George Jones & His Notorious Riding Lawnmower
The most notorious George Jones drinking story involves the country music legend and a John Deere lawnmower, but what a lot of folks don’t know is that George Jones chose this slow-moving mode of transportation to procure alcohol more than once.
The first and most well-documented lawnmower incident was the late 60’s. George Jones was living 8 miles outside of Beaumont, TX with his then wife Shirley Ann Corley. Jones, who was born in Saratoga, TX just west and north of Beaumont, had already experienced a few #1 country hits by that time with the songs “White Lightning,” “Tender Years,” and “She Thinks I Still Care.” George’s success fueled his wayward ways with alcohol and he was drinking so bad, his wife Shirley resorted to hiding all the keys to the vehicles before she would leave so George wouldn’t drive to the nearest liquor store in Beaumont.
But that didn’t stop him. After tearing the house apart looking for a set of keys, George looked out the window to see a riding lawnmower sitting on the property under the glow of a security light. “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,” George recalled in his autobiography. “I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
The incident was later memorialized as part of country music lore in numerous songs and videos, including Jones’ own “Honky Tonk Song” in 1996:
12 years before, the video for Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” features George Jones riding a lawnmower. Vince Gill’s 1993 hit “One More Last Chance” includes the line, “She might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere.” The video ends with Vince passing George on a riding lawnmower. The video for John Rich’s “Country Done Come to Town” also features Jones on a lawnmower.
The second, lesser-known incident of George Jone’s escapades on a riding lawnmower happened when he was married to Tammy Wynette. Taking a cue from George’s previous wife Shirley, Tammy hid all the keys from George, but George had been down that road before. Wynette woke up one night at 1 AM to find George missing. “I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,” Tammy recounted in 1979. “When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, `Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.'”
As entertaining as the lawnmower incidents may be, they underlined the seriousness of the alcohol issues George Jones was facing, which eventually led to harder drugs. Along with missing shows, George was wasting away, weighing in at 105 pounds at one point. It took an intervention by Waylon Jennings to get George Jones back on track. “I was afraid he was going to die. I thought I was going to live forever.” said Waylon, who had his own deep history with substance abuse. “So I called him to come out to the house, and he came out there and I said, ‘George, this is going to sound awful funny coming from me, but you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to straighten up.”
And George did. “The best thing that ever happened to me is when some friends talked me into going to the hospital in Birmingham.”
April 26, 2013 @ 2:54 pm
Five points to anyone who can name the sheriff in the “Honky Tonk Song” video above.
April 26, 2013 @ 3:04 pm
Junior Brown is the Sheriff!
Rest in peace, Possum. I was glad I got to meet you last year for the first time. Second row seats were a great place to be!
April 26, 2013 @ 3:31 pm
Ding Ding! David wins. Junior Brown is just a doin’ his job.
February 17, 2015 @ 11:15 pm
Better Call Saul!
April 26, 2013 @ 3:05 pm
I know we’re all gonna miss George Jones, but Sheriff Junior Brown’s no slouch himself!
April 26, 2013 @ 3:09 pm
Looks a lot like Junior Brown. Of the … Highway Patrol?
April 26, 2013 @ 3:04 pm
Nice piece, Trig. I don’t know who the sheriff is, but Jones looks like Jim Carrey a few times in the bust video.
Red Headed Stranger
April 26, 2013 @ 5:50 pm
I could swear I was just reading an article that was on this website or linked from this website the other day about Jones, but now I can’t find it. It was about Jones still trying to perform and his voice not working, etc. It had a quote from him how he could be in downtown Nashville and not being recognized. Could someone link me to this article?
April 26, 2013 @ 8:49 pm
I remember that article. I had it linked in my news stream. I just spent 15 minutes searching for it in vain. The title was something like “A Debt Is Owed” or “It Shall Be Paid” or something like that, but for the life of me I can’t locate it, and Google is gummed up with all the death stories so I can’t find it there. If I find it, I’ll link it here.
April 27, 2013 @ 8:37 am
Here you go:
April 27, 2013 @ 8:51 am
That’s the one! Here it is directly:
April 27, 2013 @ 9:26 am
I knew that five word capacity photographic memory of mine would come in handy some day. 😉
April 26, 2013 @ 8:45 pm
I’d never seen the video to Honky Tonk Song… Junior Brown as the sherriff, Jimmy Dickens trying to bail him out, and a funny video to boot.
Those were better times… and a hell of a lot more fun.
strait country 81
April 26, 2013 @ 10:17 pm
The Tractor thing always makes me laugh.
what’s your fav jones Trigger?
April 27, 2013 @ 8:25 am
I wonder how many “average joe” alcoholics heard about this incident, and drove their tractors too the bar.
April 27, 2013 @ 8:53 am
Drunken Martina on Twitter suggested there should be a parade of people on lawnmowers in Nashville.
April 27, 2013 @ 10:34 am
Charlie Parr- “Riding Lawnmower Blues”
April 27, 2013 @ 1:48 pm
Ha, by far one of my favorite stories regarding the Possum; as sad as it is hilarious. On another note, any plans for an article for Willie’s 80th? I think it’s fitting to celebrate the birthdays and achievements of who we’ve got left, because there aren’t many.
April 27, 2013 @ 2:34 pm
I just saw Willie in Bloomington IN, and from what I can tell, he’s a durn far sight from leavin’ us any time soon. Damn, but can that old fart play! What a show!
Must be all the extra ‘preservatives’ in his system?
But, yes–please–a Willie article would be nice.
April 27, 2013 @ 3:44 pm
Something tells me there will be mention of Willie on here on the 30th…
April 27, 2013 @ 2:05 pm
Triggerman, do you know anything about George Jones’ duck stories? That would make for an interesting article. I only know vague details about it.
April 27, 2013 @ 8:07 pm
Yeah, it’s funny, a couple of us were talking about old Willie at the bar today, and we came to the conclusion that old as he was he must be more petrified than stoned these days. Definitely well preserved, ha.
But it’s true, you don’t hear their kind on the radio these days, the ones who live it certainly don’t make it anymore, all we got nowadays is pretty-boy posers, more’s the pity.
December 7, 2013 @ 1:03 am
@SandyHill. George was so strung out on coke and booze that he was hallucinating a duck and old man voice telling him how terrible he was. In truth, he was the one making the voices and would even sing in their likeness. Not funny at all, but telling of how bad off he was. Shooter Jennings recalls hims doing a good donald duck impression.
Country Perspective’s WORST Song of the Year Is….. | Country Perspective
December 30, 2014 @ 11:00 am
[…] is just the worst damn thing ever. Firstly, there”™s a name drop of George Jones and referencing Jones”™ famous booze run on a John Deere. LEAVE THE POSSUM OUT OF THIS SHIT. HE DOESN”™T BELONG IN YOUR STUPID DONKEY SONG. And sure, the […]
Michael J White
November 12, 2017 @ 10:43 pm
Actually it was a Cub Cadet mower.