Sixty-three years ago today (April 13, 1959) was an unforgettable day for George Jones. It was on that date the singer earned his first No. 1 hit with “White Lightning.”
“White Lightning” was the title track from Jones’ 1959 album, White Lightning and Other Favorites. Written by Jones’ good friend JP Richardson (a.k.a. the Big Bopper), the tune was recorded only one week after Richardson’s tragic death in the airplane crash that also killed Buddy Holly.
Buddy Killen produced the recording session for “White Lightning,” which took place at Owen Bradley’s Quonset Hut Studio, and he also played upright bass on the song. As Jones recalls in his 1997 memoir, I Lived to Tell It All, it took more than 80 takes to record “White Lightning” because he had arrived at the session highly inebriated.
“I was drinking heavily throughout the session, and Killen later said we did 83 takes before we got one we could use,” Jones wrote. “Killen said he wore the skin off his fingers playing that same opening, and had to wear Band-Aids to cover raw blisters. Years later he said he could still remember the pain from playing that kickoff over and over the stiff, woven-wire strings of an upright bass.”
By the time “White Lightning” was recorded, Jones had released four other studio albums and landed in the Top 10 eight times. “White Lightning” stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks.
Several artists have covered “White Lightning,” including Hank Williams Jr., for his 1979 album Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, and punk band the Fall, for their 1991 album Shift-Work. Sammy Kershaw also included the tune on his Jones tribute album, Do You Know Me — A Tribute to George Jones, which was released in 2014.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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