If George Jones isn’t the most influential artist in my radio career, I’m not sure who it would be. I loved George because my Mom and Dad did. I loved George because, as I grew up, and learned what it meant to be hurt by a girl you love, I realized George could put that hurt into words like no one else either could or had the nerve to. I loved George in spite of the stories of things he did that you pray your kids never do – I thought many of the stories were funny and, in many ways, were rooted in that same “hurt” that he sang about.
I cannot count the number of times in my life that I ended up at a country club or night club somewhere setting up my equipment to play music only to hear the jukebox playing George Jones’ sad lyrics while a man, or two, or three sat at the bar, smoking a cigarette, hanging his head, letting George sing the very words he was feeling.
When a man is in the middle of love, especially young love, he believes that it is do or die. He believes that he cannot possibly go on when the girl he loves leaves him, cheats on him, or simply says she doesn’t love him anymore. No one could sing about that hurt like George did. Others could sing the same words, but when George sang them, he meant them, and you knew he did. At that moment, for that moment, you and George were together, eye-to-eye.
Songs like The Grand Tour, If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will), The Door, A Picture of Me (Without You), and, of course, He Stopped Loving Her Today. Those, for me, are those core George “hurtin’ songs.” At one time or another in my life, I have been somewhere, at some time, in some mental state where the words of those songs helped me to say, if to no one other than myself, how I felt right then. And, I am not alone.
The antics of George, the way he lived, the things he did way back then. It’s all common knowledge. And we all liked to laugh at some of the stories, even though you would never want to hear the same stories and antics about your own family.
Like the time my friend Bill Little had hired George to do a concert at the old Arthur Branch Auditorium (now the St. Bernards Auditorium) in Jonesboro. The opening act was scheduled at 8, and George was scheduled at 9. When 9 o’clock came, George’s band was there and ready to go, but there was no George. And, this was somewhere around 1980. No cell phones. No way to call. So, around 9:15, the band went on. And played. And played. And played.
Still, no George.
Finally, after 10, a car pulls up, and out comes George. He bops into the Auditorium, walks on to the stage, and immediately belts out the song, “The call me No Show Jones!”
True story, for the most part! And, after the show, when they asked George where he had been, he told them he and his boys stopped off at the Dog Track in West Memphis and were just late!
That was George, back then.
Of course, we all know that, in later years, he married Nancy and recovered from much of the lifestyle habits that had been his norm for most of his life.
I never saw George in concert. I always thought I would. I missed many opportunities to see him in Memphis, in Jonesboro, at casinos. I was out of town at the first Johnny Cash Music Festival at ASU in 2011, although many have told me it was probably better I didn’t see him then.
I have played George Jones records on the radio for five decades. Even though I knew today would come, I always hoped it wouldn’t. I hoped that somehow I could turn back the clock and see George, and see the guy who had sang my words, and the words of countless other guys, when they couldn’t.
Like we all figure out at some point, life goes on when we think it won’t. God is in charge, and He will always provide. Not always what and who WE think He should, but who He knows is right. For me, He has provided a wonderful wife and mother in Jenna. For George, He provided Nancy. And, I’ll bet for most of the guys who, like George thought life couldn’t go on, He has done the same.