Jimmie and I were off on another big adventure. We had given up our search for the gravesite of outlaw Frank James in Lawrence County, Tennessee, because we discovered he is buried in Missouri. Instead we decided to follow what I called the “Possum’s Trail.” Along the way, I wanted to know more about Jimmie’s life and visit where country singing legend George Jones had lived, worked, and done mischief.
When we neared Rogersville (known for its tasty fried catfish, friendly citizens, and low speed limit), I slowed to 45mph. Jimmie reminded me that Rogersville was where fans became so upset back in the 1970s they jumped the wrestlers. “We had to fight our way back to the dressing room,” he said. “The police put us in a squad car, and took us out of town where fans couldn’t attack us.”
On another occasion in Rogersville, Jimmie (AKA “Cry Baby Hills”) was wrestling Rick Singleton when fans jumped him again. Singleton intervened. “Thanks to him, he saved me that night.” Jimmie had a boa constrictor named “Julius Squeezer” that he threw on his opponent to taunt the crowd. I was beginning to suspect that my friend Jimmie wasn’t a principled and sportsmanlike wrestler. I slouched low in the seat and pressed the accelerator, not wanting to be seen with “Cry Baby Hills.” Some Rogersville folks may have a long memory.
We approached Killen, where Jimmie was born. “Did I tell you how Spooner Oldham got his nickname?” asked Jimmie, who lived across the road from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer when they were kids. “No,” I said. “When he was a baby, he accidentally poked a spoon in his eye and put it out.” Jimmie said. Spooner is featured in the documentary movie Muscle Shoals, which I highly recommend.
Shortly, I turned south into a subdivision of nice homes and well-groomed lawns. “Pull into this driveway,” said Jimmie, pointing to a fine house perched on a hill far back off the street. It was a heavy moment. “This is where Ann and I lived when she died,” he said quietly. The beautiful 16 year old daughter of a Baptist preacher that he had married in Iuka two weeks after meeting her died suddenly. “I woke up beside her and she was dead; had a stroke and died in her sleep. I think about her every day.”
In Florence, we drove past Darby Drive and Jimmie pointed out a small strip mall where his shop was located when George Jones came in for his first haircut. Wow! The location where Jimmie created the famous George Jones possum cut. I asked how he did it. “Put in a little gel, blow dried it, and straightened it. He always gave me a hundred dollars.”
In the 1970s, Jimmie went to New York and competed in the world haircutting competition, where he placed first in men’s hairstyling. He was given a free trip to compete in Europe, but didn’t go.
We stopped at Bunyon’s Barbecue on West College Street. I knew it would be good eating when I saw folks lining up at the counter. Everyone seemed to know Jimmie. Sherriff Willis came in and Jimmie introduced me. “I think Lauderdale County is about to elect its first Republican Sherriff,” he said, referring to former wrestler and Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton, who had just won the Republican primary.
We ordered barbecue sandwiches slathered with lots of mustard slaw, and drove to McFarland Park. We sat a picnic table by the river’s edge. “This is where we used to come and park with our dates,” Jimmie said. My sandwich was delicious, but had turned to yellow mush, and I had to eat it with my fingers. I recommend the sandwich, but grab plenty of napkins.
Jimmie grew quiet. He said that about 4 months after Ann died, she woke him up calling his name.
“I looked up, and she was smiling at me,” he said. “Then she just vanished.” “She was letting you know she was okay,” I offered. I asked how he met his current wife, Barbara. “We were both attending grieving classes and later I saw her at church,” said Jimmie. “One Sunday after church, I asked her to go to Shoney’s with us and eat strawberry pie and have coffee. Then we started dating and got married in 2006. She’s a real good woman, and she’s good to me.”
We crossed the Tennessee River and headed to Muscle Shoals. “Would you like to see the house where George lived?” he asked. The possum tour was under way! We pulled into the driveway of a 3-level house at 2106 Marietta Street. The owner, Tom Drake, was in the yard and recognized Jimmie. He invited us inside. Just off a two-car garage was a rec room where Jimmie and George had once played pool. Upstairs was a large living room. “I was sitting here one night babysitting and watching TV when Bosephus (Hank Jr.) showed up looking for George,” said Jimmie. “I told him he wasn’t here. He went out and got a bottle of Jack Daniels and came in and we watched TV until 2a.m.”
