We’re starting our look at the career of George Jones with an overview of his early years, courtesy of this compilation, which covers his spells on the Starday and Mercury labels (focussing on the latter). Starday was a Texas label with limited resources which mainly released singles, but it managed to give George his first hit singles. After he moved on, they would release a number of albums containing back catalog material. It was co-owned by George’s first manager and producer (at least in name) Harold ‘Pappy’ Daily, who was to stay with him through several label moves, always having a significant financial interest himself. In fact George later stated that Pappy had little musical input, most of the arrangements being worked out live in the studio by George and the musicians.
Just out of the Marine Corps, George had not quite developed his own artistic voice, as he started out singing mainly up-tempo material in a slightly higher register than he later settled into, displaying the influences of Roy Acuff and Hank Williams, but he is credited with writing much of his own material while on both Starday and Mercury, including a handful of songs which stand today as genuine country classics. The style is generally hard honky-tonk, with some Nashville Sound influences in the last few recordings.
George’s first hit single, the insistent ‘Why Baby Why’ reached #4 in 1955, although a rival cover by the more established Webb Pierce and Red Sovine went all the way to #1 at the end of the year. George wrote the song with his friend Darrell Edwards, one of his main songwriting partners through the 1950s and 1960s, and it is probably better known than many of his recordings from this period simply because it was the first.
‘Just One More’, George’s biggest Starday hit (it reached #3 in 1956), is a ballad with the protagonist drinking away the memories of a lost love, one drink at a time. It is a fine song which deserved to be a hit, but shows George had not yet refined his vocal ability as he was to do soon thereafter. Also from the Starday years is the first version George recorded of an old blues number, ‘I’m Ragged But I’m Right’, a song he was to re-do later on (and more than once). This version is the rawest. He also recorded some rockabilly sides on Starday under the pseudonym Thumper Jones, but these are not represented here, and it was not really the right direction for him.
In 1957 Daily had George’s singles contract transferred to Mercury, and the next few years saw him become a genuine star in country music, and develop the quintessential George Jones vocal style.
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