Even back in 1980 when George “The Possum” Jones received a Grammy Award, I regarded him as an old fogey who should step aside for the younger set, such as, well, um, Kenny Rogers.
But that’s “yesterday’s whine.” I’ve matured over the years. Life experiences have left me more appreciative of the man and his music. So I’m glad that his friends are helping him celebrate his 75th birthday at the Grand Ole Opry September 12.
“Living legend” Jones is to be treasured for his masterful handling of his role as a link between the dear, departed country pioneers and the hot young stars of today. He stands as a reminder of the days when there was no Country Music Television channel or Country Music Association, when songs weren’t “vocal events,” when the hay bales on the stage were more important than the badonkadonks sitting on them.
Jones has not been afraid to use his songs and autobiography to exorcise the personal demons that have haunted him, but he is to be lauded for being less in-your-face political than some celebrities. He certainly could have loaned his song “The Race Is On” to Al Gore after the 2000 election. (“The winner loses on...”) There has been no Hurricane Katrina FEMA mismanagement ditty (“I don’t need your rockin’ chair...but a free plasma TV, tattoos, spa visits, and trailer sound mighty tempting...”), no “A Picture Of Me Without Jack Abramoff Sticking Bribe Money In My *&%$^ Pocket,” no child labor diatribes such as “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes (After They’ve Been Made For 50 Cents A Day)?”
Jones has not been afraid to work outside of his “comfort zone,” On the album “Kickin’ Out The Footlights...Again,” he and Merle Haggard sing each other’s songs. The idea intrigued Pres. Bush and led to a late-night phone call to the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. (“C’mon, you take over my crises and I’ll take yours. Condoleezza says it’ll be a hoot.”)
On the other hand, Jones knows when to reject a project. He absolutely will not be starring with Samuel L. Jackson in the sequel “Possums On A Plane!”
Likewise, Jones maintained the common touch in songs such as “High Tech Redneck” and “We’re Not The Jet Set,” but he is not so crass as to have adapted his poignant masterpieces for commercials. You won’t hear “Segway Through This World With Me.” Nor will you see The Proctology Center advertised with “The Grand Tour” or Sex Changes R Us advertised with “He Stopped Being Her Today.”
Jones has learned to diversify. Although he still headlines nearly 100 concerts a year, he does not eat, sleep, and breathe the music industry. He has launched a line of sausage, hamburger patties, marinades, barbecue sauces, and “George Jones White Lightning” bottled water. He is also planning to open a Southern-style diner called Possum Holler in Enterprise, Alabama. Just seems like customers would be nervous about perusing the menu with certain Jones classics playing in the background. (“...living and dying with the choices I’ve made...”)
Perhaps it is appropriate that I close with a song. “Just because I wrote a column about him, heeeee thinks I still care.” Well, I do. Happy birthday, George!
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”.
This column was originally published in 2006, marking the 75th birthday of George Jones.