by:Jim Bessman

George Jones last played New York three years ago—at Carnegie Hall on Halloween, 2006—and he was wearing a cast on his hand and couldn’t play guitar. But the legendary country music star was in fine fettle during a lengthy stay in New York to promote his latest CD, A Collection Of My Best Recollection.

The disc is mainly made up of Jones classics like “He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today” and “White Lightning,” and is available through the Cracker Barrel country store/restaurant chain and its web site. It shows a vintage front cover black-and-white picture of the young Jones with an acoustic guitar, sitting on a stool—with a similar back-cover shot of Jones as he looks today, at 78.

Follow up:

Considered by many to be the greatest country singer ever, Jones seems to have fully recovered, not only from his hand injury, but from a notorious personal life including a failed marriage to fellow country great Tammy Wynette and drinking problems culminating in a terrible car crash in 1999. Back home in Nashville, he graciously made time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

How’s your hand?

It’s healed, but the boys in my band said they didn’t want me to play rhythm guitar any more—because I was the worst rhythm player they ever heard! So I haven’t played any since I broke my wrist! But I’ve gotten used to not playing, and I think it takes a lot of strain off my lower back.

Your new CD has such a great title—and artwork.

Mainly my wife and the people with Cracker Barrel put it all together. The front picture was used on an album way back in 1962, The New Favorites Of George Jones. And we took a later picture of the same thing for the back cover. So it’s kind of “George then…and George today.”

And the songs?

They came up with picking the songs pretty much, too. The only thing I got involved in was asking them to put a couple new things on there that were in the can and never released, that I thought would help the album: “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” by Hank Williams, we hillbilly-rocked up a bit, so it’s different from the late, great Hank, Sr. And [the pop and country standard] “I Really Don’t Want To Know” is one of them sad, slobbering tearjerker ballads that I love. So it’s still the same George Jones.

No difference in the 47 years between The New Favorites of George Jones and A Collection of My Best Recollection?

Well, I didn’t have my glasses on in the picture back then! And I had a crew-cut way back! But there’s not a whole lot of difference in the music. But my whole life’s been changed you know. I used to be a rounder and ragged-but-right type of person, but we’ve calmed down in our later age and healed a lot of bad things that I went through and did, and after my car wreck put the fear of God in me I quit smoking and drinking–and the last 12 years I’ve really enjoyed what life is all about. For some of us, it just takes a little longer—and a sledgehammer!

And everything’s okay now?

I work a lot more than I need to. They talk about [country artists who are my age] like we’re old folks and over-the-hill–and I laugh all the way to the bank! But the traveling is what gets me now at my age, but once I get on stage I just perk up and I’m ready to go! And I still enjoy it: I took two months off this past winter and went crazy and started begging, “Lord, get me some of those dates back!”

How do you like coming to New York?

I like it a lot more now. I had a wonderful time the last couple days there, meeting people and eating some of the best food.

Speaking of food, do you really eat at Cracker Barrel?

Yes I do! In fact, we ate there yesterday morning and I’ll be there again Thursday morning. We go there three times a week when I’m home and every chance I get on the road I stop at one. And it’s the only place you can get this new album: I just hope people get a copy because it just could be my last [album] venture.