George Jones has been called the “greatest living country singer.” When you listen to the way his buttery voice and his distinctive phrasing so fully inhabits such hits as She Thinks I Still Care, He Stopped Loving Her Today or Golden Ring (a duet with late ex-wife Tammy Wynette) you believe.
Jones, 81, has been releasing music since his first Top 5 hit in 1955, Why Baby Why, and a new album’s on the way. But his current The Grand Tour (named for his 1974 hit), which comes to South Florida Saturday, is his last, he swears.
Perfect time to chat with Jones via email about life, love and country.
Keith Richards and James Taylor have cited your music as an influence. What can a country artist learn from a rock artist and vice-versa?
I think anytime you work with an artist from a different genre than yours, you pick up on things they do and admire how they approach a song or the style they use to perform the song. It may not be the way you would do it, but I appreciate the differences. It was great to record with Keith Richards, and after the project was completed, I had people ask who that new artist was singing on Say It’s Not You. It was funny to me that some people didn’t realize it was a rock and roll legend.
What will be the thing you most miss about live performing?
I will miss my fans and the thrill I get from looking out over an audience of people from young to old and see them singing along to every song.
You’ve had the honor of bringing some of country’s greatest compositions to life. What do you look for in a song before you record it?
I look for a song that moves me that I can relate to. I turned down He Stopped Loving Her Today numerous times because I thought it was just too sad, and people would not want to hear it. Finally, my producer and friend Billy Sherrill convinced me to record it and the rest, as they say, is history.
What gets better with age?
Wisdom and knowledge.
Tell us about the new studio album you are recording with Dolly Parton.
I am so excited to be working on a project with Dolly. She is a dear friend, and I am such a fan of her work. I am just waiting on her to give me the song and to tell me when to sing!
What song (or album) would you like to be known for — and why?
That is really a tough question. There are so many I am proud of. . . . some from the early days in my career, then some that were done much later. I will say I had a lot of fun recording The Bradley Barn Sessions with so many people I admire. Each song took on a life of its own as we were working together in the studio. There wasn’t any of that stuff where I recorded my part and a week later Alan Jackson came in and did his part. We were there together for all the sessions, and it is a great album.
Say you’re a judge on American Idol. What advice would you have for the younger generation who envisions a career in country music?
Never give up, be yourself and keep it country!
— HOWARD COHEN