May 6, 2013

George Jones: Jones Country...In My Heart...

The world lost country music legend/icon George Jones back on April 26th at the age of 81. He had been admitted to a local hospital on April 18th and as the world knows he passed away on the 26th. This is a CD of two of his greatest 1980's albums...a pair of albums that had never been issued on CD before. The irony is that this collection became available just three days before his death and the liner notes, written perhaps months earlier, obviously do not reflect the upcoming tragedy. The liner notes were written by one named Michael Heatley. This is an import CD from the United Kingdom. JONES COUNTRY, released in the latter part of 1983, has the distinction of being a great album that was lost through the passage of time. This album features 10 songs...and would you believe that the record company, Epic, never released any singles from it? The album itself made the Top-30 on the Country Album chart and had a nice chart run of nearly 30 weeks and yet nobody (except the truly devoted) is aware of it's existence. In fact, way back in the mid 1990's I wrote a letter to a company (before I got on-line) that prided itself on finding hard to find vinyl albums. The company had placed an advertisement in one of the various country music magazines in print at the time. I sent this company a request list, with JONES COUNTRY as one of the releases, and the reply I received indicated that no such album existed.

Fortunately in the next decade, around 2003 or 2004, I came across a vinyl copy of JONES COUNTRY at an on-line site and I purchased it real quick! At that point in time it was one of two studio albums from George during the 1980's that I didn't have in my collection. The other release that I didn't have at the time was the female duet project, LADIES CHOICE. As luck would have it I came across a vinyl album of that particular release, too, and quickly added it to my collection.

In a word, JONES COUNTRY is outstanding!! The album's title is lifted from an outdoor music park that George owned and operated for a period of years in Texas prior to his and Nancy's return to Nashville in 1989. The two had left Nashville at some point in 1982 prior to their marriage in March of 1983. JONES COUNTRY kicks off with the chilling "Radio Lover". This particular song would appear on a compilation from Epic in 1984 titled BY REQUEST but oddly enough it would actually become a commercial single in 1989...a full 6 years after it's debut on vinyl. It's become a fixture on several compilation albums but hardly anyone knows of it's unique history.

Now, although in-your-face recordings are sometimes still recorded in today's country music it's nothing like it once was...and very seldom do songs where a guy tells off a woman gather much acceptance nowadays in an era where it's seen more as chauvinistic than anything else. "Dream On", the album's second track, is a song about a guy informing a woman in his life that he's doing perfectly fine without her and she's dreaming if she thinks that he can't function on his own. "Hello Trouble", a hit for Buck Owens several decades before, is done in great fashion by George as is the lonesome "Burning Bridges", track four. "Burning Bridges" had been a hit single by a singer named Jack Scott in the late 1960's. George's 1983 recording of "Burning Bridges" and the 1983 recording of "Radio Lover" were later included on George's 1989 album, ONE WOMAN MAN. Track five on JONES COUNTRY is the sorrowful "Wino the Clown". This song tells about a homeless wino and the misadventures he has as he makes his way through perhaps the seedy side of town. There's a twist at the end of the song, though.

A pure honky-tonk classic, "You Must Have Walked Across My Mind Again", is track six. In it, George tells of waking up in jail after a wild night of drinking and mayhem. The album's only poignant moment comes with "I'd Rather Die Young Than Grow Old Without You", track seven. Even though it's a romantic song it still carries a hint of danger because we're not too sure of what the man truly could or would do if the woman ever decides to leave him for someone else. One of my all-time favorites from George, "The Girl at the End of the Bar", is next! The music grabs you, first off, and then the story itself of a man who sings about a common scenario of seeing a woman by herself in some bar room. George tells us that she's not there to have a merry old time so it's best to just keep a distance. This is followed by the uptempo "One of These Days But Not Tonight" which celebrates the notion of going sober...but not tonight...there's too much fun to be had. The album closes with the ballad "Famous Last Words" of which George sings about a woman who promised to stay with the man she was with but as things are more likely to do she leaves him for someone else. In the meantime he can't get over those "Famous Last Words"...

