The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

George Jones
George Jones Fan Club
P. O.Box 680009
Franklin, TN 37068

George Jones: Living to Tell It All

By Cheryl Wilcox
The 700 Club

CBN.comScott Ross recently sat down with the famous recording artist to talk about his music, his checkered past, and his recent groundedness in God.

SCOTT ROSS: George Jones, 'I live to tell it all.' You’re 50 years old, right?

GEORGE JONES: (laughs) I wish I were. Scott, thank you so much.

SCOTT: (laughs) You are welcome.

GEORGE: I appreciate that. You made my day already.

SCOTT: But, really, when you reflect back, what? Beaumont, Texas, when you were a kid –

GEORGE: Yeah, I was in Beaumont. I moved out of the country part from up north of Beaumont, about 60 miles from Saratoga, Texas, and I moved down to Beaumont in the early '40s and started going to school there and starting a life. I finally went in the Marine Corps, served a couple years in there, and then came out and got my first recording contract with Star Day Records.

SCOTT: When did you realize that you could sing, that you really had a desire to do that, picked up a guitar, whatever it is you did?

GEORGE: Well, I never thought anything about being a professional in it. We’d 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 he’d want us to do three or four songs. Then we’d go back to bed. That’s how we started knowing or not knowing, not even realizing that we would sing professionally or anything. In fact, my sister didn’t 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 we’d 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, so to speak, that brought you into that, to the public eye?

GEORGE: I’ll tell you the first big break I ever had, at least I thought at the time it was the biggest break that anybody would want, and that’s when I played at the front of the arcade downtown in Beaumont one Sunday afternoon and 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 my life.

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. I just wanted to sing. When I went into the Marine Corps November of ’51, well, I had been playing already in some taverns and nightclubs around Beaumont and Houston. Then I went in the service in ’51 and I came out in November of ’53. I was in the Marine Corps, and then they gotten in touch with me while I was in the service and they knew when I was getting out. They’d talked to my family. They were interested in talking to me when I got home.

SCOTT: Record company?

GEORGE: Right. Starday Records. Jack Starnes Jr. and Harold W. 'Pappy' Daily had formed the labels together, Starday, Starnes and Daily. They gave me my first shot. We recorded a lot of the old tunes that sound so terrible. We recorded in a living room with egg crates put all over the walls to soundproof it a little bit. You could hear an18-wheeler going by every now and then. That was the good old days. We really thought we were very happy. Back in those days the competition wasn’t anything like it is today.

SCOTT: What was the first record that broke through for you and hit the charts, so to speak?

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 and did its best 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 number-one record on it. So it goes around and comes around.

SCOTT: When you had that first whiff of success, notoriety, what did it do to you at that point? How did it change your whole?

GEORGE: I did a lot of praying.

SCOTT: You did?

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 that the thrill of knowing these people and Hank Williams--he’s my favorite--and that they had hit records going for them, was playing on the radio, and at the time I become thrilled of the idea of having a hit record. I would pray to the Good Lord all the time, 'Let me just get that one record to see how it feels.'

SCOTT: He obviously answered the prayer because all these years later you’ve had more records, as I understand, more chart records, 164, 165--

GEORGE: Top tens, yeah.

SCOTT: more top tens than any recording artist in history.

GEORGE: They put out a lot of records of me.

SCOTT: My goodness, I mean, you think about Elvis, you think about the Beatles, you think about all these different forms of music, Sinatra, whatever, and you had 165 records. That’s unbelievable.

GEORGE: It sounds unbelievable to me, really.

SCOTT: If you ever stand up and try to sing them, how many of them do you still remember?

GEORGE: Oh, there wouldn’t be but a few I could remember without getting the words in front me, but I pretty much remember the melodies to all the old songs that I’ve done. I just can’t remember the lyrics.

SCOTT: Do you write them as well?

