George Jones, R.I.P.
It’s been a bad week for music. George Jones, the greatest of the old-school country singers, has died at the age of 81.
He was originally from Saratoga in deep East Texas and even after he became famous he was a familiar sight in places like Beaumont. When we worked for a newspaper in Southeast Texas it was almost a routine assignment for someone to go out and cover a George Jones performance – he pretty much played the same standard set during that period (late 1970s-early 1980s) but it was always big news when ol’ Possum came to town.
We also talked a lot to his wife Nancy, who was a key figure in getting George off the sauce in the 1980s. They opened a Branson-style music venue, Jones Country Park, in 1983, where you could camp (mostly in RVs) and walk over to see people perform at an amphitheater. George played some shows there, and they were great.
George was still living near Beaumont when the infamous “riding lawn mower” incident took place sometime in the 1960s. He was married to his second wife and she … let’s have George himself tell it, from his book I Lived To Tell It All:
“Once, when I had been drunk for several days, Shirley decided she would make it physically impossible for me to buy liquor. I lived about eight miles from Beaumont and the nearest liquor store. She knew I wouldn’t walk that far to get booze, so she hid the keys to every car we owned and left.
“But she forgot about the lawn mower. I can vaguely remember my anger at not being able to find keys to anything that moved and looking longingly out a window at a light that shone over our 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.”
Sometime this weekend, treat yourself and play a George Jones record. He was one of a kind.
YouTube: “White Lightning” from 1959
YouTube: “He Stopped Loving Her Today” from 1980
YouTube: “Honky Tonk Song” from 1996