George's Gems

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"We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" (Disc 1, Track 16, "She Thinks I Still Care: The United Artists Years," Razor & Tie, 1997). Play a portion of the song here

One of the best things about this compilation album is the large number of duets — six — between George Jones and Melba Montgomery. Of course, Jones' best-known singing partner was his third wife, Tammy Wynette, with whom he had such hits as "Golden Ring" and "We're Gonna Hold On," but it is with Montgomery that he found his most ideal vocal foil. Even George is on the record as saying so.

Apart from her great talent, I have another reason to have a soft spot for Montgomery — through a somewhat circuitous route. When I first started surfing the Web about two years ago, I did the usual thing of putting in names in search engines to see what I could find. Once, when I typed in "George Jones," I came up with the web site of Earl "Peanut" Montgomery, whom I knew as a songwriter (a good one) and former drinking buddy of the Possum. Peanut also had achieved dubious fame as being the man at the wrong end of one of Jones' most notorious episodes: He narrowly missed being shot by a bullet from Jones' .38 revolver. The incident occurred in late 1978 when the singer, at his lowest ebb after his D-I-V-O-R-C-E from Wynette, got drunk and took a potshot at Peanut.

Anyway, on Peanut's site there was a button to e-mail him, which I did, and I asked him if he was related to Melba.

Why George Jones? Matt Diebel explains here.

Past Gems:
He Made Me Free
The Selfishness in Man
The Honky Tonk Downstairs
'Once a Day'
'When Your House Is Not a Home
'Three's a Crowd'
'Mr. Fool'

"Why yes," came the reply, "she's my sister." And Earl proceeded to tell me a bit about himself — he's a preacher now — and about some of the songs he had written for and with George. It was a nice, chatty e-mail, and I appreciated it.

It all made me feel even better about Melba and George. It all got started in 1963 when Jones' producer, Pappy Daily, signed up Montgomery to a record deal that led to some touring and some recording (and, according to some reports, some romance). Singing-wise, it was a great match. Tennessean Montgomery's bluegrassy, somewhat reedy voice both contrasted and complemented Texan Jones' more mellow sound.

A measure of Jones' greatness is his generosity and skill as a duetist. Most often, he takes the harmony part — the most difficult, by the way — and never seeks to dominate. Being the star (in early 1963, he was at the peak of his early fame) he could easily have hogged the sessions, grabbed two out of the three verses. But no. These are real duets, not a lead singer with a backup.

Peanut, it turned out, wasn't the only songwriter in the family, and it is Melba who is responsible for the peachily titled "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds," a Louvin Brothers–esque lament about a couple's straying and eventual reunion.

Producer Daily, who increasingly was introducing Jones to the dubious joys of the Nashville Sound, had the sense to lay off on the strings and backup singers when he recorded Melba and George. Just a strummed guitar, bass, piano (with ace session man Pig Robbins at the ivories), fiddle, dobro and a tasty pedal steel (played by the incomparable Buddy Emmons). I don't even detect a drum beat on this track. In part, this was an attempt to cash in on the early-'60s craze for all types of folk music; no matter, the results are glorious.

In a 1995 interview, Montgomery explained how it was all done: "George and I used the same microphone and we never overdubbed anything. What you hear went down on the track as it went down. George and I just harmonized, blended well together. We just kind of knew where the other one was going with the lyric and... we wouldn't make any mistakes. So we'd [finish] a lot of songs on the first take."

Best way of doing it, in my book.

"We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" is also featured on the excellent "Vintage Collections: George Jones & Melba Montgomery" from Capitol, an album I'll be mining for more gems in the future. I have, of course, already sung the praises of the "United Artists Years" album from Razor & Tie. Both are prominently featured on your friendly local search engine.