GEORGE: I wrote quite a bit right at the first of my career. I co-wrote with a friend of mine that came from the little town of Saratoga, Texas, where I was born. We wrote 'Why Baby Why?' Together and 'Seasons of My Heart' that was on the other side of it, which did good later. We wrote some gospel things like 'Old Brush Arbors by the Side of the Road.' And, of course, all his ideas. I just got with him and we put the melodies and some of the other words together with it.

SCOTT: What do you look for in a song? What appeals to you? What is it--the melody, the lyric, the combination of both?

GEORGE: There’s nothing prettier in the world than a melody. I can get lost in a song with a melody. And a lot of times I have, and the song wasn’t that good, but I would get lost in that melody and I’d want to do the song.

SCOTT: You have had a whole bevy of awards, the Billboard Artist of the Year, and gold records, obviously the Country Music Hall of Fame.

GEORGE: It’s just wonderful. Everybody knows that up and down, up and down and all the problems that I caused for myself, but I have been one of the very luckiest persons, I guess you’d say, in the world.

SCOTT: So with God answering all your prayers, and obviously you prayed for that hit and he has over and over honored that, why the dark side? Why the down side? What have you discovered about George Jones that that side could have killed you? I mean, you came close to that many, many times--the alcohol, the drugs, the whole deal.

GEORGE: I now realize what happened when you get started like I did and you get lost like in this twilight zone. You are drowning in the business. I don’t know how to explain it. You forget even that God exists or anybody does, as far as that. My first wives or family or any of those things didn’t 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 you’re just about gone, you might as well say. You don’t trust anyone. There’s no one there to love. You feel like you’re lost. You’re just lost and there’s no way back and very lonely.

SCOTT: Isolated? Yet you stand in front of thousands of people and are surrounded by people who would tell you all the things you wanted to hear.

GEORGE: Right.

SCOTT: Did you have any people around you who would try to tell you the truth and say, 'George, you’re in trouble. I mean, we love you, but you’re trouble'?

GEORGE: Very seldom, maybe here and there or something, but they didn’t come on strong enough, I don’t guess.

SCOTT: What about wives? You’re into your fourth marriage now and a very successful marriage, but did the wives then try to stop you, slow you down?

GEORGE: No, none of them did it. None of them did except when I married Tammy.

SCOTT: Tammy Wynette.

GEORGE: She talked to me some, but it wasn’t 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, I think we both fell in love with each other’s singing.

SCOTT: Really?

GEORGE: We admired each other’s work so much we just fell in love, if that’s what you call it, got married, and had a daughter. Then you’d wake up to that part and realize there’s 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: It almost sounded like you were living some of the songs.

GEORGE: Well, you do that. That’s what I meant a while ago when I was saying that you get into another world. When I’m doing a song on stage or in the studio, I just drift off to this story of this song and I get locked into it. I’m that person. I’m that person that we’re talking about.

SCOTT: You had alcohol in your family?

GEORGE: My dad drank, but he only drank on weekends and he never missed a day of work. He drove a log truck and loaded logs with the mules in east Texas, but he had to let his steam off on Friday nights. No matter how sick he got by Sunday, he went to work Monday morning at 3:30.

SCOTT: But that wasn’t true of you because, in fact, you built a reputation as becoming 'no show' George, or something to that effect. During concerts, you didn’t show up.

GEORGE: Yeah. Well, Scott, I had got that low that I not only didn’t care anymore, I thought to myself that there wasn’t any use to care anymore anyhow because that was the end of it.

SCOTT: It’s hard for people to understand how someone who has attained the success you have, wanted, prayed for, in fact, would have all that you have and say, 'I’m lost. This isn’t doing it.' What is that that you can have it all, fame, money, women, whatever?

GEORGE: I think you’re mad at yourself. I think you’re saying to yourself, 'You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve those fans. You don’t deserve making this money.' And you’re mad at yourself. You beat up on yourself by drinking and losing friends that won’t 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, that’s 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, you went on the wagon, whatever terminology you want to use. What brought you to that juncture?

