‘White Lightning’ by George Jones: Story Behind Legend’s Career-Launching Single’

by Atlanta Northcutt

George Jones, also known as “the Possum,” is one of the greatest legends in country music. The debut of his first single “White Lightning” skyrocketed him to fame. How did the song come to be, and what is the tragic story behind Jones’ famed track?

With “White Lightning,” the relatively unknown Jones appeared on the Top 100 U.S. pop chart on May 4, 1959. The single would be the beginning of the multitude of Jones’ crossover songs reaching into the pop charts.

George Jones Success Previous to ‘White Lightning’

The astonishing achievements Jones made in the country genre include 78 top ten hits on the country chart from 1955 through 1990. George did make a handful of crossover appearances on the pop countdown during his career.

Jones’ big break came in 1959, where he transformed from a regular country and pop musician to an icon.

Collaboration & Friendship Among Jones & the Big Bopper

The song was actually written by George Jones’ friend and collaborator, J.P. Richardson, also known as the “Big Bopper.” The rest is history as “White Lightning” began to constantly burn up the Hot 100 charts.

The historic track debuted on the country charts in April and became George’s first No. 1 single in that genre. The same song struck the pop chart at No. 90, continuously climbing to reach No. 73.

“White Lightning” was the peak of Jones’ career incredible career, and it still remains his most popular song to burn up both the country and pop music charts.

The Tragedy of the Death of Music Icons

Amidst the success, a tragedy transformed the song into a whole other meaning for George.

J.P. Richardson, “the Big Bopper,” was never able to see how the words he had written on “White Lightning” made a major impact on the music industry and George’s career, as well as creating a new standard in the music industry.

Richardson died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in February 1959. The crash occurred one week before George recorded his friend’s and collaborator’s song. The Big Bopper never lived to see the chart-topping success of “White Lightning.”

George Jones Honors His Friend

George rereleased ‘White Lightning’ in 1994 as a track released on a new album he entitled The Bradley Barn Sessions. Duets with popular artists including Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and Alan Jackson are a part of the project.