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One on One: Bill Gaither & George Jones
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He’s been called the “greatest living country singer” by the press and is hailed as a legend by his peers, but to fans of country music, GEORGE JONES — “the Possum” — is just a good-old-fashioned country boy who has poured his heart and life into some of the most memorable songs in country music. I In the ’60s, his musical partnership with Tammy Wynette produced a bevy of hit songs and accolades but their turbulent marriage accelerated Jones’ descent into trouble. A penchant for wild living earned him the moniker “No Show Jones” — and while he was earning raves for his career offerings, his personal life was in ruins. I But today, with his wife Nancy by his side, George Jones is healthy, sober, making music and loving life. He was an honored guest artist on 2007’s Bluegrass Homecoming where he shared the stage with Bill — but for this special issue the two finally met up again to reminisce about growing up, music and old friends.

GEORGE: Mr. Gaither!

BILL: George, how are you doing, buddy?

GEORGE: I’m doing pretty good. It’s been kind of hectic around our family with some being sick, and this that and the other…

BILL: Yeah. I tell you what, when you get to be our age, you’d think we could manage our time a little bit better than we do.

GEORGE: I’m telling you, I’m about a month away from 80.

BILL: Ahhh. Well you’re doing well. Hey George, what we’re doing in Homecoming Magazine this time is looking at the connection (and I’ve always thought it was a good connection) between gospel music and country singers. Every gospel singer I know plays country music on their bus, and about every country singer I know plays gospel music…

GEORGE: Oh, I tell you, it’s always been a favorite. I was raised up in the church and my mother played piano and organ at times. I just loved it when they did a lot of singing.

BILL: I think about every country singer I talk to says, “Well I started singing when I was a kid in the church somewhere.” Because it was a place you could sing together, you know?

GEORGE: Well yes, I was really involved. One of the churches I got involved with when I was 9 or 10 years old, and Sister Annie Stephens, she played guitar a little bit and taught me the basics on my first guitar—a Gene Autry guitar! Her husband, Brother Burl Stephens, he wrote a lot of poems and things. I took three or four of them, put the melody to it, and changed a word here or there. I had pretty good success with them!

BILL: Sure. Hey, I was trying to think. We were in Greensboro, North Carolina one night. We were on one side of the complex and you were on the other. You were giving a concert the same night we were giving a concert, and Vestal Goodman and Howard were with us. I can remember her saying, “George Jones is next door. I’m going to go over there and sing with him.”

GEORGE: I remember that!

BILL: I said, “Well Vestal, you can’t just walk over there and sing with George Jones!” She said, “I’m going to do it!”

GEORGE: My goodness, when she walked on the stage, there was a whole new feeling, like a big glow of light came about. The people all recognized her, and they seemed to notice y’all were over there.

BILL: Oh, really?

GEORGE: She did a couple of things for me, and I’m telling you she got a wonderful reception. We did the song “Angel Band” together. We took some of the things we did out there and made a video out of it. You might have seen it one time or the other.

BILL: What did she do? Did she just come backstage and wait and have somebody to tell you that Vestal was back…

GEORGE: No, when she walked in, I guess she just walked out on the stage! She just came out walking slow. I recognized her of course, right away. I always, when I got a chance, was watching your shows.

BILL: Yeah.

GEORGE: Now I really love gospel music. It was always in my life. And...I was a little holy rolling with it. Ha! That’s the way it was back in east Texas.

BILL: You say you came from east Texas?

GEORGE: Yeah, from a little town called Saratoga, about 60 miles north of Beaumont. We moved over to Kuntz which is close to Silby and Woodel…

BILL: Were you very close to Tyler?

GEORGE: Well Tyler, was on up further north, I’d say about another 80 miles.

BILL: Well, the crazy thing about Texas is you can travel about three days and still be in that state!

GEORGE: Goodness, yes! It’s a big one.

BILL: With Vestal, was that the first time you had met her?

GEORGE: Well, I think so. I know I’d seen her on the shows a lot, but I can’t remember that well, right off hand.

BILL: I remember you telling me, when you were in that wreck and you were so serious, that when you came out of it, you said to Nancy, “Why don’t you call Vestal and have her come pray?”

GEORGE: Well, it’s funny because after about seven days when I came to some senses, my wife said the first thing I wanted was some gospel music. I said, “I want some gospel music, and I want some of Vestal.” She went and got a player, and put on a lot of the gospel music.

