In the world of music, the word “legendary” is often overused. But for George Jones, the word fits like a crown.
As a solo artist and duet partner, he has had more than 150 hits, the most by any artist in any genre, according to Billboard magazine. His first, “Why Baby Why,” reached No. 4 in 1955; his latest entries include “Beer Run,” a 2001 duet with Garth Brooks, and “4th of July,” a 2005 recording by Shooter Jennings featuring Jones.
He has won every conceivable award: “Most Promising New Country Vocalist” from Billboard magazine in 1956; two Grammy awards for Best Male Country Vocal Performance (“He Stopped Loving Her Today” in 1980 and “Choices” in 1999); induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992; the U.S. National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts in 2002; the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in his home state.
Two of his songs – his 1962 recording “She Thinks I Still Care” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” – have been placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The latter is often referred to as the greatest country song of all time.
Like any good legend, all those stories you have heard about him are true. Yes, he did take his riding lawn mower to the bar when his wife hid his car keys (and apparently this happened more than once, with more than one ex-wife).
His autobiography is titled “I Lived to Tell It All.”
In his darkest days, he missed so many performances due to drinking and drug problems, he became known as “No Show Jones.”
These days, now 79 and still doing 60 shows a year, he is most often referred to as “the greatest living country singer.”
But through it all, he always had that remarkable voice and his own way with a song. Noted country-music scholar Bill C. Malone wrote, “For the two or three minutes consumed by a song, Jones immerses himself so completely in its lyrics, and in the mood it conveys, that the listener can scarcely avoid becoming similarly involved.”
On Friday, Jones promises to show up at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre and sing songs from throughout his more than five-decade career.
In anticipation of his area performance, he answered a few questions via e-mail.
Times Leader: When you were first starting out as a singer, who were your biggest influences?
George Jones: Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Roy Acuff.
TL: It has been said that you don’t sing country songs, you sing George Jones songs. What did you look for when choosing a song to record?
Jones: I look for something that I think people will enjoy hearing over and over. It can either be a very sad ballad or an up-tempo song. It just has to grab me.
TL: Since you had so many hits over the years and such a vast catalog from which to choose, how do you go about picking the songs to do at your show?
Jones: That is sometimes difficult. Because I can’t do each one completely, we do a nice medley of several songs.
TL: Do any of the songs you have recorded stand out as favorites and why?
Jones: Well, I have to say my favorite is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” because it was and is the biggest song of my career.
TL: You sang with so many great duet partners, do you have a favorite? And was there anyone you wanted to sing with but never had the opportunity?
Jones: I would have loved to record with Hank Williams but never got the chance. I had more hits and recorded more with Tammy Wynette, so I guess I would have to say she was my favorite. But I have had a lot of great duet partners through the years.
TL: What do you think of the state of country music these days? Are there any good songs coming out of Nashville and any that you think would have been good for you?
Jones: I have been very outspoken about what I think of “county music” these days, and that is, most of it isn’t country music in my opinion. That is not to say it isn’t good music; I am just saying most of it belongs in a different genre of music. I don’t know of any songs right off that I think would have been good for me.
TL: In your opinion, are there any current stars that have a shot at a career that has been as long and successful as yours?
Jones: Yes. Alan Jackson.
TL: Are you doing any new recordings, and if so, when can we expect another album?
Jones: I recently completed an exclusive CD for Cracker Barrel called “A Collection of My Best Recollection.” We are always working on something new, but I don’t have a time frame for you for a new release.