Once JONES COUNTRY had been released to retail stores in the latter part of 1983, as mentioned, there were no commercial singles released. Instead, George was heard in duet form with Ray Charles on "We Didn't See a Thing" which also featured lead guitar work from Chet Atkins (credited on the single release as well) so it was technically a trio. This recording, originally found on Ray's FRIENDSHIP album, reached the Top-10 on the country charts in the early part of 1984. Epic/CBS, George's label, featured "We Didn't See a Thing" on the BY REQUEST compilation the same year.

This fills the gap and brings us to 1984's YOU'VE STILL GOT A PLACE IN MY HEART release. Unlike JONES COUNTRY, Epic promoted the 1984 studio album and it reached the Top-20 on the Country album chart. It also didn't hurt that during 1984 there came a biography release on George titled Ragged But Right, written by Dolly Carlisle. It just so happened that one of the songs on George's 1984 album was his re-recording of "I'm Ragged But I'm Right". He had originally recorded the song sometime in the mid '50s. Epic released only one single from this album, though. The title track, "You've Still Got a Place In My Heart", reached the Top-10.

As part of the publicity for the 1984 album, George taped an episode of New Country, a television program on the relatively new cable channel, The Nashville Network. The program was an album spotlight show where each episode featured a different country singer performing almost all the songs from a newly released or upcoming album. This album followed the same musical path of JONES COUNTRY but the label decided to abandon the ballad, uptempo, ballad sequence and instead fill side one of the album (the first five songs) with ballads. The next three were uptempo sing-a-longs while the final two were ballads.

Some of the finest ballads you'd want to hear are "The Second Time Around" which could easily make one think of George's newly found happiness with Nancy. "Come Sundown", "Learning To Do Without Me", "From Strangers, To Lovers, To Friends", and "Your Lying Blue Eyes" are all top-notch ballads. "Learning To Do Without Me", the album's closer, is ironic given the mostly positive feeling following throughout the love songs. The title, "Even the Bad Times Are Good", tells exactly what the song is all about. It's long been reported that in the early years of George and Nancy's marriage the road was rocky and a song like this one seemed to carry a whole different meaning when recorded by George Jones during this point in time.

If you notice, several of the songs on here as well as several on JONES COUNTRY had been recorded by other artists. "Come Sundown", written by Kris Kristofferson, had actually been recorded by George earlier in his career but Bobby Bare had the more widely known recording. Conway Twitty, among others, had recorded "Even The Bad Times Are Good". Even the album's title track, "You've Still Got a Place In My Heart", from the pen of Leon Payne, had been around for quite awhile. It had previously been recorded by Con Hunley in 1978. His version became a Top-20 country hit but it forever more became a George Jones classic in 1984.

"Your Lying Blue Eyes" had been a single for John Anderson several years prior. Anderson had also co-wrote "The Girl at the End of the Bar" from JONES COUNTRY and also co-wrote a gospel song that George recorded in 1979 called "Swoop Down, Sweet Jesus" (that recording would finally make it to disc in 1990 on HALLELUJAH WEEKEND). On the lighter side we have the previously mentioned "I'm Ragged But I'm Right" and we also have the cute "Courtin' in the Rain" in which George tells the story of a young couple and their gradual evolution from dating to attempted marriage...and the man's shyness throughout it all. "Loveshine" is an uptempo honky-tonk song that ironically celebrates sobriety and how great the future looks without the influence of alcohol.

JONES COUNTRY and YOU'VE STILL GOT A PLACE IN MY HEART are two outstanding back to back releases from George Jones and if you're reading this and have no idea about these albums until now don't wait around...there's no telling how long this will remain in print.

Here's the Amazon LINK for anyone thinking about adding this to your collections.

