Interview: One on One with George Jones

George Jones: Kickin’ Out The Footlights Again

They live the kind of life most men only dream of, and despite the turbulent and ungrateful times we are all witnessing, they can still make their living writing and singing songs. Today they proudly display their silver shades of grey; after all, they are a whole lot older now, which turns out to be a positive thing…so many good ones did not make it to their aging days. But that is not all that has changed. Now they sure have a place to go when it’s over. The old days, and its troubled times, are long time gone. So they have no need to hide their age to go on stage and  kick out the footlights again. But they will kick them out anyway, because they still know what Country Music is all about.

George Jones and Merle Haggard are back in the studio, together, for the first time in twenty five years. And for those who appreciate a job well done and a great Country song, these two giants will deserve nothing but hats tipping and profound admiration. As simple as that.

“Kickin’ out the footlights…Again” (Bandit Records, 2006) is a tribute to both masters, by both of them. It does not get much better than that. Four duet songs (Hag’s “Footlights” and “Born with the blues”, Atchinson and Hazelwood’s western swing “Sick, sober & Sorry” and Duke Ellington’s “Don’t get around much anymore”), and a selection of hits taken straight from both of their song books (“She thinks I still care” and “The race is on” on Haggard’s voice, and “The way I am” and “I think I’ll just stay here and drink” on Possum’s, for example), that present Merle Haggard and George Jones at their best. Something to feel wonderful about.

It is an album of greatness. And album of old memories brought back to be transformed into something new, something extraordinary, and equally, if not more, special. An album filled with true words and pure Country Music. And album of pride and an album of frienship. Produced by Keith Stegall and completed by the art of studio musicians like Stuart Duncan (mandolin and fiddle), Paul Franklin (Steel guitar), Larry Franklin (fiddle), Pig Robbins (Piano), Eddie Bayers (Drums) or Brent Mason (Electric and Acoustic Guitars), and the background vocals of  Country angels like Rhonda Vincent. And perfected by the voices of Merle Haggard and George Jones.

It has been an honor, one more time. And it is all for Country Music’s sake.

Esther Berlanga-Ryan – What can you say about George Jones today?

George Jones – Well, I am still touring, singing and loving Country Music. I am doing what I love to do, what I have always done, and that is always good. And then there is my wife Nancy, and my family. I am a lucky man.

E.B-R – And what can you say about Merle Haggard?

G.J. – He is a great talent, and a great friend to me. We have known each other for a long, long time, and I love singing with him, I always have. It is great fun! And it sure is Country to the core.

E.B-R – What can’t you say about either one of you?

G.J. – (Laughs) Well, I can’t say, can I? Some things can’t be told, that´s all (Laughs).

E.B-R – How did this project develop for the two of you?

G.J. – The truth is that we had wanted to do a project together again for years. It is just not that easy to arrange it, I guess. We both are pretty busy, and it is hard to figure things out sometimes. We just finally worked it out with our schedules, and we got in the studio. It has turned out to be a great album!

E.B-R – Tell me about the duet songs on this album.

G.J. – Well, you know us! (Laughs) They were so much fun to do! The thing about Merle and me is that we are first good friends, and then we love and respect each other. Country Music comes naturally between us, and recording and singing together is always a blast. He is one of the most talented men I know in this business, and I am so happy we finally had a chance to work on this project! It has been great, great fun.

E.B-R – I’m a Jazz fan myself…Why Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”?

G.J. – It is a very good song, I love it. I always wanted to cut a Country version to it, and I finally had a chance to do it for this album. It felt just perfect.

E.B-R –  Why did you pick these five Haggard songs? (as a way to salute your long time friend)

G.J. – Well, not only to salute him. I love the songs, all of them, and I wanted to salute all the writers. One of the most important things about Country Music is the words. Without a song writer that pours his own heart out in a piece of paper we would have nothing to really sing about. I love Country Music, it is my life.