I got to thinking right off about Vestal. I had only met her that once. But when I came to my senses, I wanted some gospel music and her name was the first one that hit my mind. So my wife got her. I tell you what—she brought a lot of happiness to us.


[George & Nancy Jones]
BILL: You know, you can say what you please, but there is something positive about the gospel song and the gospel lyric.

GEORGE: Yes, there is.

BILL: I mean when you hear those words, it really is some good news, especially when you need some good news bad.

GEORGE: That’s true you know. I’m really far from being religious yet—you know all the way—but I do believe in Jesus and God, and I have changed my ways.

BILL: Oh, I know you have.

GEORGE: I’ve cleaned it up so much with the help of my wife and with the good Lord up above, and we’re going to get it all the way there before it’s over with!

BILL: You know George, I like to tell this story. I had an old truck driver stop me one day at a gas station. He looked at me kind of funny and said, “Are you Bill Gaither?” I said, “Yeah.” He was kind of shy, and he says, “You know, I watch you on Saturday nights.” I said, “Oh you do? Well thanks a lot, I appreciate it.” He said, “Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not religious or anything…” Ha! I got tickled, and I said, “Buddy, I’m not very religious either!”

GEORGE: Oh my goodness.

BILL: And I said, “Neither is the person we sing about. It was the religious people who killed Him, because He wasn’t very religious. He was spiritual. So don’t feel very bad about that. The good thing about the Lord is He takes us just as we are.”

GEORGE: That’s really good.

BILL: Anyway, so Vestal came out to your house later and prayed with you, right?

GEORGE: Yeah we got together and she came out. She stopped by the house several times, just for a few minutes at a time. She would pray for me and my family. I don’t know, you just felt better each time, after each visit. She finally came up with the idea—she wanted to do “Angel Band” and do a video with it. Oh my goodness that made my day! That made my career, really. So we did it out here at our place. I think a lot of it. It was a lot of fun. I just enjoyed every minute of her, especially her husband because he had just gotten healed at that time. I was hoping he would feel good enough to be on that with us. He wasn’t, I think he was already in the hospital.

BILL: Yeah, Howard was a good old guy, and jolly…Now, you also sang “Mansion Over the Hilltop” with Vestal. In fact at her home-going service, the first song they played was George Jones and Vestal Goodman singing, “I’m satisfied with just a cabin below/A little silver and a little gold…”

GEORGE: Right! I remember that.

BILL: I tell you another fun time we had, and that’s when you came to one of our tapings. We did the bluegrass taping, and you did “Amazing Grace.” Only George Jones, could do “Amazing Grace!”

GEORGE: Everybody in the world has sung that song, and because they have, that makes it, I think, about the greatest gospel song ever written. I’m sure other people will disagree and say there’s something else, but it’s really my favorite because the guy who wrote it was really deep, but it was understandable 100 percent.

BILL: Yeah. Everybody can understand it, especially if you’re at the place where you need some grace and you need some mercy. Most of us have been there—sooner or later!

GEORGE: I love that part where it says, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years...”

BILL: Bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’d first begun.

GEORGE: When we’d first begun…what a song!

BILL: What a song! Well, George, I tell you what, the only thing that would have made this better would be if I had a chance to be out there with you and Nancy.

GEORGE: You know that for sure, you’re always welcome in my home.

BILL: Yeah, I know that. Well it’s a joy to talk to you, and tell that sweet wife of yours Nancy… You know, I saw you one time in a cafeteria, about 10 or 12 years ago. You and Nancy were over there eating, and I just about came over there to say hi to you, but I thought, you know…

GEORGE: Oh, I wish you had! Maybe I could have been on your show at a time when my throat wasn’t so messed up!

BILL: Well you know what we call that? That’s character, man. The older you get, the more character you’ve got in your voice!

GEORGE: Right. I’m going to get it straightened out one of these days. Just keep going there and do one more with you.

BILL: Hey, would you do that?

GEORGE: I sure will.

BILL: George, we love you and Nancy and thank you so much for your time.

GEORGE: We love you producing all these videos and don’t know what we’d do without them. They’re one of the biggest and best things going right now.

BILL: You’re kind. I hope we can do this again real soon. Thanks again.

GEORGE: Thank you, Bill.