Peanutt & The Possum
A Visit with Songwriter/Musician Peanutt Montgomery
by Michael Buffalo Smith
When we made our way back down to Alabama for the George Lindsey Film & TV Festival, we really had no idea we'd be meeting one of country music's most prolific songwriters, but thanks to our buddy Carl Overton, we were introduced to one Peanutt Montgomery.
Peanutt spent many years as George Jones' closest buddy, and wrote over seventy songs for Jones, as well as penning hits for Tanya Tucker and many others.
We dropped by Montgomery's home in Muscle Shoals for an enjoyable visit with he and his wife. We even got a tour of his basement studio, where he writes and records his new music. Montgomery has just finished a brand new record, which features a beautiful tune written about local legend Helen Keller. I know everyone calls you Peanutt.
What's your real name and tell us how you got involved with music?
My real name is Earl Montgomery. Melba Montgomery is my sister. What happened was we had a little group in Alabama in the early years. We traveled in Alabama and went to the Grand Ole Opry and competed nationally for Roy Acuff. My brother Carl and Earl Green and Melba, they were the trio of singers. My brother Carl later wrote "Six Days on the Road." They won third place nationally, Johnny Tillotson won first place and Junior Starr won second place. That got us into the national spotlight. Melba began to travel with Roy Acuff. Lonzo and Oscar had a little company called Hickory Records and they were friends of Roy. and even though Roy owned some other companies he recorded Melba.
So is that how you met George?
Yes. George Jones heard her sing and said, 'this girl has talent' and they cut "We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds." So that went #1 and that's how it all got started. I met George at that recording session and at that time I was writing for the Wilburn Bros. And then Pappy called me into the room, you know he was an old millionaire from Texas, he said, "Kid, I want you to write for the company." I explained to him that I was under contract at the time and he said he would talk to them and maybe give them some money or something. At that time I was writing because I wanted to write, and I made a little bit of money picking. I wrote a song called "Lord You've Been Mighty Good To Me." George recorded that, and I think I wrote 72 songs for him in all.
What are some of the biggest of those?
"Hold On." And one of my biggest songs was "One of These Days" that Emmylou Harris did, and Gram Parsons. It still gets about 10,000 plays every three months. "What's Your Mama's Name" I wrote for Tanya Tucker.
I actually started writing when my I heard my Mother say that Carl, my brother, was a good writer. (Laughs) She said Carl would amount to something but Earl, all he wants to do is play guitar. So I got on the piano and started banging around and came up with some songs. One thing leads to something else and then I got on the Opry and I played electric bass for about three years on the Opry.
Tell us about Roy Acuff.
Roy Acuff was a common, down to earth man, and never did know what he was worth. He did not really care about money. He was an entertainer and had charisma. That drew the people in. He would do a show. They would set up in football stadiums and draw it full of people charging $1.00 to $2.00 a head.
Tell me how you feel about George Jones?
He played the biggest role in my life, and was there through up s and downs, I took care of him when he was drunk and we ran together. We were like brothers. One night Tammy (Wynette) called me and asked me to try and find him. He had played here in Nashville. She said that he was too drunk to get very far. Well, I found him on the side of the road about five miles from the farm. He was in a new Fleetwood Cadillac and he had the door open and had passed out cold while he was throwing up. That's where he was when I drove up.
I joined the church in 1976, and in the South we call it "getting saved," we have a conversion with the Lord. I tell people that God has proved to me himself more in George Jones than in me, because I have seen how George has been protected. He has made it to where he is at, even though he has mixed cocaine and pills and drank heavily with it. Anyone else would have had a heart attack.
You have to know he has guardian angels.
He is a great guy and he has a heart as big as Texas, I have seen him give people money, buy them cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. At Christmas time he would give us $500,00 and tell us to go buy groceries and toys. And he's go to a trailer out there on the road to give things to these people. He has done all kinds of stuff.
He did try to shoot at me one time. (Laughs) He said he loved me, and that if we were any closer we would be gay. He would get mad at me and shoot off a gun. I put him into AA for the first time and signed him in and swore into court and told them that if he was not picked up he would kill himself.
I went to eat with him one day and he had picked me up in a brand new '89 blue leather interior Thunderbird, and there was so much cocaine in the cracks of the seats that I ended up buying the car and when I sold it two years later, there was still cocaine in the cracks in the seat. You could not get it out.
He came by and told me that he wanted someone to help him rewrite this song. He had written "He Stopped Loving Her Today," but he did not have it finished. He said something had to be done. We went to a restaurant to eat, and he had cocaine up his nose so much that it would not even melt, like talcum powder was up his nose. People were staring at him in the restaurant and he looked up and said, "What are you looking at? I eat just like anyone else."
He would be talking like Donald Duck , and he would drop food and then get on the floor to get it up.
How is he doing now?
Well, he is doing fine. He had bypass surgery, and ran over that bridge and tore up his liver and survived that, and he is getting about 80 grand a night. I guess he is making as much money as he has ever made in his life and I guess he can sing about three nights a week.
I wanted to ask you how you feel about the way country music radio has shifted and play mostly rock and roll now and they have turned their back on George and Merle Haggard, and hardly play their stuff anymore?
Well, I called QLT yesterday, over in Florence and it is one of the bigger stations and you can hear it over in Mississippi. I have done this little project and I have a studio here in my house. I called them and asked them if they would play it. The guy says, "We play only what's in the charts." I asked him how out of 5,000 radio stations over America, how would anything get played if you only play what's on the charts. Then I said "how can anything get onto the charts unless it is being played?" That tells me that there is some man in New York telling them what is going to be played. They put it in a chart and send it out because it shows up on a list somewhere. It is nothing but hype controlled by mafia type people. Or if some guy fills out some pants real good then he will be a number one hit.
