Where do I begin discussing the impact George Jones has had on my life? How many times has my path been crossed by this man with the golden baritone? Do you remember the first time you ever heard “He Stopped Loving Her Today”? I do. I was in my grandfather’s truck headed off to gather up supplies for whatever his current do-it-myself project happened to be, when WLAU-AM played it, and even as a teenager who was supposed to be rebelling against the music of my parents and grandparents, I was positively riveted.
It’s funny when I look back over my career, because WLAU would, some years later, become the first radio station to give me an job. Back then you could pretty well play whatever you felt like during your shift, and I made it a mission to play some George Jones before that first day ended.
My Dad was the biggest George Jones fan that I knew. He talked about him all the time. My one regret concerning him is that I was never able to arrange a meeting between the two of them. Every time an opportunity would present itself, there was always some kind of conflict between their schedules. I guess I should have had Dad’s people call George’s people more often. I did get an autographed photo of George to give to my Dad, and I had planned on giving it to him two years ago for Christmas. Sadly, my Dad passed away before I got the chance. That has bothered me for a long time, but today I thought to myself that if Heaven announces incoming arrivals, I know who met George at the gate, and that made me smile.
I was able to arrange a meeting between George and my Uncle Ronnie. He’s the second biggest George Jones fan I know, and I was glad to be able to make that happen.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing George live more times than I can count, and each show was better than the last. One of the best things about my job is that I was able to get to know George and his wife Nancy through the years, from several meetings backstage and on their tour bus. Once, Miss Nancy gave us a tour of the bus, and let me, my morning show partner at the time, Brett Mason, and my wife, Daphne, sit on George’s bed and look at family photo albums that they always carried on tour. Another time, we spent an hour listening to Nancy lament about how George was spending a fortune buying things he didn’t need from the Sharper Image, because when he got bored, he like to shop. One of my favorite memories is George giving us a sample of the sausage that he had recently started selling. I took it home, and it was all I could to make myself cook it. I mean, it was given to me by George Jones, for heaven’s sake. Daphne finally convinced me that George wanted us to eat it, and that no matter how bad I wanted it to, it wasn’t going to keep.
What made George Jones the man that he was wasn’t just the voice. It was the man. He had his share of problems (don’t we all?). He had his share of demons (don’t we all?). Beyond that, he was a good man. He loved Nancy, he loved his kids, and he loved his fans. He was just a good dude.
The last time I saw George I was doing a live broadcast in Enterprise, Alabama at some business that I can’t recall. George was in town at the time looking at some property where he and Nancy were planning to build a home. I was doing my last break when an SUV pulled up behind me and someone called my name while I was live on the air. I usually ignore that sort of thing because it distracts from what I’m trying to do. But for some reason, this time I looked over my shoulder, and there he was. George Jones. At my remote. I was dumbfounded. Not only did he stop by, he got on the air with me. It was, and still is, the high point of my career. That was the beauty of George Jones. He was always unpredictable. He lived that way, and he died that way.
At the time of his death, George was in the middle of his farewell tour. Later this year, he was scheduled to perform in Nashville with some of the biggest names in Country music, in what was to be his final performance. It’s almost fitting that final page of the Possum’s life will be that in the end, he “No Showed” one last time.