George Jones’s Nashville Bar Possum Holler saw the likes of Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Waylon Jennings, Dottie West and countless others who descended upon the Holler regularly. Originally opened on Lower Broadway and later located in Printer’s Alley.
Jones earned the nickname “The Possum” early on in his career thanks to his apparent similarity to the furry animal. When the native Texan ultimately moved to Nashville, he wanted to open his own club.
When Jones morphed into the Nashville country music scene in the early 60s, his success skyrocketed. He knew that having a club named after him would help his career even more.
In 1967, George Jones’s bar “Possum Holler” opened on Nashville’s famous lower Broadway Street and quickly became one of the best bars in Nashville. Jones chronicled the 500-seat venue in his autobiography, I Lived To Tell It All. It seemed like the perfect location: across from Ernest Tubb’s record shop, next to the famous bar Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium, then home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Over time Jones opened all kinds of venues and theme parks with his name on it, nothing quite was like the original Possum Holler.
Jones had his band “The Jones Boys” become the house band when they were off the road from touring. That meant any artist at any given time had a world class band standing by to back them up. That combined with Jones’ long list of celebrity country star friends meant an amazing concert could break out at any moment. And it did.
“There was hardly ever a shortage of talent inside the old room, which had a high ceiling and was located on the top floor of an old building,” Jones wrote in his book. The club captured a certain sense of camaraderie, one Jones later goes on to lament.
“The club was open during the days when Nashville’s country stars were an unofficial ‘family,'” says Jones. “We hung out together. Today’s stars are so reclusive that they work entire tours together and never see each other. In an earlier day stars struggled together financially. Today they’re rich by themselves.”
Tammy Wynette at Possum Holler 1975
Just about anyone who was anybody in town, including Saturday night Opry-goers wound ended up hanging at the club. Visiting artists and their bands would finish a show and head down Printer’s Alley to Possum Holler and close it down. Artists hung out and played together, and the audience got the benefit.
It wasn’t just artists, either. Possum Holler established itself as a hangout for songwriters, many of whom actually pitched their songs in the club. It was akin to a concentrated version of Music Row, right downtown.
The Club Goes Down The Tube
Possum Holler’s most frequent visitor and respected patron was Roy Acuff. He was the only man in town whom his peers called “Mr.,” a testament to the respect he commanded. His museum, “Roy Acuff Exhibits,” was the floor below Possum Holler. And he owned the building.
Of course, all the respect in the world didn’t stop the Holler’s toilet from overflowing and leaking into Acuff’s museum one fateful day. It ruined one of his exhibits. The problem was irreparable, and Acuff had to make the tough call to close down Possum Holler.
“He was calm as could be when he told [the manager] Billy that we would have to close the doors to Possum Holler,” Jones recounted. “‘But Why,’ asked Billy. ‘You love this place.’ ‘I know it son,’ he said. ‘I know it. But we just can’t have turds inside my exhibits.'”
There’s no good way to close a club, but that’s as good as a bad thing gets.
But it wasn’t the end of Possum Holler. In fact, after Jones married Tammy Wynette and had the biggest successes of his career in the early 70s, he opened another. This time, “George Jones’ Possum Holler” found itself in Printers Alley, a spot made famous in the early 40s as the area where everybody in news and print would hang out after work.
Jones had much less involvement with the new club. His name was on it, but he didn’t own it. In fact, Kenny Rogers bought the building and gifted it to Jones’ one-time manager Shug Baggot sheerly out of the kindness of his heart. Baggot convinced Jones to open up the “World Famous Possum Holler,” which was an immediate hit with tourists and country fans.
And though it still attracted countless regulars, it didn’t have quite the same vibe as the original. Baggot ran it quite a bit differently than the original, and it didn’t have the same “artist hangout” allure.
Baggot and Jones had many fond memories together, but Baggot was also the one who turned Jones onto the most destructive path in his life. While trying to shock Jones out of a drunken mess before a show, Baggot gave him cocaine. It was the beginning of the worst part of Jones’ career.
Jones eventually found sobriety and recovered his career in the 80s, though he never tried to open another club in the same vein as the original Possum Holler. Maybe the industry changed too much. Maybe country became too popular, making a spot where all the stars hang out impossible.
But George Jones’s bar Possum Holler initial success eventually inspired a lot of country artists to open their own venues, too. While some have been successful and some flopped, the idea of country stars with bars persists even today. Just look at Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” chain for proof of that — not to mention the countless one-offs owned by artists across the country.
The club is another piece of George Jones lore. As always, The Possum is always imitated but never duplicated.