April 26, 2013

George Jones: 1931-2013

 The news broke early this morning of the death of George Jones at the age of 81. I was sleeping when the news broke...someone in my family woke me up and asked me if I knew that George had died. The news must have broke right after I fell asleep this morning because it was news to me when I woke up. The local classic country station had been playing George's songs even more frequently since the day he had entered the hospital on April 18th and so I clicked the radio on as soon as I was informed about the news and I caught the middle of the disc jockey talking about George's life and times. The host took calls from a lot of listeners and played several of his #1 hits for the remainder of his show. I'd been a fan of George's since I was barely 5 or 6 years old. My grandparent's and others in the family are responsible for my introduction to his songs and given the year I was born (1976) I grew up with the 1980's era and beyond and as those who've read my blog entries are quick to find out I gravitate toward those recordings but I love pretty much all his recordings. His signature song is 1980's "He Stopped Loving Her Today" which hit #1 and was the recipient of many awards for both the artist and songwriters. It was one of the very few recordings to win back to back CMA Song of the Year honors (1980 and 1981). It was Single of the Year in 1980 and 1981 in a wide variety of award programs and he won Male Vocalist and Male Artist trophies in both years. The song won a Grammy early in 1981. His 1980 studio album, I Am What I Am, continues to be his only studio album, as of now, to sell more than 1,000,000 copies and earn a Platinum certification. Several compilation releases have been certified Platinum or higher but I Am What I Am remains the only studio album from his lengthy career to achieve the Platinum pinnacle.

In the above picture it's the cassette copy of You've Still Got a Place In My Heart, a wonderful 1984 album, and off to the right it's the cassette copy of 1983's Jones incredibly obscure release and just as great as anything he issued in that era. Each of those albums, released back to back in late 1983 and early 1984, were issued in a 2-in-1 CD special a couple of days ago. I knew of it's upcoming release and I was going to wait a few days before ordering it...but I put in my order for it earlier this morning. Call it being selfish but I couldn't help but think with the news of his death a lot of his music will be much sought after and in some cases collections available exclusively on CD might go out of print especially if it happens to be an import collection like the one I ordered this morning. Import collections are often in limited quantities as it is but with the news that broke this morning of his death I just had this feeling that if I didn't place my order as soon as possible I'd not have another chance. I have those two releases in vinyl format, too.

In the coming hours, days, and weeks there are sure to be a long list of high profile memorials and tributes. Just like millions of others who've made the life and music of George Jones a part of their own lives, it feels awful to come to the realization that he's physically no longer with us, and that a long standing champion of traditional country music has gone silent. Some have remarked that it's like the end of an era...for it seems as if it was George Jones and only George Jones that spoke up and said what was on a lot of our minds 20+ years ago when all the changes were going on in country music and country radio...changes that a lot of us didn't really understand back then. 
The hard life, the ups and downs, and all the scandals, controversies, and soap opera often played up in the national media is part of his story but it's not the only part. 1987's "Too Wild Too Long" is just one of many, many recordings from George that mixed reality and artistry. Although by 1987 he had been on the road to recovery (from both alcohol and drugs) it was still a slice of real life being sung about all throughout the song that somebody out there could relate to in some way or another. George once remarked that just because he had quit living wild and doing drugs it didn't mean others had been able to beat their demons and begin living healthy once again. Too Wild Too Long contains a mixture of uptempo and ballads with one of the major highlights being the sad, sorrowful tale of "The Old Man No One Loves". The song became his second music video following 1985's award winning "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?". The album kicks off with another example of a song that comes across as if it was written just for George...the triumphant "I'm a Survivor", which he certainly was. In 1987 he was named a Living Legend by Music City News magazine. This was the fan's equivalent to the Hall of Fame. Five years later, in the fall of 1992, George Jones at long last became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The plaque was given to him by Randy Travis during the CMA Awards moments after George had finished performing the rousing "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair". A year later he teamed up with B.B. King for a powerful duet titled "Patches" for the highly acclaimed various artists project, Rhythm, Country, and Blues. That collection was also notable for featuring the last recording by Conway Twitty, a duet with Sam Moore on "Rainy Night in Georgia".

He was given the Pioneer Award at the Academy of Country Music awards in 1993. In 1994 he had heart surgery but emerged later in the year in full force and another album, the duet driven project entitled The Bradley Barn Sessions. The project reunited George and Tammy Wynette in song for the first time since 1980. A television special featuring George and all involved aired on TNN. Several months later, by early 1995, an entire reunion album and tour was being planned. One, the duet album, was their first album together in 15 years. Their tour marked the first time they'd been on the road as a duet since the mid '70s. This project also came complete with an hour long television special on TNN. In 1996 George issued his autobiography titled I Lived To Tell It All. Accompanying the book's release was a studio album of the same name. It's lead-off single, "Honky Tonk Song", spoofed his alcoholic days and the music video shown him being chased by the police while he was on a riding mower.

