Sunday, March 11, 2012

George Jones Is The King


All Photos:  Alan Mercer         Lighting:  Eric V.


George Jones has been making music since before I was born. I have known his songs all my life! I’ve had the opportunity to see him perform live a few times, once with Tammy Wynette! There are no words to describe how good they were! George and his lovely wife Nancy came to Los Angeles on a February weekend so he could receive his Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Even though they were only in Los Angeles for a few hours, they made time to get photographed and talk with me. We met up at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. The first thing I noticed upon walking through the lobby doors was the bright light of George’s hair and then how beautiful Nancy is! You will never meet a nicer couple. I fell instantly in love with both of them.

In many ways George Jones is as much a myth as a real human being. George is one of the last pure country singers.We all know the many stories of a colorful life lived to the fullest. Certainly you could never argue about his talent or his importance in the world of Country Music. He has influenced everyone and is beloved by generations of musicians of all kinds. George has been listed as the favorite country singer by many of its top performers. He has every award including Grammys, several CMA awards, a Kennedy Center Honor and the list goes on and on. To this very day his concerts continue to sell out everywhere he appears.


He was born on September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, in a log cabin in an area known as the Big Thicket. This was a hard area to live in and it was filled with lumber camps and oil fields. George was the eighth child born to a heavy-drinking pipefitter and his God fearing wife. His father played guitar and his mother played the piano. They encouraged their son to take an interest in music and they bought him a guitar when he was just nine years old. It wasn't long before George learned how to play it well and he began to play at various local and church functions. When the family moved to Beaumont, he played guitar in the streets for nickels.

In 1947, George got his own radio show where a co-worker nicknamed him "the possum" due to his supposed similarity to the animal. He married his first wife, Dorothy, at the age of 18, but the couple was separated within one year. He then joined the U.S. Marines in 1950. He performed while he was stationed in Southern California. After returning home from Korea in late 1953, George began playing at dances and in clubs all over Southeast Texas. His style caught the attention of a Houston record executive, H.W. "Pappy" Dailey, who helped to prepare the 24-year-old singer for stardom, which didn't take very long. He married his second wife, Shirley, in 1954.

George Jones' first country hit came in 1955 with ‘Why Baby Why.’ This was followed by a brief period as a rockabilly performer. Even though he was asked to perform on the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, he remained in Texas instead of making Nashville his home. That same year, he had several hits, including ‘Yearning,’ a duet with Jeannette Hicks. George had a big hit with ‘White Lightning’ on Mercury records in 1959.

The decade of the 1960's was filled with George Jones hits. These hits included such songs as ‘The Window Up Above’ in 1960, ‘Tender Years’ in 1961, ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ in 1962, ‘The Race Is On’ in1964, and ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ in1967. Georges' second marriage ended in 1968. It wasn't long before he met Tammy Wynette, whom he married the same year. In 1969, George finally joined the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1970, George began working with Tammy's producer, Billy Sherrill, at Epic Records. Despite the differences in the two producers, Sherrill used symphonic strings and other pop instruments, they were able to work successfully together. Some big hits from early 1970's were ‘Take Me,’ with Tammy in 1971 and ‘The Grand Tour’ in 1974. Contrary to the song they had released in 1973, ‘We're Gonna Hold On,’ George and Tammy were headed for divorce.

This began a dark period in George's life. The couple's lives became a Nashville soap opera filled with separations and reconciliations, culminating in 1975 when the two were divorced. It was ironic that George and Tammy continued to record together, and had hits such as ‘Golden Ring’ in 1976. He failed to appear at over fifty concert dates in 1979, earning the nickname "No-Show Jones" from many irate fans and tabloid writers. His doctors warned him to stop drinking and he obliged them by entering an Alabama alcoholism clinic.

George started off the decade of the 1980's in a big way. He won a Grammy Award along with several Country Music Awards for the song ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ in 1980. He followed this success with songs such as ‘If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)’, ‘Still Doin' Time’ in 1981, and ‘Yesterday's Wine,’ with Merle Haggard in 1982.



In 1983, George married his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulveda, who helped him kick his drinking and cocaine addictions. It was because of her support that he was able to close out the decade with hits like ‘I Always Get Lucky With You’ and ‘We Didn't See A Thing,’ with Ray Charles.


