George Jones Never Knew What He Was Really Worth
There’s a new book out about singer George Jones, and the story in the WSJ had an audacious headline: ‘George Jones Was as Good as Sinatra.’ WOW! But in Ryan Cole’s review of the new Jones biography, “The Grand Tour” by Rich Kienzle, he makes a claim, and I’d have to agree, after I listened to original recordings of “The Window Up Above,” and “She Thinks I Still Care.” This guy was a fantastic voice and deserves this high accolade.
What I love about biographies is the same thing I like about obituaries: You can follow the arc of someone’s life and find those key things in childhood that made the person what they became as an adult. Though I wish more obits were as clear and provided as many nuggets as biographies do.
George Jones was born in 1931 in the southeast corner of Texas, a place known as “The Big Thicket.” He father was a drunk and used to demand that young George sing on command. No wonder he decided to leave home at age 16, and eventually served in the Marines. “He was the son of an abusive father and “a loving and devoutly Christian mother. This combination, in Mr Kienzle’s telling, created the singer’s Jekyll and Hyde character, at times sweet and humble, at others selfish and violent.”
Kienzle’s knowledge of his subject gets kudos in the review, as the book reveals the blur of Jone’s life as a top country star: It’s booze, bar fights, missed gigs, mismanaged finances and four marriages. One story shared is about how Jones was always jealous of another singer, California country pioneer Buck Owens. “The two, who often shared billings, bickered over who would open. One night Owens prevailed and Jones took the stage first, played every hit from his rival’s repertoire, and then strutted backstage and told the furious Owens, “You’re on!”
It took a good woman to rein in Jones, who had cocaine habit that almost killed him. That was Nancy Sepulvado, who cleaned up Jones and helped him back on track. In his later years, “he never felt worthy of his success.” He even recorded a song titled “What Am I Worth?” After he married Nancy, he continued to tour and make records, but as the book reveals, Nashville was already moving on to younger stars, despite how much respect he had from top artists like Alan Jackson and Randy Travis.