George had his own television show for a couple of seasons on The Nashville Network in the mid/late '90s but the decade ended on a controversial note. In 1999 he was involved in a car accident when he crashed his S.U.V. into the side of a concrete abutment. It was reported that alcohol was found inside the vehicle. George, as it was reported, was talking on his cell-phone and went to play a demo recording and he took his eyes off the road for a couple of seconds and that's all it took. During his recovery, his record label at the time issued a new single, "Choices". It was later part of a new studio album, Cold Hard Truth. The single reached the Top-30 on the country charts, his first solo entry on the Top-40 half of the country charts since early 1994's Top-30 hit, "High Tech Redneck". In between that single and 1999's "Choices" he was on the Top-40 as a prominent background vocalist on the Patty Loveless hit, "You Don't Seem To Miss Me". The single would go on to win an award in the Vocal Event/Collaboration category. "Choices", in the meantime, won a Grammy...becoming George's second Grammy win. Two of his recordings were placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame: 1962's "She Thinks I Still Care" and 1980's "He Stopped Loving Her Today". In 2012 he won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

His popularity never waned or 1999 and 2001 he enjoyed lengthy album successes with Cold Hard Truth and The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001, each release hitting the Top-5 on the country album chart. The 1999 release sold half a million copies rather quickly. Another late '90s release, 16 Biggest Hits, sold half a million copies as did a 50 year CD release in 2004 titled 50 Years of Hits. Although not noted as a humongous sales artist, George, in truth, racked up quite a few Gold and Platinum releases through the decades and he did so, more or less, without the benefit of a crossover hit or hardly any acclaim from the pop music world whatsoever. Country music albums rarely, if ever, appeared higher than #100 on the Billboard 200, the official name for the pop album chart, until the 1990's...few made it to the Top-40 portion.  

I Am What I Am, George's 1980 studio album, became his first Gold album and then it went Platinum. By the early '90s several more of his 1980's albums were certified. Still the Same Ole Me, from 1981, and 1986's Wine Colored Roses were both certified Gold in 1990 and 1994 respectively. A 1982 release, Anniversary: 10 Years of Hits, was certified Gold in 1989. In the mid '90s a 1977 duet album from George and Tammy titled Greatest Hits, re-issued on CD, was certified Gold. 1992's Walls Can Fall and 1993's High Tech Redneck, each achieved Gold status. To date, the George Jones release that has sold the most copies is 1987's Super Hits. This particular collection was certified Gold and Platinum in the early '90s and then it obtained Double-Platinum status (2,000,000+ copies sold) in the early 2000's. There was a follow-up, Super Hits, Volume Two, but this collection didn't achieve the sales heights of it's predecessor mostly because of little promotion/publicity and the fact that his current releases on MCA in the early to mid '90s were so popular with audiences.

One of the feats that will certainly not be equaled is the amount of chart singles, hit albums, and total Top-40 country singles that he racked up from 1955 through 2011. A compilation simply titled Hits reached the country charts in the spring of 2011, placing in the Top-40. Previous releases such as Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets hit the Top-20 on the Country album chart in 2008. A Collection of My Best Recollection reached the Top-30 on the Country album chart in 2009. What all of this shows, the sales certifications and the appearances on the album chart with frequency well into the 2000's, is that George Jones was still reaching people and connecting with people some 50+ years after the release of his first singles in the mid 1950's.

As I touched upon at the start of the blog, George had been admitted to the hospital on April 18th for a fever and irregular blood pressure. There hadn't been much news surface in the days since until the news broke this morning of his death at the age of 81. He was in the process of retiring from the road and the music business this year...embarking on a farewell tour which was scheduled to wrap up in November at a huge event in Nashville. There are no doubt countless blogs out there that will touch upon George's music and life in much more detail as the hours and days go by but I wanted to post my own salute and so that's what I did. I wasn't as active in this blog given that there are already dozens of blogs about George Jones that pop up all the time and no doubt would have the same information that I'd be blogging about and so I kept this blog to a minimum...making posts whenever I came across something I felt I could say something about...something that would be different from others out there.

