Editor’s note: This article was originally published Dec. 8, 2010.
On Thursday night, the Akron Civic Theatre will play host to a rare performance by a legend.
George Jones — a k a The Possum, No Show Jones, Thumper Jones and my personal favorite, Buns McGuirk — has been making music for more than five decades, and he truly embodies the lesser-known music ethos of sex, drugs, booze and country music. His duets with and rocky marriage to the late fellow icon Tammy Wynette are legendary, as are his battles with the bottle, cocaine and the occasional late-night tractor drive to local bars.
Of course his lasting contributions are his many hits and classics, and he’s known for making every lyric seem like God’s honest truth. His hits began with the novelty tune White Lightning in 1959 and include the tear-jerker She Thinks I Still Care, as well as The Window Up Above, The Race Is On, Walk Through This World With Me and wistful ballad Tender Years.
He’s won numerous awards throughout his career, including Grammys and Country Music Awards, and has been inducted into many halls of fame. Jones was ranked third on CMT’s 40 Greatest Men of Country Music, behind only Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr.
The 79-year-old singer — who credits his fourth wife and manager of nearly 30 years, Nancy, for pulling him out of his dark days — performs about 60 dates a year and still records, including a recent duet with Papa Roach lead singer Aaron Lewis on his song Country Boy.
The following are a few questions asked and answered in an e-mail interview.
Q: In a time when many veteran artists (half your age) are doing multi-week engagements in theaters and casinos such as Las Vegas and Branson, what is it about the road that still calls you?
A: I like performing in different places. I tried the Branson thing a couple of times for a week or so, and long-term in one place just isn’t for me.
Q: You are known for inhabiting the songs you sing. When picking songs, what’s the first and most important aspect? Lyrics? Melody?
A: Lyrics are what is the most important to me. I turned down He Stopped Loving Her Today several times because I thought it was just too sad. Those lyrics will tear your heart out.
Q: You are a bona fide living legend. You get plenty of respect and “lifetime achievement’’ type accolades, but most commercial radio stations won’t play a song by anyone over 50. Is being a living legend a double-edged sword for someone whose career is still going?
A: That seems to be the case in the country genre of music. I once recorded a duet with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and he said he couldn’t believe the lack of respect for the older artists in our business. I wish we could get our records played on radio, but that is near impossible.
Q: You’ve won many awards and been inducted into many halls of fame (congratulations on the recent Texas Country Music Hall of Fame induction) as well as being a Kennedy Center honoree, U.S. National Medal of Arts winner, etc. Is there any particular award/induction that means the most to you?
A: Every award is special, but probably the one that meant the most to me was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, because it was voted on by my peers.
Q: You were country when country wasn’t cool. Now it’s become very cool and there are young country artists selling out stadiums around the world. Do you feel any paternal pride in being one of the building blocks of modern country music, or would you trade the accolades and living-legend status to be a young, handsome up-and-coming artist in today’s marketplace?
A: I wouldn’t go back if I could. It is tough out there for any artist, but particularly the young ones that are trying to make a name for themselves.
Q: Many of the current country stars’ biggest crossover hits are essentially pop songs with just enough fiddle/pedal steel on them to make them “country.’’ Do you think contemporary country music is in danger of losing some of its soul in the name of mainstream popularity?
A: There is no question about that. Some of the songs on “country’’ radio should be on a different formatted station. It is not that they are not good, it just isn’t country music in my opinion.
Q: You are famous for your duets with Tammy and many others. Have those been just good business decisions, or is there something particular about the duet format that you really enjoy?
A: I have always enjoyed working with friends in the studio. It is a great experience. The Bradley Barn sessions  were so much fun. We recorded for days with so many different people, and each one was unique.
Q: Back when you were a hellraiser, there were no 24-hour news channels and no paparazzi camped outside of stars’ homes with cameras. Do you think you/your career could have survived under the constant scrutiny that celebrities face today? What advice would you give a young performer about maintaining your sanity when fame, fans, temptation and media are always pulling you in different directions?
A: If you don’t want anyone to know about it . . . don’t do it. I think it is a lot harder on entertainers and celebrities because someone is always trying to trip you up or show you doing something wrong. I doubt I would have survived. There is enough bad footage as it is.
Q: You & Me & Time (recorded with and co-written by Georgette Jones, his daughter with Wynette) is a lovely duet. How special was recording that song with your daughter, and did any of the song’s lyrics (“It’s so hard when your hero is a stranger in your home,’’ for example) open any old emotional wounds?
A: It was an honor for me to record that song with Georgette, and the fact that she co-wrote the song made it even more special. I think every parent has some regrets in their life when it comes to the way they parented their children, including me. I think it helped heal wounds for both of us.