George Jones: Living to Tell
By Cheryl Wilcox
The 700 Club
Scott Ross sat down with the famous recording
artist to talk about his music, his checkered past, and his recent
groundedness in God.
SCOTT: When did you realize that you could sing?
GEORGE: Well, I never thought anything about
being a professional in it. Wed just go to church and sing.
My dad would get me and my sister Doris, and we would sing together.
I sung the harmony, and my sister Doris took the lead. He would
get us up, and hed want us to do three or four songs. Then
wed go back to bed. Thats how we started knowing or
not knowing, not even realizing that we would sing professionally
or anything. In fact, my sister didnt ever venture into
it. We did that in the Sunday school. I started singing with the
Sunday school teacher and wife of the pastor.
SCOTT: I think you find out later on that those
roots had something to do with your survival.
GEORGE: Sure did. He also wrote poems, gospel
lines, you know. And Brother Beryl Stephens -- back then we called
everybody brother -- he would preach on the street like the old-timey
ones did on Saturday afternoon, and Sister Andrea and I would
sit in the car and over this horn speaker wed sing some
gospel songs. Later he would give his little sermon on the street
corner down there in the little town of Kuntz, Texas. I really
started singing a lot in church.
SCOTT: Where did the first big break come that brought you into the public eye?
GEORGE: Ill tell you the first big break
I ever had was when I played at
the front of the arcade downtown in Beaumont one Sunday afternoon.
I stopped a little crowd of people that threw quarters and
halves down and I got $24.90. I had never seen so much money in
SCOTT: There could be a future in this!
GEORGE: Right. Well, I really never even looked
at it as making any money. I just loved to sing.
SCOTT: What was the first record that broke
through for you and hit the charts?
GEORGE: The first one that did anything for
me at all was Why Baby Why? That was put out like in around
October '55. It reached its peak in the first
part of 56. After I did it, I was covered by Webb Pearce
and Red Sovine. Then just a few short years back, Charlie Pride
had a no.1 record on it.
SCOTT: When you had that first whiff of success,
notoriety, what did it do to you at that point?
GEORGE: After the first couple of years recording
I did a lot of praying. I said, 'Lord, please give me a hit.'
I want one so bad. I had been around some artists already like
Jean Shepherd. She was real hot at the time, and so was Hank Locklin
with 'Let Me Be the One' and all those old songs. In fact, he
turned out to be a good friend of mine at that time. Boy, I realized
the thrill of knowing these people and Hank Williams. Hes
my favorite. They had hit records going for them. I became thrilled of the
idea of having a hit record.
SCOTT: What do you look for in a song? What
appeals to you? What is it: the melody, the lyric, the combination
GEORGE: Theres nothing prettier in the
world than a melody. I can get lost in a song with a melody. A lot of times I have, and the song wasnt that good, but
I would get lost in that melody, and Id want to do the song.
SCOTT: So why the dark side?
GEORGE: You are drowning in the business. You forget even that God exists or anybody does,
as far as that. My first wives or family or any of those things
didnt matter any more. The only thing that mattered to me
was the thrill and fun of what I was doing. You can get lost in
all of that and go down the wrong road.
SCOTT: I was reading something that was pretty
amazing. You became psychotic it would sound. You were hearing
voices, imaginary voices. These are people that fought inside
your head that literally had names.
GEORGE: Right. Well, this is when youre
just about gone. You dont trust anyone.
Theres no one there to love. You feel like youre lost.
SCOTT: Did you have any people around you who
would try to tell you the truth?
GEORGE: Very seldom, maybe here and there or
something, but they didnt come on strong enough.
SCOTT: What about wives? Youre into your
fourth marriage now and a very successful marriage, but did the
wives then try to stop you?
GEORGE: No, none of them did it. None of them
did except when I married Tammy [Wynette]. She talked to me some, but it wasnt
a big thing the way she came on.
SCOTT: Because of her fame in its own right
and the public persona, where did you go to get away from all
of that? You were trapped in a public marriage.
GEORGE: To start with, we admired each others work so
much, we just fell in love, got
married, and had a daughter. Then youd wake up and realize theres nothing there anymore. So all of a sudden
I drank too much. She was ready to get rid of me, and really,
I was ready to get rid of her.
SCOTT: You built a reputation as becoming 'No Show George".
GEORGE: Yeah. Well, Scott, I had got that low
that I not only didnt care anymore, there wasnt any 'use-to-care' anymore.
SCOTT: Its hard for people to understand
how someone, who has attained the success you have, [can] say, 'Im
lost. This isnt doing it.'
GEORGE: I think youre mad at yourself.
I think youre saying, 'You dont deserve
this. You dont deserve those fans. You dont deserve
making this money.' You beat
up on yourself by drinking and losing friends that wont
put up with that. It is just one terrible big mess you make out
of your life.
SCOTT: You also, when you drank, you became
violent in your nature, right? That side of you would come out,
that dark side.
GEORGE: Again, thats the part that you
hate. You are hating yourself, and you are taking it out on other
people to get even with yourself.
