The Abridged George Jones

The Abridged George Jones

George Jones has a voice that sounds like it originates deep inside a Mason Jar. He’s got hair that ought to be the subject of a Vanderbilt thesis. He has drunk more liquor than most, given it up, resumed it again. Last year, he nearly killed himself while driving in his Lexus jeep, listening to his latest songs, and sipping on a bit of vodka.

Rising from the ashes, in one of those incredible-but-true country music plotlines, Jones apologized for his partying ways. He then proceeded to put out his first Top 10 hit and first Top 10 album in more than a decade. He was nominated for three CMA Awards, the winners of which will be announced during next week’s nationally televised show. No other current music industry figure, it is fair to say, has the same level of commercial success and historic relevance as does George Jones. The Possum, as he is called, is not some recent music industry marketing experiment. This man is the heart and soul of a musical tradition.

Which makes the recent brouhaha surrounding the upcoming CMA Awards so peculiar. To wit: The CMA offered Jones a tiny, 90-second window to perform a snippet of his recent hit. Somehow, the producers failed to recognize that they had an opportunity to showcase the grit and substance of one of the industry’s real heroes. Instead, they decided to edit him into insignificance.

This is all the more unfortunate, given that most of the show will be little more than a three-hour treatment given over to selling more records by a crop of younger (and more lucrative) singers. Who can blame Jones for refusing to do the show? Who can but applaud industry heavyweight Mike Curb for resigning from the CMA TV board in protest?

The CMA argues that a lot of performers sing only parts of songs. The organization says this helps get as many people on the show as possible. It is also true that several performers are asked to sing full songs. To deny George Jones a chance to perform all of his hit is sheer lunacy. The man is a living legend, for crying out loud.

Back in the ’80s, a producer once asked Waylon Jennings to appear on a television show. When the producer tried to cut the singer’s performance back to less than two minutes, Jennings said—and we’re paraphrasing—“Hell, why don’t you give me a top hat and cane, and I’ll just do a little dance across the stage?”

Country music has given rise to some of America’s most gifted and unique performers. One of them is George Jones. Now, however, the country industry rewards entertainers who are all Milquetoast and suburban inoffensiveness—they might as well be wearing top hats and doing little dances.

Jones is a man of unique wisdom, formidable showmanship, and significant life experience. He may not be part of the new breed, but the fact remains he helped pave the way for these folks. Long before Shania, long before Garth, there was the Possum. Let the man sing his song.


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