GEORGE: I was down to 105 pounds.

SCOTT: Good grief!

GEORGE: I was in bad shape.

SCOTT: How much should you weigh?

GEORGE: I weigh about 160, I guess, 165.

SCOTT: Yeah, so 105?

GEORGE: I got down to 105 pounds and I met Nancy. The doctor told me that I wouldn’t last enough two months if things didn’t 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. Where I didn’t know there was a way back, I didn’t believe that there was a way back. There was no way. But then I started reading the Bible and I found that way back with the Lord’s help and Nancy and her staying by my side, even though I backslid there with the drinking about four years or so ago.

SCOTT: You’ve been dry for how long?

GEORGE: I would say 8 to 10 years.

SCOTT: So 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 and I was trying to rewind it on this 96 highway out here. I wanted her to hear it because she was always good at picking songs for me, so I told her, 'This is the one that we like, and I’m going to play it for you if I can ever get this thing back.' I ran back, rewound. I was in this Lexus. It was an SUV, and it was new to me at the time. I didn’t 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 you’d been drinking?

GEORGE: I’d been drinking.

SCOTT: That was the first time in all those years you’d touched something? That car went into a ditch. You hit a bridge, is that right?

GEORGE: 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 weren’t you in a coma for about 12 days or so?

GEORGE: I think seven or eight days, yeah. I didn’t 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, real briefly one night.

SCOTT: That is the Goodman from the Goodman Family Gospel Singers for many years.

GEORGE: I didn’t have her in my mind any time after that that I know of. All of a sudden, when I started coming out of the coma, or whatever it was, my wife said I started saying gospel songs and I wanted to see Vestal. I said, 'Why would I say that? I’ve only briefly met her one time.' Well, come to find out, she’d been praying, doing a lot of praying for me. I wanted some gospel tapes and gospel music and my whole life changed. When I woke up, I had a tough time there at first, the first year or so. I couldn’t eat, so I got back down to where I was 36 in the waist. I got down to about a 33, a 32. Then I gained it back and got my weight back, finally, with good ol’ chicken and dumplings.

SCOTT: I was looking through the lyrics of that song 'Choices.'

GEORGE: I’ve had a lot of preachers tell me that they’ve used that subject for their sermons.

SCOTT: 'I guess I’m paying for the things I’ve done. If I could go back, O Lord knows I’d run. But I’m still losing this game of life I play, living and dying with the choices I made.'

GEORGE: We all have choices. It’s a very simple song. But nowadays you can’t get the 'he stopped loving her' today, because we’re too old for country radio. In the rural areas, we get it played all the time, and only the reporting stations don’t play the older artists.

SCOTT: Your music came back around again. Your whole life took a major turn and developed again. You’re 70 years of age and you’re still making hit records.

GEORGE: I don’t have any problems with my fans on the road. We sell out and we pack the shows everywhere we go. We’ve included two or three gospel songs now on our show with Miss Sherry Copeland and her husband, Barry Smith. They are Christian people and they joined our group opening my shows. We’re having a ball on the road again.

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? How many years have you been married now to Nancy?

GEORGE: 21 or 22 years.

SCOTT: What is it in her, what quality, what characteristic that could get hold of George Jones?

GEORGE: She’s a lot like me in a way. She will tell it like it is and she doesn’t care letting you know it.

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. She’s been wonderful.

SCOTT: Do you feel forgiven?

GEORGE: I really do. I really do.

SCOTT: You can accept that now? You’re not angry with yourself anymore? God loves you, you love you?

GEORGE: I’m not angry with myself like I was, no sir. I’ve 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 it’s been wasted, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I just thank God I’m still here and the main thing is to try to get closer and closer to Him as much as I can so that I can treat my friends and my family the way they should be treated.

SCOTT: I know this is not a question many of us can answer, but I’m sure sometimes when you’re 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! That’s all I can say. I just recorded it again. I recorded it twice now. I love the song, and I wouldn’t have left it out of this new gospel album for nothing.

