Growing up in Northern Manitoba in the early 60’s, my Dad was and still is a big country music fan. Of course, I listened to the great country stars of that time, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, and of course, George Jones. I can remember one album cover of a young George Jones. He had a crew-cut, holding his guitar, wearing a bright red suit jacket laden with studs and rhinestones shaped into a guitar. My Dad would play these records until they were buried deep into my mind. This period of my life made me a big country fan as well.
Sometimes life gives you a treat. This treat started with a phone call. Having dinner with a friend, I decided to check my messages. My good friend, Neil “Mr. Skinner” Diamond, of The Nation, left me a message asking if I wanted to go and see George “The Living Legend” Jones in Kahnawake. I promptly called him and gave him an enthusiastic “yes!” I had no idea on that particular day I would be attending a George Jones concert. On the other hand, the reason why Neil called me was because Will Nicholls did not want to attend, and he just used me because I have a car and he needed a lift, what do you think?
Arriving at the Kahnawake Sports Complex, about 20 minutes late, we entered the arena without even being asked for our tickets!, I suppose because the concert was already in full country swing. Being with someone who was part of the press has its perks. It got us a front row seat!
So there he was, bigger than life, Mr. “No-Show” Jones, looking healthy, and sounding great! His silver hair neatly combed, the ever-present dark glasses and backed by a tight, energetic, 7-piece band. My foot began to tap uncontrollably while Neil, armed with two cameras, began to click away furiously.
Sitting beside me were Joseph and Amelia McGregor, residents of Kahnawake and big fans of George Jones, who I wish to thank for assisting me in identifying songs I was unfamiliar with. When Neil and I arrived, “A Picture Of Me Without You” was being played. George, known for his honky-tonk drinking songs and hurtin’ love songs, sang out “I’ll Give You Something To Drink About,” “Who’s Gonna Fill Your Shoes?”, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and a medley including such hits as “I’ll Share My World With You,” “Window Up Above,” “Now She’s Gone Forever,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “White Lightning,” and the incomparable, “She Thinks I Still Care.”
The enthusiastic crowd got off their seats to the lively “I Don’t Need No Rockin’ Chair.” The crowd was a mix of Northern Crees, Mohawks of Kahnawake and all kinds of country fans. They were all clapping, smiling and thoroughly enjoying the presence of a true country legend. Cameras were flashing from every corner of the arena to capture the moment. Little kids were roaming around with their cute cowboy hats and boots.
Mr. Jones’ amazing fiddler, Jim, belted out “Fire On The Mountain,” “Sally Gooden,” and a Bill Monroe tribute in a song called “Mr. Mun,” which is a song about water. The rest of George’s band were young men who looked like they were having a good time, funnin’ with George, singing back-up vocals, dancing and flicking picks to the audience. Neil and I managed to snag one each.
Throughout the show, Mr. Jones would take time to talk to the audience about his wife, telling jokes or things that happened to him. He’s a genuinely personable and friendly man, who impressed everyone with his down-home country charm. He mentioned how he put his wife through a hard time when he was going through his rough times, and how he’s going to put her through some more, jokingly. He introduced her as she was sitting by the stage. He is certainly proud of her and her strength to have put up with him during his party days, which he stopped doing about 11 or 12 years ago, and it shows. He’s back on top of his game. His new album, Lived To Tell It All, is an album with new songs and is also the title of his autobiography, which hit #6 on The New York Times bestseller list.
Tid-bits about the man: Some of the things I managed to put down during his chats between songs are, his favorite country-singer of all time is Hank Williams Sr. (mine too), along with Lefty Ferzel, Ernest Tubbs and Merle Haggard, whose “The Way That I Am” George sang as a dedication to Merle. Mr. Jones also mentioned that he’s not too fond of today’s country artists. He’s strictly a traditionalist.
His answer to rock-n-roll, he said, was himself “doing an imitation of Roy Acuff imitating Buck Owens imitating Little Richard.” Can you picture it? George then launched into a rockin’ performance of “Tutti Fruitti.” He was shakin’ all over. Wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-BOOM!
After the concert, which lasted about an hour-and-a-half, I homed in on the lead guitarist, DeWayne Phillips, who was signing autographs. George had unfortunately left the building immediately following the concert. I asked some questions on various topics. Here are the results. George is 66 years old, born on September 12, 1930 in Franklin, Tennessee. His favorite food is beans and cornbread, he’s an early riser, he mows his grass every day when he’s at home, he’s down-to-earth, has (from what DeWayne remembers) four kids, and his favorite T.V. show is Matlock. On the tour-bus, they tune into the Sony PlayStation, watch movies, and play cards. What else can one do on a bus, eh?
All in all, the evening of Aug. 24, 1997 will be on my top 10 concert list, and get this!, Mr. George Jones will be back next year on July 25!, so you have plenty of time to shine up your cowboy boots! I again would like to thank Neil “Crack-Shot” Diamond of The Nation for inviting me to this memorable night of real country music!!!