George Jones and Tammy Wynette met in 1966 when they were part of the same package show. They first performed together in 1967 when they were part of a package show with country star David Houston, who had a hit duet with Tammy (“My Elusive Dreams”) on the charts at the time. Tammy had been the opening act; one night Houston’s manager had asked her to allow Houston to go on first, since the singer had something else he’d wanted to later that evening. They wanted Tammy to come on stage during Houston’s segment of the show to perform their duet, and then come back and do her own segment later. Tammy objected and an argument ensued. She had been using Houston’s band because she couldn’t yet afford one of her own. Her refusal to change the sequence of the program resulted in Houston’s manager refusing to allow her to use the band. George Jones quickly came to the rescue; he allowed her to use his band, and also performed Houston’s part of their duet with her.
George had been Tammy’s childhood idol, but although there was a mutual attraction, both were married to other people, and their relationship remained platonic — at first. George’s second divorce was finalized in 1968, and one day he stopped by unannounced at the home of Tammy and her second husband Don Chapel. The couple were having an argument, and when Chapel insulted Tammy, a drunken George took offense. He angrily overturned the dining room table and declared his love for Tammy, who responded in kind. Jones left the house with Tammy and her three children. Shortly thereafter, the Chapels’ marriage was annulled on the grounds that Tammy had violated Alabama law by not waiting a full year after her first divorce before entering into another marriage. George and Tammy announced that they had eloped, though they did not actually get married until the following year.
It was the beginning of a stormy, made-for-the-tabloids relationship, which produced a daughter (Tamala Georgette, born in 1969) and a series of hit duets after Jones signed with Epic Records and Tammy’s producer Billy Sherrill, his 18-year association with Pappy Dailey having deteriorated beyond repair. The marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Jones acknowledged in his 1996 memoirs that his alcohol abuse was largely responsible for the breakdown of the relationship, though he disputed many of the claims that Tammy made in her 1979 memoirs.
Though his marriage to Tammy lasted only six years, his relationship with Epic Records and Billy Sherrill endured for two decades. Many industry insiders were skeptical that Sherrill — who had a reputation as a control freak in the studio — and Jones would be able to get along. Not only did they get along, together they raised George’s career to new heights with classic recordings such as “A Picture Of Me (Without You)”, “The Grand Tour” and “Bartender’s Blues.” But their greatest moment on record came in 1980 with “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, the biggest record of Jones’ career, which earned him another #1 hit, his first platinum album, and a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Country Performance in 1980. It was also named Single of the Year and Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1980 and Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in both 1980 and 1981. It ended a dry spell that had begun as Jones’ alcoholism and drug abuse worsened in the aftermath of his divorce from Tammy. Jones stated that “a four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.” Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, it has frequently been named as the greatest country song of all time.
Jones continued to abuse alcohol and cocaine, often missing concert dates, which earned him the nickname “No Show Jones.” Although his recording career had been revived, he continued on a downward spiral personally until 1983, when he met Nancy Sepulveda, who would become the fourth Mrs. Jones, and the woman that George credits with rescuing him from drug and alcohol addiction.