We headed to Tuscumbia to visit Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery, Grammy nominee, member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and one of the most prolific songwriters in America. Earlier, I had Googled him. He had written and co-written 73 George Jones songs, 15 solos for Tammy Wynette, and 13 duos with George Jones. His songs have been recorded by so many famous artists that I lost count: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Eddie Arnold, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Emmylou Harris, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Jr., Percy Sledge, Barbara Mandrell, and others. Peanutt is a major talent.
North Main Street in Tuscumbia reminded me of a movie scene in the 1930s. We parked in front of a vacant and shuttered building and walked across the street to Charlotte’s Variety Store, a combination discount and thrift shop. An old metal desk and several other items of used furniture were scattered on the sidewalk. An older model pickup truck hooked to a trailer loaded with display cases was parallel parked in front.
“There’s Peanutt and Charlene,” Jimmie said, and waved. An attractive blonde was sitting on a metal desk talking to an unshaven man wearing jogging shoes, jeans, knit pull-over shirt, and a cap with a soiled bill. It was Peanutt. They were happy to see Jimmie, who introduced me. “I feel like I should address you as Mr. Peanutt,” I said. He smiled. Good teeth and soft eyes. “Just plain Peanutt, with two ‘t’s’,” he said, and shook my hand. “I’m a name, not a thing.”
While Jimmie and Peanutt reminisced about George, I conversed with Charlene. She is also a songwriter and author of recently released “The Legend of George Jones, His Life and Death.” I purchased a copy, and she and Peanutt signed it, “May God bless you.” Charlene’s sister, Linda Welborn, was George Jones’ girlfriend, fiancé, and according to Charlene, common law wife. It struck me as unusual that these two uncommon and famous people were so down home and well… so common looking. Just plain folks; no limousine, no fancy clothes, and no airs. I immediately liked them.
Several years ago, they got off the fast lane, gave up their castle-like mansion on Hillsboro Road in Nashville, and turned their attention to God. Peanutt put down the bottle, picked up the Bible, and began preaching at Oakwood Baptist Church. Charlene said that the Hollywood producer of “Naked and Afraid” had contacted them about a reality show. I predict it will be a hoot and a hit. Imagine, Peanutt writing Country songs about drinking, driving tractors, and selling junk through the week and preaching to folk on Sunday. Only in the South.
George Jones was married five times, according to Charlene. Tammy Wynette was his third wife. After their divorce, Charlene introduced him to her recently divorced sister, Linda Welborn, in 1974. It was love at first sight for George. They never formalized their vows during years of holding themselves out as husband and wife.
There is no doubt that Peanutt and Charlene loved George-enough for Peanutt to obtain a court order having in him committed to Hillcrest Hospital in a straight jacket.
Peanutt announced that he had to deliver the trailer load of old display cases, and ambled toward the pickup. Jimmie and I said goodbye and departed. “Y’all come back anytime,” hollered Charlene.
On the trip back to Athens, Jimmie told me he was paid $250 a day to travel with George, style his hair, and keep a watchful eye on him. George would disappear. It was an interesting and sometimes dangerous job. “We got run out of Canada one time,” he said. “We were playing at the Maple Leaf Garden and somehow George got hold of some cocaine and didn’t want to go on stage. I talked him into it. He stopped in the middle of singing ‘White Lightning,’ shot the audience a bird and said ‘this is what I think of your Queen.’ The fans tried to turn the bus over with us in it.”
On another occasion, George was playing in Hollywood and decided he wanted to fly to Vegas and see Willie Nelson. The next morning they took George to the airport to fly back to California. “Somehow, he got away; just disappeared,” said Jimmie. “I searched the airport. He was nowhere to be found. I walked outside, and there he stood, waiting on a taxi. I asked him where the hell he was going. ‘To Culbert Park,’ George replied. That’s located on the Natchez Trace. I got George back to his room and he wanted to talk to Willie Nelson. I went and got Willie to come up to talk. George dozed off. We pulled off his clothes and left him naked so he wouldn’t run.”
Back at Jimmie’s house, I decided I wanted the man who designed the famous possum cut to style my hair. I removed my cap. “Jimmie, can you give me a possum cut?” I asked. He looked at my bald head. “Well, I’ll have to charge you a finder’s fee,” he said.
Jimmie cuts hair at the Razor’s Edge in Athens on Monday, Thursday and Friday, and half a day on Saturday. A regular haircut costs $12.00. I suspect a possum cut will cost you more.
By: Jerry Barksdale