George Jones Recordings in Possession of Drug Dealers Surface

Country music Hall of Famer George Jones passed away in 2013, putting an end to the recorded output from one of the most legendary singers in country music history. But multiple never-before-heard studio performances from George Jones could be sitting in a bank vault in Benton County, Tennessee as we speak, just waiting to be heard. Or, there could be nothing on the tapes at all. Nobody really knows for sure. But what we do know is the tapes came from two drug dealers with ties to The Possum.

The eight boxes of reel-to-reel tapes simply labeled “George Jones records” are thought to include recordings of George Jones and the Jones Boys originally captured at the Nugget Studios in Goodlettsville, Tennessee in 1966, perhaps for a radio show, or perhaps for something else. They first appeared in the public record as bail collateral for two drug dealers in 1984 as they were trying to beat their rap. Where they got the tapes, and where they’ve ended up now is one sordid and convoluted story that the Knox News has been investigating for quite some time.

David Snoddy and Donald Gilbreth were partners in both the music business and the drug trade in the early 80’s. They were indicted and arrested in Louisiana in 1983 by federal agents. The judge set bail at $1 million, but neither man had the money. What they did have were these boxes of George Jones tapes, which they claimed a 3rd partner Jimmy Klein produced with Jones at Nugget Studios. Klein was the booking agent for George Jones and Connie Smith in 1966 when the recordings were allegedly made.

At the time the tapes were put up as collateral, they were valued at $1.2 million. The judge chose to take the tapes as collateral, but as court documents show, the judge nor anyone else even checked to make sure the tapes were what the drug dealers claimed they were, or if there was any music on them at all.

How did the drug dealers get the tapes? Well, they got them from Jimmy Klein, who in 1982 signed an affidavit claiming that George Jones surrendered all the rights to the tapes to himself and Donald Gilbreth. Of course, this was just about the time George Jones was at his “No Show” heyday of drinking and addiction, so perhaps the trio ended up in possession of the tapes in, well, trade. At that time the collection of recordings was claimed to be five reel-to-reel tapes with 35 total songs performed live.

In 1986, the two drug dealers (Snoddy and Gilbreth) were convicted of their charges, cancelling their bond, and hypothetically, returning possession of the tapes back to Donald Gilbreth. There’s even a record of someone signing out the tapes from where they were kept in Louisiana. But for some reason the tapes never left. A few decades, a dozen or so court motions, and numerous efforts to find rightful heirs to the tapes later, they’re now under the jurisdiction of a Tennessee appellate court hoping to make some final decisions on them soon, though the COVID-19 shutdown has slowed that process.

The hope by some George Jones fans is that soon the matter could be all hashed out, and if they’re lucky, perhaps some never-heard recordings from The Possum could finally see the light of day in some sort of released form.

Stay tuned.

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