The recording session for George Jones’s classic song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which happened on Feb. 6, 1980, is so iconic, there’s an entire book about it. Jones showed up at Nashville’s Studio B, 26 years ago today, and set about creating what would become his definitive song.
Documenting the breakdown of a man after his relationship ends, the song eventually reveals the heartbreaking reason he finally “stopped loving her today.” It’s hard to imagine anyone comes away from listening with dry eyes, especially with Jones’s voice delivering the aching lyrics.
The song remains one of the highlights of country music history. It gathered awards – including CMAs and Grammys – after its release, and in 2009, it was chosen for the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board’s selections.
But “He Stopped Loving Her Today” might never have been recorded, if not for an unlikely set of events.
At the peak of his career, Jones was among the more troubled country singers. He was battling drinking and drug problems and was famous for his missed appearances and alcohol-fuelled rages. And he was bankrupt and homeless.
Author Jack Isenhour documented the session, which Jones barely got to, in his book He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time. Recording was difficult: Jones couldn’t get it done in one take and kept forgetting the melody.
The spoken word section was the most difficult for him, however. He kept slurring the words. Jones would have to rely on producer Billy Sherrill to splice together the best moments of several takes. In the end, it was a masterpiece, a song many say is the best country song of all time. It’s soaring pedal steel only adds to the emotional intensity.
Jones was back on top with a song he hadn’t expected would succeed. He later said that the three-minute tune salvaged a four-decade career. Little wonder: Jones’s life at the time he recorded it made him the ideal person to deliver the sorrowful tale.