The dark side of entertainment
“You are drowning in the business. You forget even that God exists or anybody does, as far as that. My first wives or family or any of those things didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered to me was the thrill and fun of what I was doing. You can get lost in all of that and go down the wrong road.” – George Jones, a snippet from Scott Ross’ interview of the country legend for “The 700 Club”
Like Johnny Cash, George Jones also became a recipient of God’s grace. Let’s trace back his beginning, his rise and fall in stardom, and how God redeemed him.
Singing for a Living
As a young Texan boy, he sang gospel songs in Sunday school and would often accompany his Pastor in street preaching. He got his singing abilities from his parents.
At the tender age of 9, George Glenn Jones got sent out to the streets to play music. This was to help his impoverished family. He continued performing in his teenage years in bars in Beaumont, Texas. When he reached 16, he left home and became a singer at a local radio station in Jasper Texas.
That melodious and golden voice would soon bring him to the pinnacle of success.
His Life of Song, Booze, Women, and Drugs
His songs of heartbreaks won him numerous hits including “Why Baby Why” (1955, No. 4), “Window Up Above” (1960; No. 2),”Tender Years” (1961, No. 1), “The Race Is On” (No. 3), “Love Bug” (1965, No. 6) and his duet with Gene Pitney, “I’ll Share My World with You” (1969, No. 2).
Hailed as the “Prince of Country,” he had been honored several times throughout his lifetime.
Awards and Recognitions
1980 – CMA, Male Vocalist of the Year
1980 – Single of the Year, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
1981 – CMA, Male Vocalist of the Year
1981- Grammy Award, Male Country Vocalist
1986 – CMA, Music Video of the Year, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” directed by Mev Bell
1992 – Induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame
1993 – CMA, Vocal Event of the Year, “I Don’t Need a Rockin Chair”
1996 – #6 New York Times Bestsellers, ” I Lived to Tell It All”
1998- CMA, Vocal Event of the Year, “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” with Patty Loveless
1999- Grammy Award, Best Male Country Vocalist, for “Choices”
2002 – National Medal of the Arts
The CMT (Country Music Television) branded George Jones’ song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the second Greatest Country Song of all Time. First was Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.”
Life Going Downhill
Jones loved singing but he fell prey to the intoxication of fame. In the ’70’s, he earned another title, “No Show Jones.” His drinking binge and substance abuse caused him to miss recording sessions and concerts. His weight also plummeted.
He also formed a bad habit of driving while drunk which led to his arrest. This fondness for alcohol had pretty much costs him his marriages to three women: Dorothy Bonvillion (1950), Shirley Ann Corley (1954), and Tammy Wynette (1969). Due to his continual self-destructive behaviors, his wives eventually gave up on him and filed for divorce.
Being on top of the world makes one lonely. Still, God extended his grace to George. Rarely would you hear one escaping death due to drunk driving. George, on one hand, was spared numerous times. Of course, he was still oblivious of divine protection. I wonder if he remembered the favor he had received despite being at his worse. God, obviously, wasn’t finished with Jones.
Wife of 30 years, Nancy, His Reason for Living
It takes a “woman of faith” to stand by The Possum‘s side in his battle with alcoholism. Nancy Pulvedo married George Jones in March 1993. Jones credits his wife’s prayers and unshakeable faith in God. Without those, she may not have been unable to withstand Jones’ tumultuous life. She helped him a great deal in his struggle for sobriety. It was a long and difficult journey but they made it. Come 1990’s George Jones had completely recovered. More recordings and successes came.
One Sunday morning in the hospital, Nancy heard her husband say,
“Well, Hello there! I’ve been looking for you. My name is George Jones.”
Those were his last words before he slept peacefully. Nancy believed that it was God her husband was talking to.
With the loss of her husband and best friend, Nancy carried out her husband’s last wishes.
We admire Nancy Pulvedo for her deep devotion to George Jones. Second to George returning to God, she is, indeed, one of his life’s biggest miracles. Under normal circumstance, a woman with sense won’t put up with someone like George. But by God’s mercy, he gave George a wife that can help straighten him out.
His Best friend Peanut Montgomery
Earl Peanut Montgomery, songwriter to George Jones and brother to a fellow singer, Melba Montgomery. He wrote over seventy songs for The Possum including “Lord You’ve Been Mighty Good to Me,” “Hold On,” and “One of These Days.”
Peanut met Jones in the 1960’s when his sister Melba did a duet with “The Possum.” Peanut was a songwriter for the Wilburn Bros. at that time. Jones talked him into becoming his songwriter instead. He agreed. It didn’t take long before he turned into Jones’ drinking buddy.
The following years, the two became close buddies. George’s wife Tammy Wynette would sometimes call Peanut to go looking for her husband when he’s too drunk to drive.
Peanut also remembers Jones as one with a big heart. He’s witness to his friend giving people money and buying them all sorts of stuff.
However, in 1976, Peanut Montgomery found Jesus. His newfound relationship with his Savior led him to a decision that Jones didn’t like much. He tried to share Jesus with Jones but in the end, they parted ways. He also had to give up his songwriting career and became a traveling minister instead.
Whenever he’s asked about George Jones, Peanut would often tell people that God has proved himself more in George Jones than himself. As George Jones’ best friend, he saw how God numerously protected him. That included his longevity despite his mixture of cocaine, pills, and booze.
Now that’s a real friend. He only had good words to say about Jones though he no longer was in speaking terms with his former buddy. People come to him and bug him with questions about Jones. That would be bothersome, but he graciously answers their queries.
A Car Wreck and a Life on Repair
Surely no real fan of The Possum would not care about what transpired to the country legend on March 6, 1998. The sports car he’s in slammed into a bridge on Highway 96. For two hours, troopers and rescuers labored to get him off the Lexus. As the nearest hospital is twenty miles away from the crash site, a helicopter was summoned. Despite the major injuries including ruptured liver, lung, and chest, Jones survived. After two painstaking weeks in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, he was released from the hospital.