George was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. Upon moving to Nashville, he resumed touring, performing at over 100 gigs each year. George's memorable songs from the early 1990's include ‘A Few Old Country Boys,’ with Randy Travis in 1990 and ‘I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair,’ in 1992. George had open-heart surgery in 1994, surviving a successful triple bypass operation at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. ‘I Lived To Tell It All,' George's autobiography co-written with Tom Carter, was published in 1996, and is an honest appraisal of his life.

George was on my list of artists that I hoped to photograph so it is a real joy to share these photos and our casual conversation with you all.


AM: How does it feel to get a lifetime achievement Grammy?


GJ: Well I’ll tell you I kind of dreaded the trip until I got out here and got to meet a lot of people in the business. It’s turned out that I’ve had a wonderful time. It’s a big honor to get this achievement award, even though I wanted to tell them I’m not quite through yet! (laughter) I’m so glad that I did come because it was wonderful to meet the Allman Brothers Band and so many people that I’ve never met before. Thank goodness they knew me and came to me so I got to shake their hands and meet them. I wouldn’t have known a lot of them.


AM: Did you meet Diana Ross?


GJ: Yes I sure did. I got some pictures with her.


AM: How was Glen Campbell?


GJ: It seems to me like he was doing a lot better. I think working with his family, like his daughter and son, has helped him with his tour. I think it’s really made him feel good.


AM: I hope he makes new strides and really does well with his Alzheimer’s.


GJ: That’s a terrible health problem.


AM: You have sure managed to stay healthy for a long time!


GJ: Well I tell you what, the good Lord has kept me around for some reason. I’m trying to figure out why! I’ve had a great career and so far I’m in pretty fair health. I’m ready to go all the time. I drive my wife crazy at home all the time when we’re off the road. I tell her to get up and get some clothes on so we can go do something!


AM: You have the energy of a teenager!


GJ: I’m telling you! The doctor has me on some kind of medicine for every part of my body. He told me I have the blood of a sixteen year old! (laughter) I hope that lasts!


AM: Do you think it’s your passion for the music that has given you this life force?


GJ: I think it is. Being in the business as long as I have, I’ve always been on the go. I can’t sit still. I guess you could say I’m hyper. At my age you’d think I’d be ready to stay at the house.

AM: Some people are ready to call it a day by the time they reach your age.


GJ: I thought I was, so I cut my dates in half. Boy I’ll tell you what, I like to went nuts!!!


AM: In your current show do reach back and sing the classics or stick to new material?


GJ: I’ve got a couple of new ones that I play around with, and some old songs that people probably haven’t paid any attention to on the albums. I do an up-tempo song called 'The Man He Was’ that fit my Dad and probably fit a lot of people’s Dad. Basically I do start off with and pretty much stick with the hits.


AM: Do you have any idea how many albums you’ve recorded?


GJ: No, my wife knows more about that part than I do. I do know we’ve recorded several albums over the years. At one time it was around seventy or eighty. I’m just guessing, but you know they rehash a lot of the same songs and put different covers on them, especially when you’ve been in this business as long as I have.


AM: You are so famous for your duets with Tammy Wynette. I know you have recorded with other people as well. Do any stand out for you?


GJ: When I first started out I recorded with a young lady who just recently passed away. She was about seventy-six. Her name was Jeanette Hicks. We did a song called 'Yearning’ which really did well locally in Houston, Beaumont and in Oklahoma.


AM: What was the first big hit you had?


GJ: The song that really got me started was ‘Why Baby Why’ in 1955.


AM: Do you still sing the duets made famous by you and Tammy?


GJ: Oh yeah! We still do 'Golden Ring.’ I sing that with a girl in my group by the name of Brittany Allen. She is a petite little thing. She knows all those songs and she sings back-up on some other songs. She also sings a couple of songs before I come on stage.


AM: Sounds like you’re still having lots of fun out there.


GJ: Oh yeah! Once I get on stage I perk up and I feel good again, but when I get off stage I pretty much want to sit down.


AM: Do you meet fans after your show?


