Two of the adult children of country legend George Jones are suing multiple defendants in the United States District Court of Middle Tennessee for what they claim are song and performance rights owed to them. Plaintiffs Bryan and Jeffery Jones are the sons of George Jones and Shirley Ann Corley, who were married from September of 1954, until April of 1968.
Furthermore, the lawsuit has shed new details on the trove of unreleased George Jones master recordings that were first exposed in May, and were once used as bail collateral by drug dealers who obtained the masters under unusual circumstances. The new suit claims Bryan and Jeffery Jones own half the rights to these recordings as well since they are the heirs of Shirley Ann Corley.
Per the George Jones and Shirley Ann Corley divorce, Corley was entitled to half the songwriting rights of the catalog of George Jones while they were married, which includes 170 songs George Jones wrote or co-wrote during the period, the lawsuit claims. When Shirley Ann Corley passed away on February 20th, 1991, those rights transferred to her two sons.
The crux of the lawsuit seeks clarification and accounting of the song and performance rights for the two sons, which their lawyer claims have not been accounted for properly as publishing houses have bought and sold various rights that include songs in the George Jones catalog. Defendants in the lawsuit include Glad Music Publishing, Pappy Daily Music Publishing, Round Hill Music, BMG Rights Management, David L. Snoddy, World-Wide Records, and the widow of George Jones, Nancy Jones.
World-Wide Records was the music company of David Snoddy and Donald Gilbreth, who were partners in both the music business and the drug trade in the early 80’s. They were indicted and arrested in Louisiana in 1984 by federal agents for the attempted purchase, possession, and distribution of over 40,000 pounds of marijuana.
The judge set bail for the two men at $1 million ($500,000 each), but neither man had the money. What they did have were boxes of George Jones master tapes, which they claimed a 3rd partner Jimmy Klein produced with Jones at Nugget Studios in Goodlettsville, Tennessee in 1966 that were valued at that time at $1.5 million, according to the new lawsuit. Jimmy Klein was the booking agent for George Jones in 1966 when the recordings were allegedly made, and when George Jones was still married to Shirley Ann Corley.
How did the drug dealers get the tapes? They allegedly obtained 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. This was 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, but not much other information about them was revealed. It couldn’t even be verified if the tapes had any music on them at all since the court didn’t properly vet the collateral when it was first turned over. The new lawsuit brought by Bryan and Jeffery Jones says that the two brothers learned of the unearthed master recordings on May 20th after media reports about them (Saving Country Music reported on them on May 16th). The lawsuit goes on to say,
Upon information and belief, said Master are eight (8) reel-to-reel master recordings that currently are held in a safe deposit box at First Bank in either Benton County or Carroll County, Tennessee … Upon information and belief, the Masters contain recordings identified as “Album 2, Album 3, Album 4, and a fourth unnamed project containing ten Masters. The Masters embody certain music compositions that are part of the “pre-divorce catalogue” … including but not limited to recordings of “Jonesy,” “I’m Ragged by Right,” “Open Pit Mind,” “I Can’t Change Over Night,” “Wrong Number,” and “Ship of Love.”
Some of the song names cited in the new lawsuit are not correct titles, whether through clerical error, or whether the masters are improperly marked. For example, the song “Open Pit Mind” is likely “Open Pit Mine,” which is a song George Jones originally released in 1962. It also seems unlikely George Jones wrote or co-wrote 170 songs from 1954 to 1968 as the new lawsuit asserts, unless he was much more prolific than we originally knew. This is likely the number of songs Jones recorded and performed over this period.
But the most intriguing question for George Jones fans is if the master recordings contain a treasure trove of unheard George Jones recordings, whether they’re comprised of different renditions of his popular hits, covers, or original material.
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.
George Jones passed away on April 26th, 2013. The entirety of the new lawsuit can be read below.