SCOTT: That’s the song you could get lost in and have real meaning for you.

GEORGE: You can’t question that song. You just want to listen to it over and over.

SCOTT: At this point in your life, what’s the plan? What’s the vision? What do you want to do? Just keep doing it?

GEORGE: I just want to keep living on and enjoying food! Even though I’m gaining weight, I want to record if the Lord wants me to still record, and I just want to do my work on the road as long as I got those fans out there. I’m not quitting. The money is not really that important anymore to me. It’s the enjoyment that I’m really getting that I thought I was getting back in those days. I wasn’t getting that enjoyment that I’m getting now because I’ve got a clear head. I’m enjoying those fans out there now the way that I should have.

SCOTT: Do you have a comment on the current country music scene, the way it is today? You mentioned earlier some of the radio stations don’t play anymore, and the way the music has gone, I mean, you’re a patriarch of this music, so what’s your commentary?

GEORGE: Everybody knows in the business how I feel about country music. I’m an old traditionalist. Then they just call me an old man and stuck in my old ways, but with all the fans I’ve got out there, I can’t be all that wrong. I do love traditional country music. I love the good stuff. There’s bad in everything. I dislike people misusing something that I love so much. It goes beyond the money. It goes beyond all of that and the glory. I love what I’ve done and I just can’t stand to see what they’re doing to it. But I’ve learned to live with it because that’s what they’ve done. They’ve come in with the modern sounds. I call it modern pop. It’s not country anymore.

SCOTT: Willie, he just turned 70. He’s one of your contemporaries.

GEORGE: Me and Willie, boy, we started off around Houston together and we were both grinding, trying to get something started. Willie came a long, long way, bless his heart, from a songwriter, only, at the time, to the recording, entertaining in his own.

SCOTT: When you sit and reflect back on those years, you mentioned, of course, Hank Williams. Then a lot of them have passed from the scene; they’ve moved on out of the business and some have died. Recently, June Carter Cash, Wayland died not too terribly long ago, and you see your contemporaries going and you look at your life. You look around, and you’re a blessed man. I remember somebody saying once that we all have an innate talent, but God does something in our lives and what He gives back to us is a gift. You’re a gifted man. You have a gift and you prayed a ways back there, a long time ago. When you look around, there’s got to be gratitude in your heart.

GEORGE: When you see these people doing this type of music and they call it ‘country,’ to me, they’re just using country music as a stepping stone.

SCOTT: For fame, fortune, money, all of it.

GEORGE: Because all they’ve got in their mind–which is understandable, they’re in the record-selling business–but all they got in their mind is the almighty dollar. A new artist today has to get their teeth fixed, has to tighten their jeans up, and they have to get ‘em the right kind of hat, and if anything’s wrong with their nose, if it’s a little crooked, it’s got to be straightened up.

SCOTT: Back in my day, you didn’t have to be handsome and good-looking. Lord knows I wasn’t!

GEORGE: I didn’t have any problems. If people liked your singing well enough, if you were special to them, then you never left their minds throughout all of the years. Today they forget you in five years. They give an artist nowadays four or five years and that’s it. Some of them don’t have that. They get a couple of releases. If you don’t sell two million copies, you’re gone, you’re out of here. I used to sell 300,000. I had a number one and it was called ‘White Lightning,’ and ‘The Race is On,’ ‘Walk Through This World with Me,’ ‘She Thinks I Still Care’–300,000. Now they laugh at you. They want three million.

SCOTT: But you, you are a survivor, George Jones, and you’re here.

GEORGE: Even gospel people like Vestal Goodman and all the quartets, the Florida Boys, Snaps Quartet, all these people that are so great with the quartet, that is still a big, big thing to Christian people, and even they don’t have to be Christians. Anybody who loves country music loves gospel. Even they are competing with the same type of problem that I’m competing with. We older artists are competing with the new style of country today, with their new modern style of gospel, with the young people.

