On This Day: George Jones Releases Album ‘White Lightning and Other Favorites’ in 1959

by Jim Casey

George Jones released his studio album, George Jones Sings White Lightning and Other Favorites, on May 26, 1959. As the title suggested, the 12-song album featured George’s first No. 1 single, “White Lightning.”

In the mid-1950s, George Jones found success on the charts with a number of Top 10 hits, including “Why Baby Why” (No. 4), “You Gotta Be My Baby” (No. 7), and “Just One More” (No. 3), among others. But he didn’t score his first chart-topper until he released his signature hit, “White Lightning,” in February 1959.

Bottled Lightning

“White Lightning” was penned by J.P. Richardson Jr.—a.k.a., “The Big Bopper.” The singer/songwriter/DJ scored a Top 10 hit on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Chantilly Lace” in 1958. Unfortunately, Richardson and fellow musicians Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were killed when their plane crashed in February 1959. The accident was immortalized as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit, “American Pie.”

“White Lightning,” which referenced homemade moonshine, wet the whistle of Jones. Perhaps his penchant for hard partying—yeah, he was hitting it hard in the 1950s—drew him to the song before he became known as “No Show Jones.” Of course, Jones and Richardson, both Texas natives, were buddies, too. Richardson also co-penned Jones’ 1958 Top 10 hit, “Treasure of Love.”

In 1958, Jones recorded “White Lightning” in an epic session that involved multiple takes. In his 1997 autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, Jones admitted he entered the recording session after partaking in numerous libations. A mutiny ensued from the session musicians after approximately 80 takes, including upright bass player Buddy Killen, who blistered his fingers from the repeated strumming. While Jones flubbed the word “slug” in the third verse, it was the best take. And the stutter stuck, which George incorporated it into future versions.

George released “White Lightning” on February 9, 1959. Two months later on April 13, 1959, the song reached the top of the country charts. Sadly, the Big Bopper died just days before Jones released the song.

Other Favorites From Jones

On the strength of his first No. 1 single in April 1959, George Jones released his new album, White Lightning and Other Favorites, on May 26, 1959.

While the album didn’t feature any additional singles that charted in the Top 40, it did include a couple of great songs that should not be overlooked.

Jones and the great Roger Miller co-penned standout track “That’s the Way I Feel.” The album closes with “Jesus Wants Me,” which Jones penned with Eddie Noack.