"GEORGE JONES TELLS ALL"
Article Credited to USA Today.
NASHVILLE - By his own account, George Jones, the preternaturally gifted country singer, should not have survived.
But here he is, grinning and gabbing in his mansion on a hill overlooking ponds stocked with catfish, white perch and bass.
It gets no better.
But in the late '70s, this country legend was an addled, rail-thin cocaine addict. He often was seen around Nashville sitting in his car, arguing with himself in the voices of Donald Duck and a character he called the Old Man.
But with the help of (what else) a Good Woman and the Good Lord, he climbed back to reclaim his country throne and to tell the tale in I Lived to Tell It All (Villard, $23). "I wanted to set the record straight, instead of all this hearsay that's been wrote," he says.
Actually, the stories he tells on himself exceed even those on the country-music grapevine. The impoverished boy who began his career singing on the streets of Beaumont, Texas, grew into a life of gunplay and violence. At one point, he says, he was controlled by mobsters who forced cocaine up his nose and taped him, mummy-like, from knees to armpits so he couldn't collapse onstage and they could collect his fee. Not to mention the time he was beaten by a husband who caught him in bed with the man's striptease-dancer wife; his days as a murder suspect; and, of course, his tempestuous marriage to Tammy Wynette, a relationship that remains, as their song said, a "two-story house."
While Wynette sticks to her story that a drunken, gun-happy Jones shot up their home and tried to shoot her, Jones says it never happened and seems to relish further shattering the myth of country's most romanticized - and doomed - union.
"All women love security, but she really went overboard," he says of country's first lady. "I honestly think that was one of the main reasons she married me." The trouble began, he says, when Wynette's Stand by Your Man became an international hit. "I think in her mind she calculated the fact that she didn't need me for security any longer."
But didn't they love each other? "I reckon," he mutters.
It was after the divorce that he hit the lowest point, he says; unable to go onstage, he was convinced to try cocaine. "I even knew of people that were on it, like my good friend Waylon (Jennings), who I was even trying to help from time to time. I tried it and it perked me up. They said I went onstage and did the best show I'd ever done, which I don't believe."
Jones, 64, credits his fourth and current wife, the former Nancy Sepulvado, with turning him around. They married in 1983. "If I'd given up he'd be dead," says the energetic Nancy, whose two daughters have homes on the Jones "compound," along with Jones' oldest child, Susan.
Nancy says she never thought of herself as a "rescuer" before she met Jones. "It was just fighting for the one you love, I guess. That's the only way I could put it."
And what she put up with. The drug pushers who had taken control of Jones when he lived in Alabama tried to kill her and her daughter, and her major ally, a character named "Big Daddy," was found decapitated. And then there was Jones, who'd throw her off his bus, leaving her stranded without money unless his road manager could throw a $100 bill out the window before the bus pulled away. There also was a beating or two and the godawful ranting of the duck and the old guy.
Crazily, some would say, she stuck with him.
"There's a lot of things I did wrong that I would like to have changed," Jones says. "I sit here today and wonder how in the hell I ever really got through all that mess and didn't get arrested more than I was, or got killed some way."
He apologizes to fans who so often were disappointed by "No-Show Jones." But many dates, he says, were booked by his hoodlum-handlers, who collected advance money for shows that never happened.
"I know I missed a lot of dates on my own, but I wouldn't be scared to say that two-thirds of the dates I missed I didn't even know about."
And it was Jones, of course, who was sued for the no-shows, which ultimately led to bankruptcy.
But the more anguish the singer experienced in his personal life, the more his career flourished, partly because fans were enthralled by the confessional nature of such early '80s hits as Still Doin' Time, about living in a "cage" of taverns, and If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will), in which he often changed the lyric to "Tammy's memory will."
Jones has his own take on the mysterious 1978 abduction of Wynette, who told police she was grabbed at a Nashville shopping center by a masked man and beaten and thrown from her vehicle. Jones says it was a "hoax," and though the gossip mill said he was involved, he was in Alabama at the time and was never questioned by police. He also cites other sources who say his crooked managers may have abducted Wynette to frighten her and keep her from trying to collect more divorce-settlement funds that would otherwise go into their pockets.
Jones admits the book may disappoint some fans because there's limited information about recording sessions and songs. That's partly because he was often drunk and because he's recorded hundreds and hundreds of songs and the process has become a blur.
What he wishes he had forgotten was an early, brief rock career as "Thumper" Jones. "One time I tried to buy all the masters and burn them."
The book does have considerable information on Jones' turnaround 1980 hit, He Stopped Loving Her Today, which he rewrote hundreds of times and carried around for a year before taking it into the studio. Another 18 months were spent trying to complete the recording because Jones slurred spoken words when he drank, and producer Billy Sherrill had to catch him sober enough to utter the song's four spoken lines.
The enormous hit made Jones a $25,000-a-night star, plus percentages, huge money for a country star at the time.
A four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song, Jones writes. There is a God.
The song remains the biggest hit for the honky-tonk baroque stylist whose vocal hiccups, moans and bottomless rumbles convey both deep emotion and elegance. It's a magic that works equally well on such disparate Jones classics as the backwoods White Lightning and the weeping She Thinks I Still Care. "A lot of people always said I could make five syllables out of one, and that's the phrasing I got from Lefty Frizzell," Jones says. "I got that part from him, and overall I got my style from Roy Acuff."
The Jones style also has made him a singer's singer. When Johnny Cash is asked to name his favorite country artist, his stock reply is, "You mean besides George Jones?"
Jones still plays about 120 dates a year, often touring in his leased Learjet, a far cry from the old days when it once got so hot in his bus that he ventilated it with bullet holes.
On his next album, 100 Proof Memories (due in July), he's revisiting the hardscrabble days by "doin' the old George Jones-type stuff," including the drinking songs frowned on by contemporary country. "A lot of people still like to hear them. And though I don't booze it down no more, I still love to sing 'em."
By David Zimmerman, USA TODAY
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