GJ: I used to, but it’s so hard to do anymore. Most artists now go to their bus and with a little help from my right arm man, Scott, he brings me the albums and pictures and I sign them on the bus. The legs are the first to go they tell me.


AM: What’s going on with Country Music these days? Do you think traditional Country Music will ever come back?


GJ: I really don’t see it ever coming back to the good traditional sound and that’s a shame. The new babies growing up will probably never get to hear that old stuff and they probably won’t care. I’ve always felt that the money people came in and figured this thing out to change it to be hip for young people. That’s where the money is. These kids don’t have any money but they’ll sure get it from their Mama and Daddy. They are gonna get what they want.


AM: That’s true, kids get anything they want these days.


GJ: They are smart selling to the young people but there was no reason for them to cut out the other good music. There is room for the good stuff. They stole our identity because they use the word 'country’ and WE are country. They’ve changed the style, and even though it’s good, to me they need their own name. That’s the way I look at it, but you can’t buck City Hall. I’m certainly not going to try and change them.


AM: You are not alone in your feelings.


GJ: This is the way a lot of older artists feel and you can’t blame us. You certainly can’t blame the people for making money because that’s what it’s all about. They don’t know the love that some of us have for the traditional.


AM: I love traditional Country music. I have always just loved your music.


GJ: Well thank you so much! I just wish they had gone about it a little different way. They just shut us off all together at one time. It’s not the right way to do these things. You just don’t take something as big as what we had and throw it away without regrets. They don’t care about you as a person. They don’t even know who I am in downtown Nashville.


AM: Well you’re a legend no matter how you look at it!


GJ: Thank you, still having my fans is all that matters to me. We still got em’ and that’s the reason we’re still going.

George and his lovely wife Nancy

To learn more about George Jones visit his web site  http://www.georgejones.com/home/

49 comments:

  1. Kate Rossi StuartMarch 11, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Oh Alan! I think this is one of my favorite of your wonderful blogs! I throughly enjoyed reading this. George Jones is without a doubt a living legend in the country music world, and I love that he is still so energetic! The photos are wonderful! I especially like the photo of him and his wife! Bravo!!

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    1. I agree with every word. I have all of George's CDs and some vinyls. Have them downloaded on my PC and my IPOD and play them all the time I'm on my computer, working in the house, driving, etc. Know every word to most of them, my favorites are the ballads. He's the best!

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  2. Awesome, Alan!
    Lucky you!

    - your FB friend, Robert

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  3. To echo Kate "Oh Alan!" George Jones is one of my all-time favorites and you absolutely do him justice (and more). I always get shivers when he hits that George Jones dip in his songs! And the sweetness of "Walk Through this World with Me" still hits my heart (although it's hard to pick a favorite song, there are too many greats). Thought the pics and chat really captured the different facets of his personality -- the energy, the plain-speaking, but also that sweet smile in the pic with his wif. You captured it all. THANK YOU for a great blog on a great man!

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  4. Awwww. Wonderful article and pics. Reminded me of riding in my daddy's pickup truck as a little girl listening to George and all the true country greats. The generation today is missing out!! Thanks Alan!! Xo
    Faeda

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  5. What a great story. George is the greatest of all time. I listen to his music on a regular basis and it always takes me back as I can relate to many of his songs. George Jones is country music and always will be. Country radio today is all bubble gum and it is very sad. Thanks Alan.

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  6. Alan, what a wonderful tribute to the great George Jones!! Along with your always-great shots, to hear him reminisce was a delight. And yet, he's not stuck in the past, showing a zest for living for today, with humility and love for his fans who help to keep him that way. One of the greatest country singers ever!
    (and you are right...his wife is a real knock-out, have never seen pics of her before)

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  7. Great interview and photos are fantastic. I love Jones. No voice can touch his.

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  8. This is wonderful, Alan!

    I lived really close to George in Franklin, TN for several years. Alwawys drove by his place at Christmas time. It truly is a wonderland - there is Christmas music at his gates and all sorts of decorations all around. Even a chair to sit in for a photo.

    He is a true classic and legend! Wonderful about his LA award! Young country stars can learn a lot from his classics.

    Beautiful photos, too! Thanks for sharing!

