The legendary Johnny Cash was once asked to name his favorite country singer. Without hesitation he responded, “You mean besides George Jones?”
For two and half decades, George Jones and his aged, heartbroken voice ruled the charts, but despite amassing one hundred and forty-three Top 40 hits, the musician was broke and battling both cocaine and the bottle by 1980. Three wives had left him, and music executives refused to book him, famously dubbing him ‘No-Show Jones.’ Than a three minute and nineteen second tear-jerker changed it all.
The song, written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, was a somber ballad about a man who realizes on his death bed he no longer loves the woman who’d left him years before. The tune revitalized Jones’ fledgling career. It even won ‘Song of the Year’ at the Country Music Awards two years in a row. Think about how impressive that is.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the most depressing song I have ever heard. I’m still moved every time I hear Jones’ bourbon-saturated vocal chords push it out. It took hours to record because the singer was so intoxicated he couldn’t get out the four spoken lines without slurring the words.
Former Byrds member and visionary Gram Parsons once broke down in front of legendary groupie Pamela Des Barres, crying over and over again, “Listen to that pain, man.” Gram OD’d before he ever got a chance to hear this slice of despair, but one can only imagine his somber reaction to “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
A few years before whispering out these wrenching vocals, George Jones woke up in the middle of the night, desperate for a drink. His wife, Tammy Wynette, had hidden his car keys, knowing he might drunkenly head for the liquor store under the cover of night. A few hours later, she awoke to find her husband missing. After a lengthy and frantic search, she spotted their riding lawn mower parked at a bar ten miles away. It took him two hours to get there, but he’d finally gulped down his peace. Only an addiction that brutal and a pain that engulfing could produce vocals this powerful.