Ten George Jones career milestones
In his younger years, country legend George Jones was assigned the moniker "No Show Jones." Tales of his hard drinkin' and drug abuse were epic enough to make Keith Richards seem tame, and as such, he had a habit of not showing up to a lot of his own shows. But all this is behind him -- it's said he's been sober for quite some time now -- and yet when he canceled his April appearance at Minnesota's Shooting Star Casino due to an upper respiratory infection, we couldn't say we were much surprised. Let's be honest; the poor dude's gettin' up there. When his November reschedule date at the same casino was canceled, this time with the announcement there'd be no second reschedule date, well, we figured things didn't bode well for the 81-year-old Jones.
But George Jones
is still alive. And kickin', we reckon. Yet when he
announced this week that 2013 would bring his final tour, let's be
honest: we were relieved. has passed along.
Here's an obit.
Considering how gosh darn run down he seemed when we saw him croak out the cutesy lines to "Why Baby Why" at the Freeborn County Fair a couple years ago, we're glad the Possum's finally allowed himself some quieter years to enjoy a retirement from touring.
His latest outing was going to be "The Grand Tour," which was aptly named - its title is imbued not only with the ceremony of a happy retirement, but marked with melancholy as it's also the name of his uber-depressing 1974 hit, which has been named one of the greatest songs... ever written about divorce.
Like his earlier career, Jones' latter years and slow progression toward retirement have had their own ups and downs, and the Grand Tour would have no doubt reflected that. For the uninitiated, here are ten important things to know about Jones, whose life more than any other has been a life lived like a country song: plumb full of drinkin', cheatin', and lovin'.
10. Early life
George Glenn Jones was born on September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, the last of eight kids to Mr. and Mrs. George Washington Jones, a Texas pipe-fitter with a drinking problem. Jones had a rough shake of it straight outta the womb - the doctor who delivered him promptly dropped him, and broke his arm. His father was a music fan who bought him a Gene Autry guitar, and his talent for performing grew from there. By nine, he was busking for money on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. But his family was poor and moved around a lot. His sister died of a fever, and his dad began drinking heavily. In his teens, George ran away from home and supported himself playing backup guitar on radio shows.
9. The Possum
Jones started his first professional band in 1947. They got themselves a radio show, and it was at the station that a worker noticed George Jones' facial structure reminded him of a certain marsupial. He called him "The Possum," and the name stuck.
8. Top Ten
Between 1955 and 1974, Jones placed at least one song in the country Top Ten each year, from "Why Baby Why" to "White Lightning," "Window Up Above" and "She Thinks I Still Care." All told, he's released a staggering one hundred-plus albums when live records and duets are counted, and scored over one hundred-fifty hits.
7. Golden Ring(s)
Jones said "I do" twice before he turned 24. His third marriage was to fellow country legend Tammy Wynette, and his fourth and final marriage was to Nancy Sepulvado in 1983 - that one's stuck. Of course, it was his marriage to Wynette, though, that was most famous. After touring together for a brief time, the two married in 1968. It seemed their marriage would be a hit - they even ended their concerts with a song version of their wedding vows - but Jones began drinking heavily, the two began fighting, and then divorced in 1975. They released an album together the year after called Golden Ring (its title song about divorce), then reconciled again in 1981 to release Together Again, then recorded one more together in 1995 called One. "We rediscovered our loyalty, and I think our patience and endurance speak well of both of us, after what we've been through," Wynette said in an interview that year. She died of a blood clot on May 14, 1998, at the age of 55.
Alcoholism and drug abuse are as closely tied to Jones' identity as was his propensity toward failed marriages, but one anecdote about his drinking has stuck better than the rest. When he began drinking too much, his second wife Shirley would hide all the car keys when she left the house. Because they lived several miles from the nearest town, she figured that would keep him out of the liquor stores and bars. Jones would later recall sitting around feeling sorry for himself, when he saw a light from across their property. "There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did." In her 1979 autobiography, third wife Tammy Wynette recalled waking in the wee hours one night to find George wasn't home. "I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away. When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He'd driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, `Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she'd come after me.'"
5. No Show Jones
By the late 1970s, Jones had to declare bankruptcy after promoters sued him for missed dates; at the time, it's said he was missing on average a show each week due to his heavy drinking and drug abuse. He crashed cars, was hospitalized and arrested repeatedly, even fired a gun at a friend. But through it all, his fans never lost heart - he continued to release hit records year after year.
4. Donald Duck
In the 1970s, a manager allegedly introduced Jones to cocaine when he was too tired to perform. The decade ended with him close to death, committed to a psychiatric hospital, and talking like Donald Duck. It seems Jones had developed a sort of split persona in Deedoodle Duck (Donald's cousin, natch), and would himself often speak in quack-talk. And Jones' webbed-foot alter-ego would notably join him onstage; he was set to perform a comeback show at Nashville's Exit/In for an audience of industry insiders in 1979, and was too quacked out of his mind to take the stage. When they brought him before the audience, he forgot all the words to his songs - his bass player would whisper a line to him, and Deedoodle would repeat it in quack-talk. According to Jones' autobiography, it was a meba-bender of booze and drugs that left him in such a state, and he one day found himself locked in a Donald Duck voice that he couldn't stop using when he spoke.
3. Cleanin' up
After a 1999 car accident almost took his life and with the help of his wife of now almost thirty years, Jones finally managed to sober up as he approached his seventies. Today, he tours perhaps more than any other country musician of his vintage.
Jones has received numerous honors during his nearly sixty-year career, from joining the Opry and being named Most Promising New Country Vocalist in 1956, to being inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. He was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 2008, and given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year.
1. Don't need no rockin' chair
All told, Jones has recorded over 900 songs since the mid-1950s, and through it all, he's still inspiring fans and fellow musicians alike. As Waylon Jennings said, "If all of us could sing the way we wanted to, we would all sound like George Jones." Here's to a successful last tour, and hopes that Jones can finally take up that rocking chair in his retirement.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.