George Jones: The Songwriter

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Odie Blackmon is a Grammy nominated songwriter whose songs appear on more than 20 million albums.  His hits include Lee Ann Womack’s, CMA Single of the Year,“I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, George Strait’s 50th #1 hit “She’ll Leave You With A Smile”, and Gary Allan’s #1 “Nothing On But The Radio” and Top 20 “Pieces”.  Blackmon was named Billboard Magazine’s #1 Hot Country Songwriter for 2005.  He is a Lecturer in Music at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and the Songwriting Concentration Coordinator at Middle Tennessee State University’s Recording Industry Department.  His book “The Nashville Number System for Songwriters & Performers” is available on amazon.com.  Odie is currently working with New West Records as executive producer on an album of George Jones compositions and deep cuts recorded by Americana artists to benefit MTSU’s Recording Industry students.

When I applied for the Songwriting Instructor position at Middle Tennessee State University, I learned that Nancy Jones, George’s widow, had set up a scholarship in his name for the Recording Industry Department students.  Chairperson Beverly Keel stated in ad interview that she planned on having a class on Jones’ music.  Naturally, being the country music fan that I am, this was exciting news.  When I interviewed with Beverly, I had already researched about a third of what would be the class.  I got the job and was allowed to not only teach songwriting but to be the first person to teach a college course on “The Life and Music of George Jones!”

I knew that George is widely considered the greatest country music singer of all time, and that his hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam and produced by Billy Sherrill, is considered the greatest country music song of all time.  What I didn’t know is that George Jones was a damn fine songwriter in his own right!  I discovered over sixty songs that he wrote or co-wrote and recorded during his career.  Some of them I was very familiar with but had never heard that he had a hand in writing them.  As my research continued, it became obvious that George’s demons and wild shenanigans had overshadowed much of his unparalleled  musical talent.

Making sure that George Jones’ musical legacy is not forgotten has become my mission.  With that in mind, I would like to share my “Top Five Songs” written by the “Possum:”

1) “The Window Up Above” was solely written by George one morning at his home in Vidor, Texas after just coming off the road.  He said he wrote it in about 20 minutes while at the kitchen table waiting on breakfast.  It remained his favorite  composition for the rest of his life.  The stark a cappella opening line to the fist verse sets the lonesome tone. Heart-broken and voyeuristic lyrics bouncing around the first five notes of the E major scale, then jumping up an octave to a longer held high E, and falling to C# emphasize important words like “tightly,” “together,” and “happy” on the fifth line of each verse.   They serve as the perfect vehicle for Jones’ whiskey-soaked voice and subtle phrasing over a slow country groove.  The AAA song form classic went to #2 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart in 1960.  To celebrate it’s success, tailor to the stars, Nudie Cohn was commissioned to make a “Window Up Above” rhinestone suit complete with clouds and a man looking out a window, now on display at the George Jones Museum.  “The Window Up Above” was later covered by Mickey Gilley and spent one week at #1 in 1975.

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