Updated: Apr 4, 2021
The story behind the greatest country song of all time!
George Jones was truly a champion of Traditional Country music. I think I've listened to no less than 34 George Jones albums. Each song is a page out of someone's life, sometimes mine.. In Back Stories: He Stopped Loving Her Today Part One, I shared how George's penchant for picking hit songs shaped his career. That skill or knack, I humbly believe is partly derived from not only singing it, but being a super fan of Traditional Country. George was an unabashed admirer, and friend of my all-time favorite honky tonker Lefty Frizzell. I think it is hard to love Lefty's catalog of music, and not fall in love with Traditional Country.
Traditional honky tonk country, generally speaking has two main themes. Love, and loss.
I do think that it's easy to recognize a genuine heartbreak song when you've been through it.
Loss, pain, unfortunate life situations can create great empathy or bitterness..The choice is ours.
It was under these less than perfect conditions that Bobby Braddock co-wrote "He Stopped Loving Her Today".
Curly Putnam recalls that Bobby came to him with the idea, though Bobby's recollection is not as clear. Understandable when you consider Bobby's life at the time. Bobby moved to Nashville with his first wife, who was expecting their first child. After a few short months he had scored a spot in Marty Robbin's road band. A couple more months, and he scored his first album cut with "While You're Dancing". Marty Robbins recorded it. The song reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart- a crossover hit.
But it wasn't till 1968 that he truly arrived. Bobby wrote D-I-V-O-R-C-E with no particular singer in mind. It became one of Tammy Wynette's most iconic songs, and Bobby's first chart topper! Unfortunately, Bobby's personal life was taking an unforeseen turn. In 1969, Bobby walked in on a conversation his wife Sue was having over the phone. She was detailing an incident with a police officer she was having an affair with.
Bobby was shocked, and confronted her, but she denied it then. Suffice to say, life was never quite the same. You can make the argument that this level of betrayal impelled uncharacteristically outrageous behavior such as running into the street drunk with nothing, but a neck tie on?
When Bobby met Sue Lawrence in 1971, really by chance, it was as if a new chapter of his life was being written.
Bobby had already decided to stay in his marriage long enough for his daughter to know her daddy. He was afraid that his wife also named Sue would poison the child against him. When he met Sue Lawrence, he gave her the nickname of Sparky to differentiate from his wife's first name. It was a chance meeting at a large wild party. Some of the notables in attendance were Willie Nelson, Jeanie Seeley, and Hank Cochran as were about 300 or more from Nashville's songwriting community.. Sparky Lawrence was there, and caught Bobby's eye. She was a demo singer, and songwriter living in Florida, but originally from Alabama. She had recently separated from her husband, and at the party with someone else. After smoking some Hashish Willie Nelson had, and all the Rum & Coke, and Wine consumed throughout the night, Bobby felt it was time for a swim. The only problem was that the pool had no water. If Sparky had not stopped him, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" would have never been written. Bobby would have possibly been died.
Bobby was so wasted that night that Sparky, and her companion had to drive him home. And along the way there were pit stops for Bobby to puke. He recalls waking up in his car several houses down from his place, and a sense that Sparky was an angel that literally saved him that night. The relationship went on, and off, and on, and off, mostly due to Sparky's commitment to her son. She did not want to stand in the way of his relationship with his biological father, her then husband.
Bobby Braddock & Sparky
On one of her reconciliation attempts with Mr. Lawrence, Bobby was utterly distraught. He could not fathom a life without Sparky, and did his best to immerse himself in song-writing. It's possible that his thoughts turned a bit dark, thinking that about the only way he could get over Sparky was in death. To exacerbate matters further, Bobby's wife Sue had filed for divorce several months earlier.
Months passed before Bobby, and Curly Putnam finished the song in 1977. No-one wanted it. In1980 Dan Wilson pitched the song to Billy Sherrill, who was already familiar with Bobby due to the success of D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and Golden Ring, which Bobby had a hand in writing.
Billy Sherrill heard it, and asked them to write a spoken word part. Bobby, and Curly came up with several versions of the song. Billy also moved the chorus to the very end of the song which defied the country song standard of verse bridge chorus, repeat. From all the rewrites, and different versions of the song, Billy picked the very last one, and George Jones recorded it the next day, but he was drunk, and had serious challenges with the spoken word part.
George Jones & Sound Architect Billy Sherrill
Oddly enough Bobby does not feel it was his greatest song or the greatest country song written. He has said that it was the best country performance, and the best country record ever made.
Though the song was a fantastic hit, and recorded several times over, Bobby was already in a hole financially. He owed Tree Publishing for all the advances taken, and hundreds of thousands to the IRS. In the late 80s he was forced to sell his rights to his song catalog which included "He Stopped Loving Her Today".
Check out our interviews on Pandora