My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Thumper Jones

Album Review: George Jones – ‘The Definitive Collection 1955-1962’

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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More than one outlet

chrisgainesHank Williams recorded under the guise of Luke the Drifter in the early 1950s, Garth Brooks was Chris Gaines, and George Jones as a rockabilly singing duck.  These are just a few of the alter egos country music has created.  An alter ego is a second self – ‘the other I’.  So what drives a recording artist to create an entirely new persona to market themselves?

A young singer, just out of the marines, migrated from Missouri to California in the early 1950s and began recording under the name Terry Preston. Ferlin Husky had created the stage name because he thought his given name was too rural-sounding.  While he never had any success with the Preston alias, Husky would go on to create a comic foil in the form of Simon Crum.  Crum was even signed a separate contract and had several hits of his own.

Likewise, George Jones began his career in 1955 with a string of hits for the small Starday label.  After a move to Mercury in 1956, George began experiementing with a rockabilly sound (which was wildly popular at the time) as Thumper Jones.  And though he had no real hits to speak of as a rockabilly artist, this chapter is still a necessary footnote in George Jones’ catalog.  During his crazier, no-show years, Jones was also known to create characters for himself too.  Legend has it that he performed an entire show in the voice of a duck character that sounded a lot like Donald Duck.  Later, Jones referred to him as Dee-Doodle Duck.  The duck didn’t score any hits for Jones either.

Luke the Drifter was born as a stage name for Hank Williams to release gospel recordings without hurting his popularity on the honky tonk – and therefore mainstream – circuit of the time.  So it’s not as glamorous a tale as one would imagine. (Or as sad a southern heartbreaking tragedy, however you think the name should have evolved.) Unlike Husky, and even Jones at the time, Hank Williams was a giant figure in country music.  His legend was already in place and that gave him the creative leeway to create another side of himself to market to the fans.  This other side of Hank Williams, a soft-spoken singer recording mostly recitations and spiritual numbers, was in stark contrast to the tortured soul depicted in Hank’s country numbers.  As a defining figure in the genre, Williams was at liberty to present more of the other side of his character in this new man, Luke the Drifter.

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