RIDIN' IN STYLE

George Jones reclines in a plush white leather chair. It's a sunny day at his estate south of Nashville. But George and wife Nancy aren't relaxing in their home - they're on George's new 45-foot tour bus parked next to their stables and barn.

"We practically live on it," acknowledges George. "We spend probably about 40 percent of our time on this bus."

And what a bus it is!

Unlike the cramped, uncomfortable tin machines of old, this bus is a mansion on wheels. From the big-screen TV mounted above

the windshield to the bus' expanding sides - which create many additional square feet of living space - it's a place fit for a king.

"I like to watch television when we're going down the road," reveals George. "I watch my shows and wait until it's time to go onstage. It's like home. I have my regular clothes and my stage clothes on here. After the show, I can take a shower, shave, do whatever I need to do - and then get in the bed as we go down the highway to the next show."

George laughs when he remembers how he used to travel.

"In the old days we always got five or six of us in a station wagon pulling an instrument trailer," notes George. "There was a little place in the front of the trailer to hang your clothes. And we'd be sitting up trying to sleep, driving about 500 miles every night to the next date.

"It wasn't the easiest way to go with that many people in one vehicle. It was pretty rough. But we were young and we never noticed it. We always had a good time. If these young artists had to travel that way today, they wouldn't do it."

George is thankful that he's hanging in there with today's young artists. His current duet with Garth Brooks, "Beer Run," is Top 30 and rising.

"I never dreamed I'd have another hit at my age," confesses George. "But I have to tell you the truth - it does feel good. It's great to have a chance, at this time in my life, to be in the public's eye again. I'm enjoying it all. The only thing is ..." he adds with a laugh, "it's going to make me work more!"

George is already working plenty, performing about 125 shows a year. "I want to cut it down to about 70," he admits, "which I think will happen next year." But if the early success of his new album, The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001, continues at its encouraging pace, he may not be able to slow down.

"I thought I was going to quit recording before I did that last album, Cold Hard Truth," he says. "But they talked me into doing it. I think the wreck had a lot to do with the sales of the album. A lot of sympathy was there."

"The wreck" George refers to - the serious 1999 accident in which alcohol was found in George's SUV - changed his life for good. "The Lord works in mysterious ways, and it all worked out for the best," confides the now non-drinker. "It made a different person out of me."

But sharp eyes may notice the fully stocked wine cabinet on George's bus.

Even though you see the wine here on the bus, I don't drink anything anymore but water," declares George. "I don't drink coffee. I don't smoke anymore. I've quit everything.

"But I always thought that wine cabinet was beautiful, the way they built it into the wall. I told Nancy she didn't have anything to worry about. She said, 'I know.' She knows me when I've made my mind up about something."

George turns in his recliner and points to the front of the bus. "I believe this is my favorite area," he confesses. "There's a little more room to maneuver around when the wife is cooking. It's like a kitchen and den combined, just like in a house. Nancy cooks everything in here - a lot of beans and cornbread."

"This couch is my favorite thing," explains Nancy. "George will be in his chair over there watching TV and I'll be on the couch. It feels like we're at home. George likes to watch the Lifetime, USA and PAX channels."

"I like movies, too," adds George. "I like dramas, Westerns - but you can't get any good Westerns anymore."

"Oh man, I'm sick of Westerns!" teases Nancy. "I've seen every John Wayne movie ever made."

Nancy casts a loving glance toward George. "What I love most about being on the bus is we're not in such a big house," she says. "We can communicate with each other right here instead of hollering, 'Honey, where are you?' It makes it a cozy place."

George even keeps his band in the lap of luxury - they travel with him in their own expandable bus. "I had a whole band quit one time," recalls George with a grin. "I threatened to put them back in a station wagon. They were already spoiled with a bus - they were not going to go back to a station wagon!"

The afternoon sun casts a warm glow on George's castle on wheels. Looking at his comfortable surroundings, the 70-year-old entertainer is glad to have survived the tough times - and thankful to still be in the game.

"It's great being able to face a new audience every night and have them accept me," he says humbly. "I'm having a good time and enjoying myself, just like they are. As long as that continues to happen, I don't pay attention to the rough parts, the ups and downs. You just learn to live with that - and enjoy the hour and a half you're onstage."

And, of course, the many hours he spends with Nancy inside his castle on wheels.

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