George Jones: Making the Right Choices (1999)
Originally published in our July 27, 1999 issue featuring George Jones on the cover. The article is reprinted here in its entirety.
George Jones got our attention on March 6, when he slammed his Lexus into a bridge in Tennessee. But when he released his new single, “Choices,” he reminded us why we care about him so much.
“I just can’t believe all this is happening. Radio’s playing me, and I didn’t think I’d ever see that again.”
It’s his first Top 40 solo hit in nearly six years. “I just can’t believe all this is happening,” says the singing legend. “Radio’s playing me, and I didn’t think I’d ever see that again.
“You know, what goes around comes around. When Randy Travis first started, it came back to traditional country. And it’s working a little bit like that now.”
George can afford to be gracious to radio, with “Choices” climbing the charts. He didn't always feel that way, since radio mostly ignored his music for much of the ’90s. “At first I was very mad, disgusted and teed off,” he recalls. “Then I realized what radio was doing. They were catering to the younger fans.
“Now, I can see where we’re not the best-looking guys in the world anymore,” he says, laughing, “so I want to thank radio for giving me another chance. I'm the happiest man in the world.”
The Car Crash
Staring at death will make a man feel that way. George remembers the moments before the crash. “The day of the wreck I picked up a tape of rough mixes,” he recalls.
“I was talking to my daughter on the phone and trying to rewind it back to ‘Choices.’ I never could find the doggone thing. I was cussing it and talking to her at the same time and leaning towards the tape deck. Well, you take your eye off the road just one or two seconds and that's all it takes.”
“I know a lot of people ain’t gonna believe me, but it put the fear of God in me this time. There won’t ever be any more drinking.”
In the days following the crash, it came to light that George had been drinking and driving—a startling bit of news, since he had publicly professed sobriety for the past decade. He later explained that a series of personal problems and professional pressures had indeed caused him to fall off the wagon, but he vowed he would never do so again.
In the wake of the crash, “Choices,” from George's new Asylum Records album, Cold Hard Truth, sounds like a confession. “I know a lot of people are thinking that it was just a gimmick to put that song out because I had my wreck,” explains George. “But actually we picked that to be the single two days before the wreck.
I've had choices since the day that I was born
There were voices that told me right from wrong
If I had listened, no, I wouldn't be here today
Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.
“If you’ll stop to think,” he continues, “there’s not anybody alive who doesn’t have something they wish they could go back and change because they made the wrong choice.
“It’s changed my whole attitude toward life,” says George. “I know a lot of people ain’t gonna believe me, but it put the fear of God in me this time. There won’t ever be any more drinking. I’ve even quit smoking, and I don't even drink coffee anymore. In other words, like Hank Williams said, I saw the light.”
George and His Career Reborn
Since the release of Cold Hard Truth, George's career has also been reborn. “Choices” is his 142nd chart hit, a vintage slice of hard country. “I think it’s got the best sound and some of the best songs I’ve ever had,” says George. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve done in many, many years.”
As he’s done for more than 40 years, George mixes tears and laughter. Weepers like “The Cold Hard Truth” sit alongside rowdy songs like “You Never Know Just How Good You’ve Got It.”
“I like to play with those party type of songs, even though they’re usually not the hit material,” says George. “Of course every now and then you’ll get one that'll be a hit like ‘White Lightning’ or ‘The Race Is On,’ but they're hard to find. You’ve got to have songs like that so you don’t just do a straight ballad show.
“Though I think people would really rather hear me sing ballads, and I can sink my teeth into those.”
George has never been afraid to tackle mournful subjects. “On this record there’s about four songs pertaining in some way to death, like the last cut on the CD, ‘When the Last Curtain Falls.’
“There’s one song on the album I’d like to be a single, ‘Our Bed of Roses,’” says George. “I don’t know if it’s too sad or what, but heck, I was leery about ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’”—his 1980 weeper about love and death. “Back then it was happy songs and love songs but not that. I called it morbid for a while, and it scared me because it was too sad. But boy, how wrong I was! I think people love those, because it’s happened to a lot of people.”
One Thing After Another
George’s well-publicized alcohol and drug problems caused him to miss shows in the ’70s and ’80s and earned him the nickname “No Show Jones.” Last year his ex-wife Tammy Wynette passed away, and he lost his contract with MCA Records. Then his wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with basilar artery migraine, a condition which is caused by an abnormal dilation of and decreased bloodflow in the artery that serves the posterior region of the brain. She suffered dizziness, nausea and loss of motor control.
“About five years ago we had her in the hospital,” explains George. “They had specialists in there running all kinds of tests, trying to find out what caused the problem. But they never did find out.
“She’d have light attacks every now and then. But then last year it got to where she started walking into walls and staggering, even going blind for a few seconds. Her head got to bobbing side to side and she couldn't control it. It was about 10 times worse than a migraine. It scared all of us to death.
“Finally two other doctors figured it out and she’s doing great now. She’s taking medicine, and she’ll probably have to take it the rest of her life, but at least they got it under control.”
“Then [Tammy] passed away, and that was right during the time we were having this problem with Nancy. Plus, I was worried about this album and I had some personal problems with my boys in Texas. It was one thing or another.”
Nevertheless, the ordeal took its toll on George. “I think that’s one reason I fell off the wagon,” he says. “I had just made friends again with Tammy and we did an album and a short tour together. We thought we might be able to do some other things together down the road.
“Then she passed away, and that was right during the time we were having this problem with Nancy. Plus, I was worried about this album and I had some personal problems with my boys in Texas. It was one thing or another.”
But he makes no excuses for taking up the bottle again. “You can’t put an excuse on what I did. I’m old enough and should know not to mess with that stuff when I can’t handle it.
“It’s like that old tale about the 90-year-old man who says, ‘Doggone, if I had known I was gonna live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.’ You’ve just gotta be thankful that you’re still alive—which I am—and try to get away from that type of living and live a normal happy life.”
Something To Be Grateful For
One thing George can’t seem to escape is being called a legend. “It’s an honor,” he says sheepishly. Then, with a laugh, he adds, “It reminds you of your age!
“The good Lord gave me a voice, though, and as long as I can use it I ought to be happy. If you can still sing and carry a tune, that’s something to be grateful for.”
As is a new hit single. “At my age this is almost like starting over,” he says. “But I appreciate it, and I’d like to keep recording. And I want to keep performing as long as the people want me to.
“Country music is like a religion to me. I just love country music.”