Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen

Destitute, but fizzing and sparking with high-voltage ambition, Virginia Wynette Pugh — born in 1942, married at 17, mother of three (and eventually four) — began her ascent to becoming the First Lady of Country in 1966 when she was signed for Epic Records in Nashville by Billy Sherrill.  He bought her a long blond wig, renamed her Tammy Wynette, and set her to sing “Apartment No. 9.”   Her powerful, pain-drenched voice and perfect sense of phrasing brought the song to the threshold of the charts.  The Grammy Award winning, “I Don’t Wanna Play House” came the year after and in 1967 she recorded the iconic “Stand by Your Man” — just as her second husband (of five) was divorcing her for running off with George Jones.  Her eventual marriage to that notorious hell-raiser and singing genius was the very stuff of country music.  Volcanic and wretched, it inspired some of the couple’s best songs, both solo and duo, earning her the additional moniker of “Domestic grief goddess.”

McDonough bangs his way through Wynette’s life and career with a yakky zeal that is more suited to a fanzine than a biography, unsparing though it is of the sad details of a drug-addicted, overwrought life.  “She was made miserable,” observed her bus driver, “other than that, she loved life.”   Wynette’s last husband, George Richey, isolated her from her friends, caused her to disinherit her own children, caroused as she was dying, and buried her among strangers.  “She doesn’t even know anyone where she is,”  lamented George Jones.