E.B-R – Why now? Why is this “Kickin’ out the footlights…Again” happening now?

G.J. – The timing was just right, that is the best answer I can give you ! (Laughs). Sometimes it takes a little more time to make something happen, and when it does it is that much more important!

E.B-R – What’s the best thing to say about this album?

G.J. – This album is Real Country Music, or at least what I perceive as Real Country Music. It is true, and it is honest. Great songs. It is everything that makes this music worthwhile to me. I wouldn’t want it any other way. There is so much confusion nowadays. All that music those new artists are recording…I don’t know…It is just not what I understand as Country Music.

E.B-R – Still Country to the core?

G.J. – Through and through, Esther, through and through.

E.B-R – It’s been about two years since I first interviewed you, and you haven’t stopped working all along. Where are you getting all the energy from?!

G.J. – Believe it or not it all comes from clean living. I feel so much better lately. I have been a very wild man, and that was not very smart, I guess. It was all part of the way things were back then. But everything is different today, and I feel so much better. I am enjoying life now, and I am enjoying my family too. It does not get much better than that.

E.B-R – What’s the most important thing about Country Music to George Jones?

G.J. – Just keeping it Country, that is the most important thing. And it is all because that is what my fans want, and I really don’t want to let them down. You need to be honest, that is the only way to sing Country Music. Otherwise it will not be Country. Things are changing way too much, and I do not feel comfortable with most of it.

E.B-R – Everybody seems to keep it cool today. What’s so bad about being a bad boy in Country Music nowadays?

G.J. – It is very simple: this is a big business, and you can’t get the reputation for being bad. Not a good one anyway. It is frowned upon. Artists need to control themselves much more than we had to forty years ago. It is much better for their health and their career, anyway. So it is all good, for a change.

E.B-R – And what was so good about being bad?

G.J. – Hmmmm…(silence)..I can’t say that there was anything good about it. It was not good for me or any of my peers really. It was just the way we were living, the way it was, which doesn’t make it right. And it sure wasn’t safe. Everything was different, that´s all.

E.B-R – Do you miss the outlaw days?

G.J. – No, absolutely not…(Silence)..They aren’t good memories, so I don’t care to remember it. I had all kinds of problems because of it, and I hurt those who are important to me, my family and my fans…It is not something to miss, is it? I try not to look back too much. My life is today, and tomorrow. And I have learned my lessons.

E.B-R – “An empty bottle, a broken heart and you’re still on my mind…”, what’s Honky Tonk music to you?

G.J. – That is easy. Honky Tonk music is songs about cheatin’, drinkin’ and partyin’. The hurtin’ side of life, the one that we all understand, and can relate to, one way or another.

E.B-R – Do you think Honky Tonk music is a thing of the past, or do they just want us to believe so?

G.J. – Well…I worry it is, but people are still human, they cheat, and they drink, and they love Honky Tonks. Nobody can change that, not even the big corporations. People relate to Honky Tonk music, and that is just the way it will always be. 

E.B-R – What would you say to Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb or Lefty Frizzell today about the way things are going?

G.J. – It ain’t what it used to be. To quote some great song writers, “Country ain’t Country no more”. Hank, Ernest Tubb and Lefty would have a lot to say about this whole situation, I am sure. Everything they believed in, wrote and sang about is pretty much gone. I would be ashamed of showing them what Country Music has become. But there are still some of us that are keepin’ it Country, and that sure makes my life that much more worthwhile.

E.B-R – What do you say to yourself every day?

G.J.-  In fact, it is more what I say to the Lord every day…”Thank you for another day and for all my many blessings”.

Esther Berlanga-Ryan®

Special thanks to Nancy Jones

One Response to “Interview: One on One with George Jones”

  1. Frank Riley Says:

    Just a great piece of music work-love you two greatest country singer s ongwriters. Particularly like “Born With The Blues”. Would like to know who wrote this song. My e-mail address is bvrc @ Thankyou so much.

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