SCOTT: Nancy’s role in your life, as your wife, how important is that, and what is it she brings to you to make you two the one that you are? She survived.

GEORGE: Yes, she did. She he really survived, maybe not as long as I did, of different crazy stuff, but she survived quite a bit for a lady and she is a survivor. She helped me in so many ways to get my life straight. I’m proud of her.

SCOTT: She can tell you the truth in love.

GEORGE: She’s very frank. If you ask her a question, she’ll tell it like it is.

SCOTT: There’s a quality in your voice. I saw an award show, and I don’t know who it was that was saying it from the podium, but they were saying, 'There’s something about George Jones’ voice. Something about that voice.' It’s the kind of thing people used to say years ago about Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. I mean, it was in the same breath, they were saying, 'George Jones, there’s something in the voice.' Do you know what it is?

GEORGE: I really don’t, but I’ll tell you a little something that was a secret for me. When I fell in love with Hank Williams and his singing and Lefty Frizzell and Roy Acuff, first it was Roy. Then Hank Williams came along, and then Lefty Frizzell. Well, these are the three people that I dearly love to hear sing. As far as I’m concerned, there was no other. When I first went into the studio, after about two hours in the studio, Pappy Daily finally came in there and said, 'I’ve heard you sing like Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell. Can you sing like George Jones?'

I said, 'Well, I thought you wanted a hit.' (laughs) To this day, I’ve got a touch of each one of them. I’ve got Lefty’s phrasing. I kind of stole that for my part. I’ve got those three with me when I sing. And it’s my voice, but I use those different things of phrasing and what have you.

SCOTT: Your latest album is perhaps an overall commentary on your entire life journey because it’s gospel songs.

GEORGE: I’m more proud of this one than anything I’ve ever done.

SCOTT: It’s going 360 degrees. You’re all the way back to where you started as a kid singing the gospel songs.

GEORGE: What goes around comes around.

SCOTT: As you have said, when you get lost in songs and these old classic gospel hymns and you’re singing them, I mean –

GEORGE: Well, they’re the ones you heard all your life back when you were a kid.

SCOTT: And listening to them would rip your heart out listening to them now. What did it do to you as you’re recording those songs?

GEORGE: I never enjoyed doing anything as much in my life. I’ve 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, we’re back. We did 24 sides of the old standards and it’s doing better for me right now than anything that I’ve had in a long time.

SCOTT: I don’t 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: That peace in the valley, what is it?

GEORGE: That’s exactly what I got now, and it’s in the songs–'Have a Little Talk with Jesus.' I would like to tell you that real quick. Back in the back woods of my property, I went out there. I guess it was six months or so I went out there. I was disgusted with myself one day and I went back there, parked, and I had a little talk with Jesus, like the song. I said, 'I want You to straighten my life up if there’s any way possible. I don’t care if You have to hit me in the head with a sledge hammer. Make me see the light and help me get my life straight.' I didn’t realize it till I woke up in that hospital in the shape I was in, but that’s one of the first things came to my mind after Vestal was that little talk with Jesus I had in the back of the property.

SCOTT: And He hit you with a sledge hammer.

GEORGE: Tell Him all about your troubles. He’ll hear your cry, and He’ll answer by and by. And it took six, eight months, but He answered it by that car wreck. I know that He had something else for me to do now, which is the gospel album and music that I had been wanting to do all my life and getting my life straight. He put the fear of God in me. I thought I was dying when I was trying to get my appetite back. I thought I was just dying. That’s how terrible I felt. I knew all these things weren't going to be easy. They never are. But I’ve got it all back now, too much and then some. But it all comes true. Everything that I have ever asked Him for, I’ve got it. But I didn’t realize it or care or take advantage of it, you might say, of Him till the last four years of my life.

SCOTT: And on that note, once again, you’ve lived to tell it all.

GEORGE: Thank God for that. That’s another little thing He did for me.

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