Jones was spotted by Pappy Daily, who became his manager. Recorded in Daily’s living room with egg cartons for sounding boards, he recorded his first single, “No Money In This Deal”, for Starday in 1954. The following year he had his first country hit, “Why Baby Why”, which made the pop charts for Pat Boone. After touring with Elvis Presley in 1956 he recorded the rockabilly “Rock It!” as Thumper Jones.
Moving to Mercury, Jones had his first US No 1 with “White Lightning” (1959); he needed 83 takes to record this novelty drinking song because he was so drunk. Although sounding dated, Jones made some good records, none more playful than “Who Shot Sam” (1959) or more moving than his tale of unrequited love, “Tender Years” (1961). Of his own songs, “Seasons Of My Heart” was recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, while “The Window Up Above” was on the country charts for nine months.
In 1962 Jones moved to United Artists’ subsidiary Musicor and recorded a classic single “She Thinks I Still Care”. Many hits followed including “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds” (1963) with Melba Montgomery, “You Comb Her Hair” (1963) and “The Race Is On” (1964). Averaging five albums a year, including some with Gene Pitney, he may have looked ridiculous in his crew-cut and embroidered suit but he was to grow a magnificent head of hair, the reason he was never seen with a cowboy hat.
His marriage to Shirley Corley in 1954 produced two sons, but Jones was never happy with family life and they divorced. Because of his fondness for alcohol and cocaine he became known as “No Show Jones” but he impressed an up-and-coming country singer, Tammy Wynette, and they were married in 1969. Every night Wynette would dedicate “Stand By Your Man” to her new husband.
The relationship was fraught from the start as Wynette tried to curb Jones’ excesses. Often he would beat her and she would apply make-up to her bruises before going on stage. Once she poured away all the alcohol in their house and hid the car keys, hoping that he would sleep it off. Instead, Jones started the electric lawnmower and drove to the nearest bar. Admitted to hospital in 1970, he weighed seven stone; he owed huge amounts of tax, was to be declared bankrupt and was arrested for firing a gun at a friend.