The Late George Jones’s Infamous ‘Mower Saga’

Our Country

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Jones back in the day (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives)

The legendary George Jones, who passed away Friday at the age of 81, will be well remembered for his music--as well as the colorful stories that inspired it. Although perhaps best-loved for his aching tales of heartbreak, Jones also knew how to bring one heck of a funny story to life via song.

One of the best examples of this is 1996's "Honky Tonk Song," which relates the true story of what happened when a drunken Jones--who had a notorious alcoholic streak through much of his life--had his car keys taken away by his very fed-up wife back in in 1966.

As the story goes: The hard-living Jones had been drunk for several days, and his spouse at the time, Shirley Ann Corley, decided to physically restrain him from having any more liquor. She knew he was not in any shape to walk the eight miles into town, so before leaving the house herself one night, she hid every set of keys they owned…except one.

"I can vaguely remember my anger at not being able to find keys to anything that moved," Jones recalled in his 1997 autobiography I Lived To Tell It All.

However, he happened to look out the window, and his eyes fell on his ride-on lawn mower sitting in a beam of light shining over the property.

"A key glistened in the ignition," he remembered.

Jones wasted no time hopping on the mower, and took it all the way to town, despite the fact that its speed topped out at about 5 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," Jones related. "I wonder if the old timers around East Texas still wonder about a guy who they swear they saw mowing the concrete!"

Jones said that he was able to laugh at the story much later--and turn it into a tune featuring the hysterical lyrics "I saw those blue lights flashin'/Over my left shoulder/He walked right up and said/"Get off that riding mower"/I said "Sir, let me explain/ Before you put me in the tank/She took my keys away/And now she won't drive me to drink."

However: "Nobody was amused at the time," he admitted.

If the story seems too crazy to be true, Jones's third wife, fellow late country legend Tammy Wynette, told a similar story in her own 1979 autobiography--except in her version, she tracked the infamous lawn mower down at a bar a full 10 miles away from their house.

Jones became sober for good after surviving a drunken car crash in 1999. He credited his fourth wife, Nancy, with helping him achieve a clean lifestyle.

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