I Lived to Tell It All
Author: George Jones with Tom Carter
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When a co-worker heard I was reviewing a tribute album to George Jones, he was ecstatic. After all, he's a huge George Jones fan. Believing that I should know more about the man behind the music, he leant me I Lived to Tell It All, an autobiography written with Tom Carter. This way, I can understand just how much of George Jones was actually in the songs he sang.
The book was written in 1996 and re-issued with updates in 1997. I Lived to Tell It All is a no holds barred account of George Jones' life from his humble beginnings to his life in 1997. Jones doesn't hold back, telling the reader all the highs and extreme lows of his life with a great deal of candor. In reading the story of George Jones' life, I got the feeling that he knew he was quite lucky to be alive. Despite all of the horrible things he did when he was drinking and drugging, I can see the charm that made him special to his wife Nancy, a woman whose fortitude and staying power are quite possibly the only reason George Jones finally kicked his nasty habits.
I was amazed at all that Jones had been through in his life, though I had a hard time believing every bit of what was written in this book. While I accept that a country star could get away with quite a bit back in Jones' heyday and have no doubt of Jones' rages both in an out of public view, I still find it hard to believe that he didn't get arrested more often than stated in this book. I also find it hard to believe the story that local drug dealers had taken a life insurance policy out on George Jones and proceeded to make certain they collected by stuffing drugs up Jones' nose. I'm sure he was more than willing at that time to stuff the drugs up his nose all on his own and I wonder just how a drug dealer would be able to get a policy out on such a star.
I also find it hard to believe that everything that Tammy Wynette said about their relationship together, particularly their stormier days was not true. I believe George Jones is being honest when he says he doesn't believe that these things did not happen, but how can he be so certain that all of it was a lie. After all, most of the time, he was drunk and/or stoned out of his mind. Prone to blackouts, how could Jones be absolutely certain that he hadn't destroyed the home that he built from scratch or attempted to shoot his ex-wife when she tried to leave him. I don't believe Jones was being exactly honest with himself when he dismissed these events outright.
I do applaud him for understanding that he had a severe problem with alcohol and drugs. I also commend him for recognizing that he had a psychological issue as well. The fact that Jones admits to having felt alone even when surrounded by so many friends, family and admirers speaks to the reason behind some of his more seedy problems. By recognizing one issue, he was able to conquer the others...and having a woman who completely believed in him and loved him unconditionally was something that also helped him conquer his demons.
Before reading I Lived to Tell It All, I knew George Jones was a talented man, but never quite knew just how talented. Sure, the man could sing and play guitar, but who knew he was good at things like carpentry, interior decorating, raising livestock, training miniature ponies and more. If you are paying attention when you read this book, you will find that Jones was one of those jack-of-all-trades with a heavy emphasis on performing country music.
I also happen to agree with his outlook on the future of country music. I got a kick out of Jones predicting that fourteen-year-old LeAnn Rhymes would hit it big. Glad to see he lived long enough to discover he was right. I agree with Jones when he says that, of late, country music stations are only interested in playing the music of newcomers. I, too, find that these new performers seem to all sound the same or have that same look. What happened to the greats out there who are still producing records. When was the last time you heard Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers, both with new music just released, on the radio? When was the last time you heard Reba McIntyre or Garth Brooks? In fact, the newest country radio station out there, NASH FM, only seems to play newer music from the more recent performers, totally ignoring greats like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and the like.
Most of all, I noticed that, despite reading about all of his shortcomings, I found myself liking the man who was George Jones. As he said in I Lived to Tell It All, there was something about his fans that made them love him no matter what he did. He was greatly appreciative of all the fans who still bought his records or went to his performances despite all of the concerts he flaked out on or showed up drunk to. There was just something about George Jones and that voice of his that made you keep coming back for more. Reading I Lived to Tell It All, you can understand the wonderment and heartfelt thanks he poured out to his fans who stuck with him through it all.
After reading this book, and realizing that it didn't dissuade me from being a fan of his music, I decided to find out how others felt about George Jones. Where better to look than to some of the artists who performed on Deer Lodge: A Tribute to George Jones. Here's what some of them had to say:
What did you think of GJ as an artist?
Best male country vocalist ever. - Keeter Stuart of Keeter & Ali
The man has been an icon of mine for a very long time. I have a vast collection of his work, still spin Mr. Jones on vinyl, and I also have piles of cd's. George Jones' music has influenced me as an artist more than anyone. - Ali of Keeter & Ali
George Jones is a hero and a rebel and his heartfelt story-telling songs brought tears to some and changed the lives of many. - Lindsie of Neon Renaissance
I love classic country and George Jones defines it. He is such an amazing story teller with lyrics that draw you right in to the world of his songs. - Stephanie Lynn
Why did you pick the song you performed for the tribute?
“The Grand Tour” has always been a favorite GJ tune of mine, no one else had picked it to record for the tribute, and we thought it would be fun to record it as a duet. - Keeter Stuart of Keeter & Ali
We came late to the project and the producers suggested a couple of songs that had not yet been covered. It was serendipity to have the honor to perform one of my all time favorite George Jones songs. - Ali of Keeter & Ali
I grew up in the South Side of Chicago, where there were pawn shops every few blocks. In this song [Golden Ring], this young couple, who are very much in love and on a budget, shop for a ring in a pawn shop in Chicago. The main message of the song speaks to love, that only love can make a golden wedding ring, by itself, it's just a cold metallic thing. The ring isn't what is most important when making a commitment, it's love. That's why I picked this song. - Lindsie of Neon Renaissance
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" is my favorite George Jones song -- something about the bittersweet story of unrequited love that tugs at my heart. My producer, Craig Eastman, and I wanted to bring a different twist to the story and focus on the uplifting part of the new-found freedom of this character who has finally been released from his torment. It really is a beautiful story and I was excited to put my own spin on the telling of it. - Stephanie Lynn
Obviously we both admire George Jones as a seminal songwriter and singer in American music and we chose "She Thinks I Still Care" because we loved the irony in the lyrics and appreciate a good lyrical twist. We thought we could offer a different emotional take on it with the female perspective taking the lead and though it's always difficult to tackle a classic song by a legend, we were excited to interpret the lyrics and music in our own way. - Dov Rosenblatt of The Wellspring
How did George Jones affect your own music ?
Many times while writing a song I would have GJ in mind to someday sing it. - Keeter Stuart of Keeter & Ali
George Jones exemplifies conviction in delivery of the story. He taught me about singing from the heart. He was the master of curling a note - taking a single syllable and making it 5! - Ali of Keeter & Ali
I'm not usually thinking about him particularly when composing my own music. But, I admire his ability to sing about what is really going on in his life, the audience can relate to the truth, and I find myself writing in that way. - Lindsie of Neon Renaissance
Great storytelling is always a huge inspiration to me and I aspire to pull people into the stories of my songs the way George is able to do. - Stephanie Lynn
What would you say to George Jones if he were alive today?
Mr Jones, have I gotta song for you ! - Keeter Stuart of Keeter & Ali
I'd say, "George, it's an honor to meet you. I'm Ali and my biggest dream is to sing a duet with George Jones." - Ali of Keeter & Ali
I'd say thank you and ask him for a hug. - Lindsie of Neon Renaissance
If George were alive today I would say thank you for his massive contribution to the world of music. - Stephanie Lynn
For more about the George Jones Tribute Album, visit Deer Lodge: A Tribute to George Jones