July 2

“White Lightning”: George Jones’ First Number-One Single

Country music legend George Jones is remembered to have produced tons of chart-topping hits including a big deal of number-one records. Most probably, he is known for his classic hits like He Stopped Loving Her Today“When The Grass Grows Over Me”“The Grand Tour”Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, and “She Thinks I Still Care”  to name a few. However, many fans still miss the fact that it was “White Lightning” that gave Jones his very first no. 1 hit. Although he did not write the song, Jones for sure did the best version and definitely gave it justice.

"White Lightning": George Jones' First Number-One Single 1
George Jones |Photo Credits: tshaonline.org

About the Song

A 1959 chart-topping hit, “White Lightning” is a rockabilly, country song recorded and performed by American musician, and singer-songwriter George Jones. His longtime friend,  rockabilly artist Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson, more known as the Big Bopper actually wrote the song. American country music producer Pappy Daily produced it under the Mercury Records. Released as a single on February 9, 1959, this three-minute song went number one on the charts on April 13, 1959. It was Jones’ first no. 1 single of his career.

Covered by a lot of artists, the best version is still Jones’. In 1959, “White Lightning” went on to be the no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot C&W Sides. In addition, it crossed over to the pop charts and penetrated the Billboard Hot 100 ranking 73rd. Most noteworthy, the song paved Jones’ career to producing more no. 1 hits.

What Jones Has to Say About the Song

In 1997, George Jones published his own life story in his autobiography entitled, I Lived To Tell It All. A part of his autobiography, he recalled the story of recording “White Lightning” and how it came about. At that time, Jones was under the influence of a great deal of alcohol. This was the reason why the track took approximately 80 takes before the producer Pappy Daily called it a day.

"White Lightning": George Jones' First Number-One Single 2
J.P. Richardson a.k.a. “The Big Bopper” |Photo Credits: jake-weird.blogspot.com

Asked as to why Jones was so drunk during that time, it was fully remembered that the death of his friend, the Big Bopper, who composed the song, had died during the preceding week. The event was later called “The Day the Music Died“. As a result of Jones’ unwanted behavior during the recording, Buddy Killen, the upright bass player, was reported to have had blistered fingers from having to play his bass 80 times. Hence, Killen did not only threaten to quit the session but also threatened to physically harm Jones for the consequences of his drinking.

In his autobiography, Jones wrote:

“I was drinking heavily throughout the session, and Killen later said we did 83 takes before we got one we could use. Killen said he wore the skin off his fingers playing that same opening, and had to wear Band-Aids to cover raw blisters. Years later he said he could still remember the pain from playing that kickoff over and over the stiff, woven-wire strings of an upright bass.”

WATCH: George Jones performs “White Lightning” live in 1959.

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Big Bopper, George Jones, White Lightning

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