name of Linda Hargrove, and we decided to go home together—but not for what everybody thought,” Dillon said. “I had the idea for the song, and we sat at her house at 4 o’clock in the morning and wrote that song. And the rest is history.”

You don’t want to miss out on George Jones’ performance of “Tennessee Whiskey.” Check it out in the video below.

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