The Life of George Jones Part 2: “I’ve Lived More in My Life Than 10 Men Live in Theirs” (1996)
Part two of a two-part sample from George’s autobiography.
For 35 frenzied years, hard-living George Jones was hooked on booze, and before he hit bottom, he also became addicted to cocaine. In this final excerpt from his compelling autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, the legendary country star reveals how far he fell—the drunken rages, the wild, bar-busting brawls, and the time he became the prime suspect in a murder case.
I took a lot of whiskey when I was young. Then the whiskey took me for 35 years.
I’ve traveled a roundabout way to the top. Sometimes my path has taken me back to the bottom. I’ve stood tall in the spotlight and I’ve lain drunk on the floor. I’ve lived more lives in mine than 10 men do in theirs.
Booze was always easy to come by. Folks were always wanting to buy me a drink and they’d get mad if I turned them down. They didn’t get mad very often.
Once, when I was trying to stay sober, the owner of a Baltimore nightclub insisted on having a drink with me. “I’m paying the bills around here, and I’ve given George Jones a week’s worth of work,” he said. “Does he think he’s too good to drink with me?”
So after my last show I told him, “OK, my friend. Break out the bottle.” We killed a fifth of whiskey and got into another. Then I got out of my mind. I threw an ashtray at a mirror behind the bar, and glass flew in all directions.
I broke glasses, smashed mirrors, bent metal chairs, broke the legs off tables, tore down curtains and shattered whiskey bottles.
The club owner jumped on me and I beat the hell out of him. I’m glad I had already been paid for my week’s work. He ran out of the room and I was never invited back to play his club.
In 1959, I was traveling in a car with Mel Tillis and some other entertainers. I had just gotten my arm out of a cast (it was broken in a fight) when Mel and I began to argue. I took a swing at him from the backseat.
Mel recently recalled what happened: “The next thing I knew, here came a fist from over the backseat. I held George’s arm down as hard as I could over the top of the seat so he couldn’t swing at me again.
“George hollered at me, `Goddammit, you’ve broke my same arm!’ And I had,” Mel said. “I had broken his very same arm, and we had to take him back to the hospital to have it put in a cast all over again.”
When I was coming up, you weren’t a bona fide country star until you had a bus with your name written in big letters on the side. My first bus in 1962 was a used, dented and rusty contraption, with bare sheet-metal walls inside. My band, the Jones Boys, called it “The Gas Chamber.” Diesel fumes seeped through the floor into the cabin and it had no air conditioning. Have you ever traveled in solid steel across a steaming highway with a hot engine in the summertime?
There was no ventilation—until I got drunk and emptied a pistol into the floor. Our air conditioning was bullet holes. When we moved, air leaked in slowly.
Johnny PayCheck played steel guitar in my band, and our friendship has stood through the years even when we couldn’t stand each other. One night, we were drunk and got into an argument somewhere in Virginia. I ordered Johnny to pull the car to the side of the road and get out. I told him I was going to whip his butt.
Johnny jumped out of the car—and I locked the car doors. In seconds, Johnny saw nothing but taillights. I left him stranded, but one of the guys hounded me for an hour to go back and pick him up.
Shortly before daybreak, we found him walking. A policeman pulled me over for reckless driving. I told him I was looking for that guy over there, pointing to Johnny. The cop approached Johnny, who said he’d never seen me before in his life. Later, Johnny and I had a good laugh about it.
In November 1965, after playing at a club near Houston, we were heading south when suddenly a news bulletin came on the car radio: “Country music singer George Jones, if you’re listening, call the Houston Police Department immediately!”
Police said I was the last one to see Jacqueline Young, the president of my fan club, alive. She had been drinking and taking pills when she climbed in my van just before I did my last show. When I returned after the show, she was gone.
A few hours after I saw her, Jacqueline Young, age 25, was found dead inside her car, four miles from where she’d been seen with me. She’d been beaten with a tire iron, then strangled to death. And I was the primary suspect. A sheriff’s lieutenant quoted in a newspaper story said Jackie had attended my show and gotten on board my camper. I was being indirectly tried by the newspapers.
Later, another newspaper headline accused me of knowing more than I was telling investigators. The fact is, my band and I knew nothing, and we cooperated fully. A week after the murder, I and members of my band were cleared after taking polygraph tests.
In the summer of 1966, gas station worker Victor Eugene Miller II admitted he killed Jackie. He was convicted and handed a life sentence. But the damage to my reputation had been done.
Once when I was slobbering drunk I went to Waylon Jennings’ house. He was really high himself, at the peak of his cocaine addiction. I was raising hell inside his house and finally began to doze off.
Waylon decided that since I was almost asleep, I would pass out if he gave me an enormous glassful of straight booze. Then he left me alone. The sugar in that much alcohol quickly energized me, and I began carrying on again.
Waylon came back into the room and I hurled a picture with a solid metal frame directly at him. I proceeded to demolish much of his furniture and art. I did all of this to a man who’d been a longtime and proven friend.
Waylon called for his friends to help. I kicked his guitar player and broke his thumb. That put him out of work. Waylon sat on me, then yelled for a rope. They tied me up and threw me on his couch. I was helpless but cussing him all the while.
After I slept it off, they untied me and I walked out as if nothing had happened.
I’ve been sober for several years now. I’ll have a beer on a hot day, and an occasional glass of wine before dinner. I don’t drink whiskey at all. People write and ask me how to help a friend or loved one stop drinking, but I’ve never understood why.
They should be asking my wife Nancy. I had been drunk for 35 years before meeting her. Within two years after meeting Nancy, I was mostly sober. Most of all, I’d remind anyone who wants to get away from drug or alcohol addiction that they can, no matter how many times they’ve failed in the past.
If George Jones can get sober, anyone can.
Today’s Young Country Clones Are Singing Mush, Says Possum
George Jones minces no words when it comes to today’s Stetson-topped crop of young country stars, as well as the “musical mush” they’re performing.
In this scathing excerpt from his autobiography, the Possum lays it on the line:
“I don’t care much for many of today’s young country singers. They’re not country. They’re clones. Many got their recording contracts because they sound like someone else. Record label big shots are looking for another Garth, Reba or Alan.
“If Randy Travis had come to Nashville last month, he probably wouldn’t have gotten a record deal. He’s too good and too original. And he doesn’t wear a cowboy hat or pimple cream.
“And I’m always complaining about the lack of good songs today. Nashville has more songwriters writing weaker songs than at any other time. The songs that reach No. 1 today sell 1 or 2 million copies, but are forgotten in less than a year. `I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)’ was a hit for Hank Williams 44 years ago. Its lyrics couldn’t be more simple—or more profound:
Today I passed you on the street
And my heart fell at your feet,
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.
Somebody else stood by your side
And he looked so satisfied,
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.
“There’s no telling how many hundreds of artists have cut that song. Today a song goes No. 1 for the artist who records it, and no one else ever wants to cut the tune. They’d rather write their own rush job, publish it, make a fortune, then write more musical mush.
“The songs of Hank, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and a few others will live forever. Yet those artists can’t even get airplay.
“I worry about the future of a country music community that has no respect for its history. There has never been a time when country radio was so disrespectful of its elders. I’m saddened.”
From the book I Lived to Tell It All, by George Jones and Tom Carter.
Copyright © 1996 by George Jones. Reprinted with permission of Villard Books.