Remembering George Jones–in a nutshell
A lot of people in this part of Texas have a George Jones story; my story goes back to the early 1950’s when we were barely adults. George was a few years older and was playing his music at any venue that would have him. He had just recorded some songs in Houston but they didn’t take off. One night a big country music show came to Beaumont. George got on as the opening act and stole the show. He was doing some air time at KFDM with Baxter, J.P. Richardson and Slim Watts, who did a 30-minute live music show. He always closed the show with “Be careful, watch the car behind the one in front of you.”
George usually relieved his brother at his service station so he could go to lunch, and then George would have lunch at an Italian place, run by five-foot tall Italian folks. The food was good and cheap. The folks I worked with and I also ate at that little dinner on Voth Road. He was quite, didn’t say much but he was polite and would answer when spoken to. One day, singer/musician Benny Barnes came in and soon broke out the guitar. He and George sang a dozen songs. George kept the time bouncing his hand off the table.
The next time I saw George and visited with him was at the Brazos River restaurant and club I owned. Johnny Harton and a group of entertainers, a package deal, played a concert at the Bryan High School football field. After the show they all stopped at my place. Johnny and Tillman Frank ate big steaks and left for Austin. George and the other singers and band members, who were traveling in station wagons, with bass fiddles and other instruments tied down on the roof, stayed and started drinking. About 1 a.m. they started pulling out those instruments and sat around and played till daylight. That was the best concert I ever attended.
The next day, after the entertainers had played in Austin or maybe San Antonio, we learned that Johnny Harton had gotten killed in an auto accident just 20 miles away. A drunk hit him and Tillman on their way back to Shreveport where Tillman managed the Louisiana Hayride and Johnny and his brother-in-law David Houston preformed. He had married Hank Williams’ widow, Billie Jean Houston. Frank survived and made a lot of visits to Orange were he was friends with the Runnels family. Judge Pete Runnels recalls Tillman and their visits where he listened to Tillman’s stories.
I saw George in concert several times. Once he had his family on the stage. I attended a big shindig at George’s place at Lakeview, where he lived. Among the entertainers were Merl Haggard and Buck Owens. It was an all day affair.
Sometime in the late 1960’s George was drunk and ran his red Cadillac convertible into the rear end of a car on Main Street, in Vidor. They locked him up in the county jail. That same evening, Sheriff Chester Holts was having his annual law enforcement party at the GERA. I had started the Gulf Coast Bail Bonding Company, the only one in the county at the time. Sheriff Holts told me George should be sober enough by then for me to bail him out. The Sheriff knew Deputy Bill Potter, a want-to-be entertainer, kept a guitar in the trunk of the patrol car. I got George out of jail, brought him to the area law enforcement party and after a little food and a few beers, George played and sang. He sang hit songs, some Hank Williams and also songs by his idol Lefty Frizzell. The party broke up before midnight. Potter and I took George home to Lakeview. Potter had acted in a couple of movies and had written some songs. He pitched a couple to George. I don’t know if he ever recorded them. Ironically, while taking George home, Potter had the radio on when a George Jones hit song came over the air. The radio announcer talked about the song and I remember George saying he liked the flip side better.
Well, that’s my George Jones story in a nutshell. I had planned to write my Willie Nelson story for his 80th birthday but last Friday George Jones changed that when he passed away at age 81. George never got the recognition he deserved here at home. He was one of a kind, his music will live on. “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”