    Lori

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  9. Alan ,
    What a great blog with the amazing George Jones , still going strong after all these years . I too like you have always loved country music , it was often played on the record player in our home growing up. The traditional country and western like you mentioned in your blog . I am not really of the modern country versions , I love the classics . Of course when thinking of the classics , you can not help to think of George Jones . I also loved it when he sang with Tammy Wynette . I am so glad that George has his life back on track with his lovely wife, and things are going well. Great job , and the photographs are terrific as usual , you are always keeping up the good work ! Have a wonderful week my friend . xoxo John B

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  10. i hope george reads my comment i was in nashville in 2003 with my mom at vanderbilt hosp. when i wrote a letter to him telling him how much my mom and myself enjoyed his singing . my mother cryed when she heard his testimony of turning his life over to Jesus.i just want the world to know he took time out for my mom and sent her a get well card which she showed to everyone that entered her room alonewith the prettist smile i saw her have after her diagnosis of lung cancer.thank you George.for thatmy family has always loved you and always will.in memory of Ruth Justus 268 Robert E. Lee dr.Newport,TN 37821.GOD bless Mr & Mrs.George Jones your the greatest Diane Justus

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  11. What a wonderful person and wonderful tribute to the most fantastic singer ever .. you still have it George and you have my heart ,you have been my favorite since I can remember and I still love those old ones sit and listen to them and sing along with you and so thankful we still have you and you still are so thankful for us the FANS , very few of the new singers get my attention Alan Jackson is about it Sammy Kershaw and the rest as they say are history , So thank you George Jones for your life your history your music and your love for your country and your fans . your are the MAN
    Bonnie Taylor
    Nixa, Mo
    and thank you Alan for such a wonderful article on this man .

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  12. if they dont know who you are jones, they aint nobody important. thank you for being who you are

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  13. This is truly awesome, I grew up listening to George thanks to my wonderful dad, (who is now singing with the Angels in heaven....he sang alot of George' songs but the one he sang the best was he stopped loving her today....it would send chills thru ya as he sang and he did it very well) I still have a hard time listening to George' music due to how much my dad loved him, the last cd my pa had of his was "It don't get any better than this". The song "I can live forever was played at my daddys funeral. I miss him so much, but I carry him with me daily, and George....thank you for who you are....God Bless....Sheila Sewell.

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  14. George still has the purest voice of any country singer today. No one compares with his amazing ability to make a song speak to you. I totally agree that the old songs deserve a place. I think " Good Year For the Roses" is my all time favorite.

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  15. George, if you ever see this, I have always wanted to get to one of your concerts. It would be a highlight of my life. Unfortunately it's too expensive for me, but I bought a cd yesterday, and will continue to look for your music wherever I am.

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    1. Hi Ron:
      I am also a dyed in the wool George Jones fan. I believe I have every CD he's released, and as I am aging,I am putting everything in my Traditional Country Juke box (external hard drive)along with other true Country artists like Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson and a few more. How can I forget, Hank Snow Vinyl LP's, both RCA and Camden.

      There are other artists who I consider Traditional like Steve Wariner, Marty Stewart and of course, Connie Smith, Jim Ed Brown.

      These, once I have catalogued them,will be for sale, but not sell piece meal. All CDs and tons of vinyl like Bobby Bare, Charley Pride, you name it, will all be available

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  16. I agree, they need their own name.The so called Country music today is not the traditional down home country.Party music i call,thats all....made for a young audience.george Jones is king, always was always will be.I think Merle comes in next to him.I love the traditional country as well.George,Tammy,Merle,Hank,Dolly,Porter,Loretta and the list goes on....they are what country music is all about...the real country music.I loved your interview with george, a great read!

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    1. Let them call it what it is - Country Pop

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  17. Mr.Jones,first let me say thank you for what you have given to country music. Iam a small town countryboy from Dixie county, FLORIDA.I would like an autograph picture of you. please! bobby hutchinson, 93 lawvane, dr. crawfordville, fl. 32327-5605, or bobbyhutchinson55@gmx.com. thank you and god bless you.

