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George Jones: Living to Tell It All

By Cheryl Wilcox
The 700 Club

CBN.comScott 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. 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 that brought you into the public eye?

GEORGE: I’ll 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 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.

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. He’s 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 of both?

GEORGE: There’s 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 wasn’t that good, but I would get lost in that melody, and I’d 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 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 don’t trust anyone. There’s no one there to love. You feel like you’re 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 didn’t come on strong enough.

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?

GEORGE: No, none of them did it. None of them did except when I married Tammy [Wynette]. 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, we admired each other’s work so much, we just fell in love, got married, and had a daughter. Then you’d wake up 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: You built a reputation as becoming 'No Show George".

GEORGE: Yeah. Well, Scott, I had got that low that I not only didn’t care anymore, there wasn’t any 'use-to-care' anymore.

SCOTT: It’s hard for people to understand how someone, who has attained the success you have, [can] say, 'I’m lost. This isn’t doing it.'

GEORGE: I think you’re mad at yourself. I think you’re saying, 'You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve those fans. You don’t deserve making this money.' 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. What brought you to that juncture?

GEORGE: I got down to 105 pounds, and I met Nancy. The doctor told me that I wouldn’t last another 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. I didn’t 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 Lord’s help and Nancy staying by my side.

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 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.

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. 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, she’d been praying. I wanted some gospel music, and my whole life changed.

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: 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.

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?

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: 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 Ross welcomes your feedback.

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