There ought to be a way to bring back the real country music, the real heart and soul stuff. Like that album Merle Haggard did a year ago, it is awesome. The stuff George is doing now is great.
The new guys can't touch it. It's like pulling up a Chevrolet and trying to compete with a Cadillac. You would have to sing 30-40 years to get the perfection George Jones has got.
Well, they look like they came out of a cookie cutter, real thin guys with cowboy hats on and they all sound alike and are trying to pretend they are country.
Yeah, they are rock guys that grew up on AC/DC! (Laughs) The guys running the companies came from Boston and know nothing about country music, but only what they studied in a magazine up in college! They come down here and their dads are multimillionaires with stock in Sony, and they put him up there to run it. The guy that is second in command is my nephew, he does the Dixie Chicks, Billy Ray Cyrus, and several others. He is pretty talented.
Someone I loved was Tammy Wynette, what can you tell us about her?
Well, I have worked with lots of people. I was the bass player for the Ponderosa Trio, with Michael Landon and Bonanza was in it's sixth year when I went to work with him. I worked with him and I have been to Kings and Queens houses and eaten with them. I have performed for the President (Johnson). Tammy Wynette was the most graceful person.
I worked with her, and she was very conniving and back-stabbing in business, like people do. I was writing for her and she would get mad at me for running around with George . We would go off and stay gone for about one week then she would get mad at me try to put a clamp on me and try to control who could do what with me. Who could record my songs and all of that. She fired me when I had two number ones in a six month stab. But that's the music business. I wrote 15 singles for her and I wrote backsides to 45. She was raised just 40 miles from here.
George Richey and I wrote some together. That was her husband. To hear Richie talking to Tammy and he would call her "Sug."(Short for Sugar) And George had a manager named Sug and I would always think that he was talking about the manager but he was talking to Tammy. He was actually dating her when he was married to George.
Do you think that George and Tammy ever got over each other?
Oh, George and Tammy loved each other, but they could not live together. They would get into it over who made the most money or who had the biggest song on a chart. Little kids stuff. Or she would buy him a shirt and if he didn't like it they would fight about it. But George was that way, if you played a game with him and did not let him win he would turn the table over on you. If he did not win, and he would cheat, but you could not cheat.
I know all about him and he lived for eight years with my wife's sister Linda, and when he married Nancy he divorced Linda and I am no longer seeing George since all of that.
You used to be a musician at FAME Studios too, right?
I was one of the Fame Gang, I was a second guitarist , I always called myself that because this guy could outplay me, Terry Thompson. He died of drugs later at 24 years old. We did a lot of the early people. Lots of the black music. He came out with a song called "Window Up Above." My wife thought he was a black guy and she loved the song too.
Her family was taught to stay away from black people. I liked the black people and ran with them. One of my friends was Ozzie, an old big guy that was my buddy and would say that he would protect me if anyone tried to bother me. Musically, blacks have something that God gave them that white people can not duplicate.
I told David Briggs, I liked his voice and wanted to write for him but I wrote more for George than anyone. I played with Patsy Cline, at the Opry sometimes. My brother was married to John Couch's daughter and John owned KR records. He was a high roller and wore lots of gold chains.
This man, woman, and two girls walk in and had a daughter named LaCosta and looks over there at the 9 year old and asks if she can sing. He said, "yeah, she can sing but not as good as Lacosta." So she starts to sing some. And John looks over there at Mr. Tucker and says "do you want the truth," or whatever, "George Jones and those Jones boys are coming from California and I will let her strut across the stage carrying a purse and high heels and naked for $1000.00."
I invited them home with me and I know old Ronnie Ballew had started up Widget next to Muscle Shoals Sound over there on the highway. I took her to Ronnie and he said that she had too much quiver in her voice and he did not care too much about that. Then I took her to Billy Sherril and we had been in a band together and he was over there at CBS and he came back to me two and a half years later and had a record for me to hear from this kid. He says he met her through someone in Las Vegas when he was out there gambling. But he met her through me bringing her around at 9 years old. That was Tanya Tucker.
"Delta Dawn" was not a number one song, and it is her signature song. The one that Dallas and I wrote was the first number one she ever had. It was the second release and Putnam, that co-wrote "He Stopped Loving Her Today" wrote a song called "Blood Red and Going Down," which was her second song. Here's something else about George Jones. If George had trouble singing in person the chords on a song that you wrote, and it went to number one, he would still never perform it. He would never do it. So the simple songs with three chords and one minor he would perform to the public. Some of the songs that I wrote for George are not songs that are famous by George, yet, I had number ones with them. In fact, one of the songs I made the most money with was on the back of "He Stopped Loving Her Today." As the back I floated and made three and a half million sales in the first two years. I made as much as Putnam and them made by having the hit that George performed for everyone. and yet I had a little song that I owned publishing on that I made all this money on but he never performed it because of all the chords. He never would do it.
What's the name of the song you were talking about earlier that you are trying to get played on the radio?
I wrote this one song about Helen Keller for my new album. It's called "Helen's Eyes. " I believe it's the first song written about Helen. She was from Tuscumbia (Alabama). I really hope to get some air plays on it, or maybe get it picked up as the theme song for the annual Helen Keller Day.
"Helen's Eyes" is a beautiful song. Special thanks to Carl Overton for introducing us, and to Peanutt and his wife for their hospitality! And thanks to Debbie Dixon for introducing us to Carl!