Flyer InteractiveSteppin Out Cover

The Winner Loses All

Will the legendary George Jones make it to the Mid-South Fair?

by Chris Davis

here was a time when shifty promoters announced George Jones concerts without actually ever booking the country-music giant. They would sell tickets, make a tidy profit, and when the concert date arrived and Jones didn’t show up to play, everybody just assumed he was off on a drunk somewhere. It was a good scam because the lie so closely resembled the truth. His reputation for being the greatest voice in country music was only rivaled by his reputation for showing up to concerts loaded to the gills and barely able to stand – or not showing up at all.

George Jones ignored rock-and-roll entirely and openly defied the slick string sections and squawking horns of the countrypolitan sound.

It is very likely that “No-Show”Jones will make it for his September 29th date at the Mid-South Fair. He has been sober for a few years now and generally keeps his appointments. But, according to his 1996 autobiography I Lived to Tell It All, back in his drinking days, buying tickets to a George Jones concert was an even-odds risk. Whether the venue was a nightclub or national television, there was no guarantee that ol’ Possum would show up, and even if he did, it didn’t mean that he would play. On one occasion he drunkenly refused to go on unless Johnny (“Take this Job and Shove It!”) Paycheck introduced him as Hank Williams. Paycheck obliged and introduced him as the long-defunct troubadour. Jones, staggering in the wings, then demanded to be introduced as the great but also deceased Johnny Horton. At last ol’ Possum stumbled on stage, but as the band launched into “White Lightning,” he quickly exited without ever singing a note – and ran to the nearest bar. On other occasions Jones would refuse to leave the stage, playing up to three hours when his allotted time was a mere 20 minutes. A good ol’ boy might claim that Jones was just contrary, but if you ask the man himself he might just tell you that he was drunk.

Given to erratic and irrational behavior, he has brandished guns at friends and colleagues, squandered fortunes, and consumed mountains of cocaine. Once in an unfounded (and possibly coke-driven) fit of jealousy, he chased Porter Wagoner into the men’s room of the Grand Old Opry, grabbed Wagoner by the penis and demanded details concerning a non-existent affair with Jones’ (then) wife Tammy Wynette. In short, George Jones has drunk, smoked, snorted, philandered, and brawled his way across America thousands of times over the last half century, stopping long enough to open a couple of theme parks, perform a show or two, cause a good deal of mayhem, and record some of country music’s most enduring songs. When he walks onto the stage at the fair, those in attendance will have an opportunity to see a living (amazingly enough) legend perform his hits, and hear some wild stories from a man who has more than a few to tell.

Jones was recently dropped by MCA, his label of seven years, due largely to the modest sales of his last few recordings. The Nashville recording industry is driven by the bottom line, and it’s bad business to subsidize expensive stars when you can be cranking out soon-to-be-forgotten hits by the bushel-full. Recent trends have been toward “positive” country, and there is little room in a world in which “everyone’s a winner” for a fossil like Jones, who knows all too well that everyone isn’t. Carrying the banner of his heroes Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, Jones has roundly refused to follow trends. Remaining true to his roots, he ignored rock-and-roll entirely and openly defied the slick string sections and squawking horns of the countrypolitin sound. Believing himself to be nothing more than a rough-hewn hillbilly who could never understand – let alone be understood by – the snobbish world of big-city intellectuals, he rejected anything that seemed too citified. Nonetheless, the collected works of George Jones reveal a human drama so complex it makes playwright Edward Albee sound like a one-trick pony. Jones’ 1963 duet with Melba Montgomery, “Let’s Invite Them Over Again,” is a twisted heartbreaker that perfectly illustrates the blend of irony and earnestness that has made his songs so distinctive. “We aren’t in love with each other, we’re in love with our best friends,” they sing, wistfully acknowledging a small problem in the relationship, and finally admitting “We stay away for a while, but we know in the end we’ll invite them over again.” Similarly, his biggest hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is a tragic joke whose punchline is guaranteed to produce tears by the (frosty) mug-full, and the occasional DUI.

George Jones will go on with or without the support of a major label. Perhaps, like Johnny Cash, he will record for an independent label whose interest reaches beyond the bottom line. Like Cash, Jones is a treasure the likes of which Nashville will never see again. See him while you can.

This Week's Issue | Home