Once You've Heard the Best

Back when George Jones was a fresh-faced 59-year-old king o’ country, he did Zell Miller a favor and hosted a singing party in Atlanta to celebrate the Governor’s election. It was January, 1991 and the missiles were about to launch into Iraq. My friend and mentor Geri Allen was assigned to represent The King Center at the Governor’s inauguration party, and she took me along with her, since it was King Week in Atlanta and I did pretty much everything she asked. I remember that she wore an anti-war button which attracted a television camera or two.

Along with George came Marty Stuart, Alan Jackson, Dickey Lee, and I believe Ricky Skaggs. Was Randy Travis there, too? Anyway, it was quite a lineup.

What I remember clearly is that it was the first time I’d seen George Jones live and his voice was bigger than life. I simply could not believe the sound that came from that man’s living voice. I went home and scooped up every Jones cassette that I could find and listened to them over and over during my 90 mile commutes from Austin to College Station and back.

Some singers you need the recordings for, because that’s the best they sound. Not George. As great as he sounds in the studio, there is something about his voice that just doesn’t get adequately captured by any amount of electronic wizardry.

At the 2008 Austin Rodeo on Sunday, Jones was 17 years down the road from the Atlanta glory days, and who can take issue with the things nature does to a man. But still, there was a sweetness to the voice, and a slow-hand soul that still brings out the goose bumps, the tears, and the sheer joy of grinning at what’s beautiful to hear.

God bless you, George Jones, and the truck you rode out on. As you waved from the window of the official rodeo truck that spun you around the arena, we kinda wondered, did you get a call from Willie warning you not to ride in the back of that damned thing?–gm

NOTE: these reflections on George Jones were originally posted in the “announcements” section of the Texas Civil Rights Review. The reference to Willie Nelson should be better explained. At the March 4 Rodeo, after Willie performed an encore song with great-grandson Zach, “Take Back America,” the two Nelsons climbed into the back of the official Rodeo pickup truck for the usual lap around the arena. Only, what happened was that when the the truck came to the “speed bump” of wooden planks that was laid down over the concert wiring, the truck threw both Nelsons back on their backsides. Sure enough, they both jumped right back up, so the incident didn’t break the mood of jubilation that was alive in the crowd. But the more you thought about it later, the more it made you sore. And come to think of it, Willie was not able to focus his eyes very much on the people after that, although he kept waving and smiling to the cheering crowd. It was real rodeo work for the Nelson boys that night, and that’s for sure.

PS: What else would account for the fact that our busiest hour in history fell on Tuesday afternoon, March 11? It had to be the rodeo report that was added to the “announcements” section, with mention of two talented Texans, George Jones and Willie Nelson. We reported, you decided. After all, amigo, this is the Texas Civil Rights Review!–gm

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