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  18. Thank you so much for the heartwarming interview and picks. I'm going to see George perform at Casino Rama near Toronto on May 12 and I Can't wait! It will be my first time seeing my all time favorite country singer live and in person. May 12 can't come fast enough. Long live the Possum.

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  19. Thank you for the great article and the pictures.

    George, you just keep goin Brother, I'll always be at your shows. You helped shape the musician I am and I wouldn't change a thing.

    Your fan for 40 years and counting :-)

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  20. Not sure if George's manager knows this, but George could play the Liverpool Empire (Liverpool, England) and the tickets would be sold in minutes. The amount of people I know in Liverpool who are obsessed with the man might surprise people. Understandably, people always assume we're all about the Beatles here. but we're a port city on the West coast of England and many on this side of the country had fathers/uncles/brothers who went to sea on the ships that headed to the U.S. When they returned they brought back records so we got to hear records by Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Kitty Wells and of course..George Jones. I'm too old to really do heroes anymore, but I make an exception in the case of George Jones. A great singer of great songs. Good luck mate! - Eugene

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  21. Caroline Haywood from UKMarch 13, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I agree with Eugene, British audiences would be absolutely delighted to see George over here. I am an enormous George Jones fan and have been for many years, I like many forms of country music old and new and although you may catch me rockin' I'm Country Down to My Soul!
    George's music is the music I listen to the most and always will do, thank you for being you George, I'm,mostly known as Play Me Some Jones in the clubs I go to! I keep requesting you wherever I go.

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  22. George IS the "greatest country singer of all time". I hope to meet him one day.

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  23. Just saw George last weekend in Topeka, KS. He was great. Took my 7 year old son , my brother and mom and dad. My son enjoyed it just like the rest of us. My 2 boys are growing up listening to the classics and they are 7 and 3.

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  24. The best country voice of all time! Not a day has passed me by that I didn't listen to at least one song of Jones! He is my drug of choice and I stay stoned on his voice all the time!!!!!!!!

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  25. Great Job !! Thanks so much..

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  26. I have been the biggest GJ fan as long as I can remember. I even have a GJ tribute room, with memorabilia from the past 40 yrs. but as much as I know about the possum...I really enjoyed reading this..very well done!!! Thanks!

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  27. Alan, this is yet another shining star blog! Your homage to Mr. Jones is just beautiful..Thank you for sharing my friend!

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  28. Seen George many times in Lancaster, PA. The show I most remember was in Harrington, DE at the State Fair, he and Tammy were singing and the lightning came and the thunder rolled.We would not leave our metal seats because someone might take them. I love his duets. His harmony talent is unequaled. Same age as George and now a widow, he sings me to sleep every night. Keep singing, George

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  29. i agree with george jones country music by these new country artists , wearing a white hat
    a plaid shirt and earing in each ear and singing about hicktown dosent make them country
    singers george jones is this the king of what i know to be country music here in ireland

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  30. The part about traditional country and the abrupt country music change hit home..I love the real COUNTRY music and big money has no heart i say lets take back the country lol would make a great song and george i am a big fan glad there are people like you who pays respect to real country artists.

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  31. Great job Alan. I know EXACTLY how you feel,Not only am I a huge GJ fan , I've had the extreme pleasure of promoting 2 of his shows, my 2nd will be may 13th, in Kahnawake, Qc. Both George and Nancy are Amazing people. I've been very lucky to meet George a number of times. Great man ! Thanks Nancy, your a Godsend. Trust me George..WE Know who you are ! "The living Legend". See you soon.

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  32. Michael Thomas EdgeMarch 16, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Enjoyed, as always the interview! My roots in music is gospel. We all know that most country singers learn to first sing in Church. The blend of gospel and country has existed for many years.
    I am so thankful that Mr. Jones has overcome the addictions of his past. That is a wonderfully remarkable thing! I love to hear him sing Gospel...and I wish Him and his lovely wife and family-all the very best in the future!
    That goes for you also, Alan, my friend! Thank you for giving us a glimpse inside the world, and the thoughts of others. We learn from others, if we allow. As a fellow Photographer, kudos!

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  33. What a great looking couple! Long live George Jones!!!!

