Riding with the King – George Jones’ Last Interview

Originally published in our special May 20, 2013 issue featuring George Jones on the cover shortly after his death on April 26 in Nashville at age 81.

When I awoke the morning of Feb. 27, I never imagined that an hour later I’d be walking through the front door of the home of the greatest country singer who ever lived.

I’d long been trying to secure an interview with George Jones, but some recurring health issues had sidetracked the 81-year-old and he, understandably, didn’t feel up to chatting. 

So the phone call I received from George’s longtime publicist, Kirt Webster, that late-winter morning was quite the surprise. George had agreed to give a talk to his granddaughter Breann’s music history class and I was invited to attend and interview him on the way to the high school. 

“Well, you know, the age of me, I just don’t have that push,” he shared with me. “And hell . . . an old car gets 81, it starts sputtering.”

But when I was writing the story about George, which appeared in CW’s April 15 issue, never did I think that it’d be the last interview he would ever give. 

Hurrying to get dressed and make my way to the Possum’s kingdom in Franklin, Tenn., I was soon in George’s kitchen chatting with his wife, Nancy, as we waited for him to appear. 

George loved to drive. Already up and ready for his big day, he had apparently gotten bored with sitting around and decided to take a joy ride through the neighborhood. Sure enough, a few minutes later he came cruising along the driveway, pulling up in front of the garage.

Climbing into the backseat, I couldn’t quite comprehend that George Jones was behind the wheel, that I was being chauffeured by the defining voice of country music. Not to mention one of the most infamous drivers, who, in a now near mythical tale, once commandeered a lawn mower for a thirsty ride into town.

As he drove, George was in good spirits, holding forth on a number of topics, from Willie Nelson’s playlist on his satellite-radio station—he jokingly thought Willie played too many of his own songs; “He’s either singing with somebody or he’s on there about every fourth record,” George quipped—to the idea of turning his home into a Graceland-type tourist attraction. He summed up that notion with a dismissive “sh-t.”

Perhaps most tellingly, he even opened up about his decision to quit touring, suggesting that his health was partially to blame.

“Well, you know, the age of me, I just don’t have that push,” he shared with me. “And hell . . . an old car gets 81, it starts sputtering.”

The love and trust between George and his wife of 30 years, Nancy, however, was still running as smoothly as ever (see the cover story on page 26). At times during the drive, they were downright playful. When George asked if it was clear to make a left turn, Nancy joked, “Yes—except for that truck.” 

But it was at the school where George really opened up. Surrounded by his granddaughter’s classmates, he talked at length about hiding his guitar in the woods near his schoolhouse, and sneaking back and forth to play it before class. He discussed his battles with booze, the car crash in 1999 that nearly took his life and even that lawn-mower escapade.

The students were certainly wowed by George’s tales, but I’m not quite sure all of them grasped the importance of the audience they were given. It was George’s first time ever addressing a class—something Nancy said he had planned to do more of after he retired—and, sadly, his last. Just two months later, almost to the day, George would pass away in a Nashville hospital on Friday, April 26. Coincidentally, the Friday prior, the man who first introduced me to George’s music also passed: my grandfather, likewise named George.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was the good Lord and marrying a good woman.”

The timing of it all wasn’t lost on me, the way life often mysteriously comes full circle. Nor, when talking to George Jones, did it appear it was lost on him.

He talked a lot that morning about maintaining one’s focus so that you’re able to see God’s signs.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was the good Lord and marrying a good woman. I think they got together and straightened me up,” George said.

“Your mind needs to stay very clear,” he continued, as if knowing he was finally seeing things clearly himself, “because you’ll grow up with the wrong people around you and you’ll never get your life straightened up. Unless some good miracle comes along.”

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