Wednesday, March 11, 2015

George Jones, Leon Payne, and the Woes of Living

Leon Payne, the Blind Balladeer
George Jones, pensive in 1971
Texas-born Leon Payne (1912-1969) was prolific country music songwriter, author of hundreds of songs. Blind since childhood, Payne attended the Texas School for the Blind for eleven years, and began writing songs in the early 1940s; Hank Williams famously covered his "Lost Highway" in 1949. In rock and roll circles he's probably best known for his beautiful, if treacly, "I Love You Because," which Elvis Presley warbled at Sun Studio in July of 1954, and for his chilling "Psycho," which Elvis Costello made his own in an unforgettable live version released in 1981. (Randy Fox tells the story of "Psycho" here.)

Country legend George Jones (1931-2013), who also hailed from Texas, released several songbook albums in his career, including collections devoted to Hank Williams and to Dallas Frazier. In 1971 he cut an album of Payne songs, and it's a terrific record. Several of the numbers are more obscure Payne efforts, and if they're not all "great" as the album title promises, there's really not a dud in the bunch. Three songs in particular capture a subject close to Payne's heart: the weakness endemic to humans. There were few country music singers who could narrate the frailties of living more expressively, and, paradoxically, more sweetly than Jones, and he really gets inside of these songs. Produced by Pappy Daily, and accompanied by the reliable Jordinaires, Jones's respectful but affecting performances make clear his affection for Payne's songwriting.

The stories these three numbers navigate are as old as time: the bottle, egotism, and dissolution. You pick the cause-and-effect order in your life; here's the sequence in which they appear on the album.

1 comment:

Timmy said...

I once was talking with the legendary & notorious D.J. Jimmy rabbitt, and he confided in me that, at that particular time (around 2010), he had recently been advised that his real father was Leon Payne. There was a whole story to all this confusion, but he reckoned that this was the case & he was perty darn certain of it. rabbitt's real name was Eddy Payne. He also became a country performer, during the mid 1970's, in between his radio career, which, to this day still continues. He can be heard on KOCI-FM, out of Costa Mesa/Newport Beach, Calif. every Saturday afternoon. Log on to the site & hear a true genius.