Music

'White Lightnin'': The Story Behind George Jones' First No. 1 Hit

GAB Archive/Redferns

George Jones' 'White Lightnin'" was released on May 4, 1959. An artist who'd go on to be a shoo-in for a country music Mt. Rushmore ended the 1950s at the genre's summit when the song became the Possum's first-ever No. 1 hit.

"White Lightnin'" was written by rockabilly artist J. P. Richardson, famously known as the Big Bopper. "White Lightnin'" turned a promising, young artist into a national pop and country star when Jones' version cracked the all-genre Billboard Top 100.

In Jones autobiography I Lived To Tell It All, he tells the story of the day he went into the studio to record the hit song. He recalled being so drunk that they had to take approximately 80 takes of the song before calling quits on the session. Buddy Killen, the upright bass player on the song, threatened to beat up Jones for having so many blisters on his hands from playing the song 80 times. After all the hassle, Jones' producer, Pappy Daily, chose to release the very first take of the song even though Jones messed up the word "slug" in the last verse. For the rest of his career, Jones would intentionally mimic his flub live so that the performance sounded the same as the recording.

Read More: Dolly Parton's History of Giving Back to Her Community and the World

The Big Bopper was never able to see the success of his song. On February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens passed away in a plane crash.

Many country artists covered the famous song in the coming years, including Waylon Jennings,Glen Campbell, Hank Williams and Joe Diffie.

"White Lightnin'" Lyrics

Well in North Carolina way back in the hills me and my old pappy and he had him a still
He brewed white lightnin' till the sun went down
Then he'd fill up a jug and he'd pass it around
Mighty, mighty pleasin' my pappy's corn squeezin' (whew white lightnin')
Well the G men T men revenuers too searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were lookin' tryin' to book him but my pappy kept on cookin'
(Whew white lightnin')

Well I asked my old pappy why he called his brew
White lightnin' stead of mountain dew
I took a little sip and right away I knew
And my eyes bugged out and my face turned blue
Light has started flashin' thunder started crashin' (whew white lightnin')
Well the G men T men revenuers too searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were lookin' tryin' to book him but my pappy kept on cookin'
(Whew white lightnin')

Well a city slicker came and he said I'm tough
I think I want to taste that powerful stuff
He took one slug and he drank it right down I heard him moanin' as he hit the ground
Mighty, mighty pleasin' your pappy's corn squeezin' (whew white lightnin')
Well the G men T men revenuers too searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were lookin' tryin' to book him but my pappy kept on cookin'
(Whew white lightnin')

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'White Lightnin'': The Story Behind George Jones' First No. 1 Hit