Today marks an important milestone in country music. George Jones released his first single sixty-seven years ago today. “No Money in This Deal” was a self-penned honky-tonk tune that introduced the world, or at least the Nashville area, to the Possum. The song was a regional hit but didn’t make it much further than that. It was, however, a good start for the young man who would soon become a country music legend.
George Jones was only twenty-two years old when he stepped into the Starday Records recording space with The Western Cherokees to cut his first single. If you’re a fan of Jones, you’ll notice a marked difference between his vocals on this track and in his later work. His voice is noticeably higher. At the same time, he hadn’t yet come into this own style. Possum was still borrowing heavily from other Texas honky-tonkers like Lefty Frizzell. He was also heavily borrowing from Hank Williams. Both influences are evident. They’re also great points of reference from which to start.
George Jones’ Debut Single
The song may not sound like George Jones’ more well-known releases but it is pure Texas honky-tonk. It features some great swinging guitar work and a piano that sounds like something from an old west saloon. The lyrical content is far from the deep ballads and biting industry critiques that Jones would come to be known for later in his career.
The song is from the perspective of a young man who looks to bed a woman of means. He won’t get into a real relationship unless there is some financial gain in it for him. “Anything I say until / You buy me an automobile / But I won’t stay with you still / Unless there’s money in this deal,” pretty much sums it up. However, the woman he has his eyes on isn’t having any of it. It seems that she wants just the opposite. She doesn’t want to throw her money away on some fling. The lady wants something real, “Well, then she turned around and said / She’d rather be dead / Than to see me spend her money / When I ain’t never called her honey.”
Five years after releasing “No Money in This Deal,” George Jones scored his first number one hit. In 1959, he cut the Big Bopper song “White Lightning.” and it took him to number one Jones would go on to top the charts several more times in his long career. More importantly, his influence spread far and wide. Artists from Bob Dylan to Alan Jackson cite Possum as an influence.
Fans and music critics alike hail George Jones as the greatest country singer ever. This single was just the first step in his long journey to the top.