Well, I've had a splittin' headache from my eyeholds to my backbone, Arthritis, appendicitis, fractures and gallstones . . . I've had a toothache so severe my jawbone almost split in two. But nothin's ever hurt me half as bad as losin' you.

Well, I've had a splittin' headache from my eyeballs to my backbone, arthritis, appendicitis, fracture and gallstones . . . I've had a toothache so severe my jawbone almost split in two, but nothin's ever hurt me half as had as losin' you.

George Jones

on "Nothin' Ever Hurt Me

Half As Bad As Losin' You"

When George Jones and Tammy Wynette got themselves a D-I-V-O-R-C-E-early in 1975, folks in the country music field just nodded their heads and figured that here was a case of life imitating art. All those years as Nashville's number one male-female duo, singing those tearful songs about hard-drinking husbands and long suffering wives, and now it was over - just the way it happened in the songs.

But for Mother's Day 1976, George Jones gave Tammy Wynette a brand new Thunderbird. At Christmas, it was a simple but elegant gold ring; she reciprocated with a $2,000 Sony vidoeotape unit for the bus he travels in while on tour.

And just last Wednesday and Thursday they got together in a Nashville studio to record a new album, intended as a follow-up to last year's "Golden Ring." No wonder people are beginning to call them the Sonny and Cher of country music.

"Our relationship," Jones was saying between sets Saturday night at the crowded, smoky Stardust Inn in Waldord, Md., where he was making his first area appearance in nearly two years, "is a hell of a lot better now than it was when we were married. The storm is over, and we're best of friends."

A cynic would say that they don't really have any choice. Tammy, who last July married a Nashville real estate executive named Michael Tomlin, but now is in the process of divorcing him, took the old band with her when she left, but she and George, whose new troupe includes a female singer named Jennifer O'Brien, have the same manager, booking agent, studio producer and record label.

Jones admits, though, that he'd like the relationship to be even cozier. "After the recording session the other days," he says, the two diamond rings on each hand flashing as he lights a cigarette, "I said to her, 'Why don't I join you and the boys and go on down to Florida with you.'

"She didn't buy that at all," he says a bit wistfully."She said, 'If you get on George, I'm not gonna be able to get you off.' So instead of going to Florida with her, I ended up going to New Jersey with my fellas."

His show, which consists mainly of what he calls "sad, sloppy tear jerkers," is studded with references to her, and the lyrics of some songs, such as the one that talks about how "Tammy threw down the . . . ring and walked out the door," have been changed to incorporate her as a character.

"People expect it of me," Jones says by way of explanation. "She brings it up in her shows too. Maybe we overdo it a bit, but people do get a laugh out of it."

For Jones, though, it hasn't always been a laughing matter. "Ohh, the first year was hell," he says. "For six months, I didn't go anything at all, and then I took things kind of slow because I just didn't feel like working that much."

Now, though, he's obviously willing to answer questions about the split with Wynettee. "Well," he says cautiously "if you was to talk to her about it, 'I'm sure she would say my" nippin' was the cause of it all." Wynette did, in fact, say that Jones "drinks to such an extent that he becomes completely and absolutely unmanageable" when she first filed for a separation.

"But," he says, "the truth is that I went the last 18 months without drinking a drop. Not even a beer.

"I think that the biggest problem was that we saw each other 24 hours a day for seven years. You just can't live together, eat together and sleep together when you're also working together. And it didn't help that there was a lot of jealously and mistrust on her part. She didn't trust me for the first five years."

Jones' image as King of the Honky-Tonks probably had something to do with that. Ever since the 45-year-old singer came out of Saratoga, Texas, in the early '50s he had been seen as a hard-core country singer, specializing in tales of hard livin', hard lovin' and hard losin'. And though he's talking about taking his act onto the college circuit, his fans are likely to continue to see him in that light.

But Jones himself sees things differently. There's a very romantic side to him, expressed both in weepy, pedal steel guitar-flavored ballads such as "She Thinks I Still Care" and "Picture Me Without You" and in the story ht tells to two old friends who have come to visit him on his bus between shows.

"Now don't you write any of this down," he first tells a reporter. But then he changes his mind. "Hell," he says, "I don't care if people know.

[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] her second husband, and they were arguin,. He called her a (expletive deleted), and I don't know what got into me, but I stood up and yelled at him Don't you call her that.'

"Well, he looked at me all amazed and said 'What business is it of [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

'I was out at Tammy's house ont night when she was still married to yours?' Now you've got to understand that up 'til then all Tammy and I had done was to pick guitars together. We hadn't been messin' around or anything. SO HER HUSBAAND WAS AS SURPRISED AS ME WHEN I said 'It's my business 'cause I love her, and she loves me too. Don't you, Tammy?'

"I can still see her standing there. She was doing the dishes, add she turned around and said 'Yes, I love you too, Gtorge.' That's when all hell commenced to breaking loose."

Jones stops, looks at his two friends and sighs. "Hell, he says, "the best thing that ever happened to her was me."