In September 2015, that part of the bridge was renamed, “George Jones Memorial Highway.” It’s memorable given what his wife revealed about it. It changed his whole life. This time, for the best. George Jones’ done with alcohol for real.
A fatal car crash accident on May 6 and walking out the hospital on May 19? The quick recovery is inconceivable by human standard! God, again, intervened by bridging more time for Jones to also redeem himself. His salvation testimony then included the possibility of righteous living. While salvation in Christ is free, we’re responsible for how we utilize our time on earth. Fortunately for Jones, he had two more decades to experience that freedom in Christ.
Thirst for God
That same year of 1998, a fire gets kindled in his soul. By then he knew that he wanted more of God. He did not just ditch the insatiable thirst for alcohol, Jones found a new thirst.
While in the Vanderbilt hospital, George was in a coma. When he woke, he started singing gospel songs and wanted to hear gospel tapes. He then told his wife Nancy that he wanted to see Vestal Goodman of the Goodman Family Gospel Singers. She and George were introduced about seven months early prior to the accident. Busy as usual, he easily forgot about Mrs. Goodman. On the other hand, Mrs. Goodman had not forgotten George Jones. Unknown to the country singer, she had been praying for months on his behalf. God heard her and spared George Jones life.
Like Mr. Jones, we have been protected countless time than we’ll ever know. Cold truth is, we’re to be blamed for our reckless actions. But how come we’re still alive? Are we that significant to be able to cheat death? Of course, we’re not. We may have other good-hearted Christians like Mrs. Goodman who were constantly interceding in prayers for us.
Changing for the Best
George says that the car accident and his friend Vestal Goodman’s intercessory prayers changed him. After months of recuperation, he got back to work. He released more albums and went on tours. A changed man with a renewed perspective on life and faith, he could not help but suggest that he do gospel.
Though he has recorded several gospels before, they only served as add-ins to a regular album. This time, he wanted a full gospel album. His wife and manager Nancy enlisted the help of producer Billy Sherrill. They helped George picked the songs for “The Gospel Collection.” Proudly, he sang those gospel tunes on his tours. He then considered doing some Christian concerts. The opportunity quickly came. Bill Gaither asked him to participate in their “Bluegrass Homecoming Gathering.”
In one interview released by the Homecoming Magazine, George told Bill that “Amazing Grace” is his favorite hymn. He can relate a hundred percent to the wording of John Newton, the hymn writer. The part that he loved the most was the line that says, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years..”
Bill Gaither believed that the once “Possom” became a true follower of Jesus. The hymn “Amazing Grace” suits him best considering how God worked in him for years.
All is grace. If God were to give us what we really deserve, that will be judged. That’s why “grace” is amazing. It’s God giving us what we do not deserve.
Going Back to his Gospel Roots
Jones shared a similar history of starting with hymns like Johnny Cash. Isn’t this common to budding singers? It happened before and the cycle continues today. Some things under the sun remain.
Back to George Jones, he may have sung those church songs as a boy with little to no conviction. If it did, his success as a singer may have taken a different direction. Nevertheless, as a man in his best years, those gospel songs probably were the most beautiful wordings he has uttered. He sang each hymn the way a repentant sinner would.
He’s only able to record one full gospel albums in his later years, “The Gospel Collection” released in 2003. It’s a two-CD collection featuring twenty-four songs. Following are the track listings.
- Amazing Grace
- It Is No Secret
- Just A Little Talk With Jesus
- Where We’ll Never Grow Old
- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
- Why Me Lord
- I’ll Fly Away
- Precious Memories
- Just A Closer Walk With Thee
- In The Garden
- Lonesome Valley
- When Mama Sang (The Angels Stopped To Listen)
- Peace In The Valley
- What A Friend We Have In Jesus
- Softly And Tenderly
- Lilly Of The Valley
- The Old Rugged Cross
- Leaning On The Everlasting Arms
- Family Bible
- Mansion Over The Hilltop
- If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again
- How Beautiful Heaven Must Be
- Jesus, Hold My Hand
- I Know a Man Who Can
Years may have made his voice quaver a bit, but he managed to deliver the songs with his signature smooth, velvety touch. Even after some vocal issues as the aftermath of his hospitalization, he did not lose his distinguishing baritone.
Other albums that contained some of his renditions of the gospel were the “Homecoming in Heaven” ( 1962), “Old Brush Arbors” (1965), ” We Love to Sing About Jesus” ( 1972), and In a Gospel Way” (1974).
Any polished singer can cut some gospel in their albums. It’s not hard to replicate the success of previously recorded hymns. Still, something will be lacking. Unless those hymns and other gospel tunes truly resonate in a soul, there will be no character in the delivery.
For seasoned Christians, try to compare Mr. Jones’ earlier gospel tracks with those in The Gospel Collection. The older George Jones had more character and conviction in his voice. Finally, on the last lap of his life course, he had a firsthand understanding of what he’s singing.
On April 26, 2013, the Lord called George Jones home. Johnny Cash went ahead a decade earlier.
If there’s a welcome party for him in heaven, God, as a father, won’t let him feel shamed by his hideous past. George repented and Christ’s blood cleansed him of all filthiness. Flashback to the car crash incident, he said he got the “fear of God” then. In heaven though, that “fear” might have been turned into “joy.” And if The Possum were to be asked how he wants to be remembered, it won’t be some grandiose titles he’d earned on earth. Rather, that he was a poor sinner saved by God’s Amazing Grace.
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Bill Gaither, Editorial, George Jones, gospel, the possum, Vestal Goodman
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