SCOTT: There came a point where you dried out. What brought you to that juncture?
GEORGE: I got down to 105 pounds, and I met Nancy.
The doctor told me that I wouldnt last another two months
if things didnt change. I went into Birmingham to the hospital,
and she was there by my side. I went through 30 days of reading
the Bible, keeping my mind off of anything else, and the Bible
was one of the books that I really believed in but never lived
or read like I should have until I was in the hospital. I saw
a different life. I didnt know there was a way back. There was no
way. But then I started reading the Bible, and I found that way
back with the Lords help and Nancy staying by my
SCOTT: One night you just went off on a binge?
GEORGE: I had gone by and picked up a copy of
my new album, which had 'Choices' on it, and I was calling my
daughter, trying to rewind it on this 96 highway out
here. I was in this Lexus. It was new to me at the time. I didnt know how to work
the equipment, so I got to looking at it too long. Next thing
I know, when I come to any senses, that was a long time there.
SCOTT: And youd been drinking?
GEORGE: Id been drinking.
SCOTT: That was the first time in all those
years youd touched something? That car went into a ditch.
You hit a bridge, is that right?
SCOTT: It took them two hours to get you out?
GEORGE: Almost, about an hour and 45 minutes.
SCOTT: Physically, you were impaired or damaged
to what degree? And werent you in a coma for about 12 days
GEORGE: I think seven or eight days, yeah. I
didnt know anything. They said when I started coming out
of the coma, I was singing gospel songs. I had met Vestal Goodman
about six or seven months or so, maybe longer, and the Carolinas.
SCOTT: That is the Goodman from the Goodman
Family Gospel Singers for many years.
GEORGE: I didnt have her in my mind any
time after that. All of a sudden, when I started
coming out of the coma, or whatever it was, my wife said I started
singing gospel songs and wanting to see Vestal. Come
to find out, shed been praying. I wanted some gospel music, and my whole life
SCOTT: And the drinking thing is over. Your
life has changed. Why do you think Nancy, your wife, has hung
in there with you? Why, after three wives, this one?
GEORGE: Shes a lot like me in a way. She
will tell it like it is, and she doesnt care letting you
SCOTT: She was the kind of person you needed?
GEORGE: She went along with me a lot at first
because I was hard to talk to or handle, you might say. She kind
of stayed cool for awhile and gradually worked on me. I began
to realize the change myself, the things she was doing. I loved
her more and more every day for getting my life straight. Shes
SCOTT: Do you feel forgiven?
GEORGE: I really do. I really do.
SCOTT: You can accept that now? Youre
not angry with yourself anymore? God loves you, you love you?
GEORGE: Im not angry with myself like
I was, no sir. Ive got good people around me, Vestal Goodman,
bless her heart. I see life in a different way, the way I feel
like I should have seen it all my life. I feel like its
been wasted, but theres nothing I can do about that. I just
thank God Im still here, and the main thing is to try to
get closer and closer to Him.
SCOTT: I know this is not a question many of
us can answer, but Im sure sometimes when youre sitting
in your studio alone, pondering on your property, sitting by a
lake, fishing, you say, 'God,' you know, a Kris Kristopherson
song, 'Why me, Lord?'
GEORGE: What a great song. I can imagine the
problems that boy had. He worked in the studio for Columbia Records
cleaning up the mess we all made back in those days. That was
his way of working his way to be around people like us and sooner
or later got a few songs pitched. Then he wrote that song, and
I can understand why when he woke up and straightened up and saw
all the mess that he was into and got out of it. What a song!
Thats all I can say. I just recorded it again. I recorded
it twice now. I love the song, and I wouldnt have left it
out of this new gospel album for nothing.
SCOTT: Thats the song you could get lost
in and have real meaning for you.
GEORGE: You cant question that song. You
just want to listen to it over and over.
SCOTT: At this point in your life, whats
the plan? Whats the vision? What do you want to do? Just
keep doing it?
SCOTT: Your latest album is perhaps an overall
commentary on your entire life journey because its gospel
GEORGE: Im more proud of this one than
anything Ive ever done.
SCOTT: Its going 360 degrees. Youre
all the way back to where you started as a kid singing the gospel
GEORGE: What goes around comes around.
SCOTT: And listening to them would rip your
heart out listening to them now. What did it do to you as youre
recording those songs?
GEORGE: I never enjoyed doing anything as much
in my life. Ive always said that if I could have made a
living someway in gospel music, I would have loved to had that
break, but it never was offered to me, a job in that field, so
naturally, I got lost on that other road. But now today, like
you say, were back. We did 24 sides of the old standards
and its doing better for me right now than anything that
Ive had in a long time.
SCOTT: I dont want to get all mystical
on you, but it would seem as you were singing those songs, you
could almost hear the voice of God saying, 'George Jones, that
old rugged cross, that whispering hope.'
GEORGE: I think He kept me here for a purpose.
Scott Ross welcomes your feedback.
Read more of Scott's interviews.
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