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  34. LUCKY YOU ALAN: WISH I COULD MEET GEORGE JONES IN PERSON! LOVED THE INTERVIEW!
    GEORGE I'VE SEEN A NUMBER OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO LIKE YOUR MUSIC RECKON, MORE THAN YOU THINK!
    LOVE YOU GEORGE JONES - HOPE YOU AND MS NANCY ARE DOING WELL AND IN GOOD SPIRITS! TAKE CARE AND MAY GOD BLESS!
    LOVE YOUR FAN,
    MARY E FRAZIER

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  35. If they don't know who you are George,they are that dumb.George,your great! Keep on singing!

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  36. Long live King George! I've been listening since I was 5 years old, and 40 years later i'm still listening...

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  37. I go to downtown Nashville about twice a year, they DO know the Great George Jones and ten bucks in the tip jar gets a George Jones song in return!! Great interview, love the pix, thank you!

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  38. George what a wonderful man that you are.
    you can sure show your fans, and other Greats,that you DON'T NEED NO ROCKING CHAIR!We all love you and we are always looking forward to each show you put on.jump up and show um George. love you very much a very close Fan Take Good care of yourself good Job.
    Pictures couldn't be any better than looking at you in person your Beautiful Jennifer

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  39. This is me applauding you Alan. I know you were honored and humbled to have the opportunity to spend time with this legend and I thank you for sharing. I am always in absolute awe of your talents and your ability to capture the essence of your subject. I grew up listening to George as my mother was a huge fan of his, and Tammy, and this was a special walk down memory lane for me. God Bless you both.

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  40. George Jones is my all time favorite! I have grown up with his music my entire life. I have also had the pleasure of seeing him perform live several times once in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry! It was amazing! God Bless George Jones and wishing him a speedy recovery!

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  41. Our Grandchildren love to come over and hear George Jones CDs, My husband and I have been to many, many of your concerts in WI and we love your singing, George. We've also met your lovely wife, Nancy... A fan since 1955..Joyce

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  42. I have LOVED George Jones since I was in diapers, Oh what I would do to meet George~ My heart will forever be country and it is all because of George Jones and a few other greats! My 5 year old daughter even loves George! Don't give up George you will always have fans of many ages! I love you!

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  43. I am in my mid 40's and my family has been listening to all the traditional music singers my whole life. I live in a little place called Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. We are known as the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. My brothers all play some type of instrument - with 3 of the 5 singing:) My 2 oldest brothers play in a band - "every now and then" - called Reformation - they remember George and Tammy coming to play here - my oldest brother John said the hair stood up on the back of his neck when George began to sing:) You know - I feel the same when I hear his music. I can't describe how he makes me feel when he sings - it is indescribable. I cry, I sing along, I closely listen to the words - and then I wish:) Wish that I could meet him in person - I would probably not know what to say:) John sings some of his songs when we get together - especially at the cabin:) He describes George so well:) George has certainly touched our lives:) His song..."Who's gonna fill their shoes" really impacts me - I think of my brother John when I hear this:) I just wanted to say that I am so thenkful to the Lord that Mr. Jones is doing fine:) Thank you for your gifts:) Love you always George - Georgia Davis - PS: I used to live on a street called Cabot Crescent - when me and my husband began courting - he used to sing to me..."that pretty little lady from down on Cabot with the Birch trees in her yard"

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  44. DEAR GEORGE JONES I ABSOLUTELY LOVE YOUR MUSIC SEEN YOU TWICE IN CONCERT PLAY YOUR SONGS REGULARLY IN MY LOCAL BAND YOU ARE ALWAYS REQUESTED THANKS FOR TEACHING US ALL WHAT COUNTRY MUSIC REALLY IS YOUR FAN FOREVER CRAIG A GILLARD

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  45. Dear George I love all your songs...I tell people George didnt record any bad songs..I have many of your cassettes and cds..I alwayes buy 2 one to listen to and one to keep unopened...I also collect anything I can find that has your name or picture...I have been blessed to see you in concerts a few times and I plan on going to one this year I just cant imagine life without you..THANKS FOR KEEPING IT COUNTRY

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  46. Just spoke to George at restaurant in Nasville tonight. He just got out of hospital. He and Nancy looked great. Best wishes for continued recovery

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