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The Great George Jones — A Life of Talent and Demons


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The American Spectator
Larry Thornberry
May 16 2016

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones
By Rich Kienzle
(Dey Street/William Morrow, 280 pages, $27.99)


Like most people and most genres, country music has gone through phases. No way to put exact dates on these periods. But before the early fifties, near the time that Hank Williams Sr.’s too short life came to an end, what’s now called country music was usually referred to as hillbilly. Very descriptive of the twangy music of mostly mountain people in the South.

But not long after the war, many of these folks came down from the mountains and started farming the flat land, or moved to town to work as truck drivers, mechanics, construction workers, or cops. Some drove cabs or tended bar. Many remained or became enlisted soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines. Though others liked it too, these folks, many leading hard lives, became the backbone of the audience for the white soul music that came to be known as country. Sometimes country and western. (There were some differences between the Texas and Nashville strains, but far more similarities.)

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By the time Hank had gone on, hillbilly was well on its way to morphing into country, which flowered from late Hank through the seventies, only beginning to show cracks in its foundation by the mid-eighties. Few who care about the music would disagree that the greatest singer of this golden age was George Jones.

Jones’s personal life may have been an extended train wreck — he seemed to make only two kinds of life choices, really bad and horrible. Exhibit A in this regard is when Jones’s third wife, country singer and heart-throb Tammy Wynette, tired of his extended drunks and awful behavior when he was in the bag, told him he could have the bottle or he could have her, but he couldn’t have both. Incredibly, he chose the bottle. (George, you dumb ass!) But his music was magic. And it made him one of the most loved and respected of performers. George Jones, because of his music, and because of the decent, humble, and loyal fellow he usually was when he was sober, may well have enjoyed more forgiveness than any three people in the history of the world.

Comes now a well-crafted new biography of the Possum (check the close-set eyes and sharp nose of the young George and you’ll understand how he earned this sobriquet) by country music journalist Rich Kienzle. Jones’s latest chronicler divides his time between the music that some say could make the angels cry, and a personal life that the word dysfunctional doesn’t begin to touch. Because of his well-known operatic battles with the bottle and his later in life taste for cocaine, one of the biggest surprises when the world learned of Jones’s death on April 26, 2013, was that he had somehow managed to live 81 years.

 

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