As a fan do you want to know one of the toughest questions asked about George Jones? Well, one of the things that any fan of George Jones will tell you right away is that you never, ever ask "What is your favorite George Jones song?" in the singular. It's a whole lot more appropriate to ask "What are your favorite George Jones songs?". It's impossible, for me, to single out just one recording out of hundreds upon hundreds of songs...single releases and album tracks...and say 'yes, that's my favorite George Jones song'. If you try and do that you'll be singing another of his songs to yourself and saying how wonderful it is...and then once you do this you'll be thinking of another of his songs that you love just as much. 

In closing I want to share a few links that will take you to some special moments in George's career. The first link is the 1987 presentation, by Loretta Lynn, of the Music City News Living Legend award. The tradition of the previous year's recipient presenting the next year's recipient would remain in place for the duration of the award franchise. George, in turn, would present the award in 1988 to Conway Twitty. The ultimate honor in country music, election to the Hall of Fame, is seen in link two. The third link is the Pioneer Award, presented to George several months after the Hall of Fame enshrinement.

1987 Music City News Living Legend

1992 Country Music Hall of Fame

1993 ACM Pioneer Award

George Jones ~Shine On~ 1931-2013

August 26, 2012

George Jones 2 album on 1 CD...

Those of you familiar with my reviews of George Jones releases through the years are probably aware that I often gravitate toward his '70s and '80s albums for Epic. His career dates back to the '50s and practically every fan has a favorite era.

The funny thing, for me at least, is a lot of fans are strongly passionate, either for or against, the various era's in his career. Those who strongly champion his earliest recordings rarely give much thought to the songs he recorded after, say, 1964. Some feel as if his songs were much better when there was minimal instrumental accompaniment while others feel his recordings gained more widespread success and acclaim once the recordings adopted a mainstream sound. Some feel his recordings became increasingly better once he joined the Epic label but then others feel the Epic recordings ruined the minimal, bare bones raw sound that had been a trademark of the early years by having orchestral accompaniment and immaculately produced sounds backing George's distinct vocals.

Even today a lot of critics make it clear that the 1954-1964 decade in George's career is their preferred time period.

I don't necessarily champion any era of his career...his recordings are great no matter what time period they were recorded in...but I gravitate toward the Epic days if only for the fact that it was those very recordings that I grew up hearing and liking. My grandparents, as well as my parents, had some vinyl albums, cassettes, and some 8-tracks of George Jones. The 1982 compilation, Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits, introduced me to the 1970's recordings of George.

I was thrilled to see that these two 1980's George Jones albums, Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes and Wine Colored Roses, were being issued on a single CD together!

One of the oddities of the CD's cover art is that they use an early '70s picture of George next to the thumbnail images of his 1985 and 1986 studio albums. On the back of the CD it looks to be a mid '70s publicity photo of George. The liner notes are written by an author named Chris Bolton and there are a couple of typo's and a song given a slightly incorrect title.

Those not familiar with the song won't catch this mistake but the author refers to a duet George did with Lacy J. Dalton in 1984. He refers to the song as "Size Seven Gold" but the actual title is "Size Seven Round and Made of Gold". The duet was a Top-20 hit in early 1985 but it was overshadowed by the recurrent radio popularity of a late 1984 solo single from George titled "She's My Rock" as well as the release of the future classic, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?", later in 1985. In other words, the Top-20 duet was sandwiched between two massively popular solo singles from George.

The fold-out containing the liner notes are filled with pictures taken of George during the '70s and '80s...including a picture of George and Tammy taken during what appears to be photo sessions for their 1980 reunion album, Together Again, plus a second picture of the two taken during the early '70s appear toward the end of the fold-out.

As far as the music goes it's all wonderful! The project kicks off with the 1985 album, Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes. There are 10 songs on each album. The running time given is just short of 1 hour. The hit songs from the 1985 album are "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?", "The One I Loved Back Then", and the obscure "Somebody Wants Me Out of the Way". The latter release became a hit early in 1986 but was overshadowed largely by the first two releases from the album. "The One I Loved Back Then" became a hugely popular song on radio and in concert. It deals with a play on words and a misunderstanding between George and a man he meets at a convenient store while discussing Corvettes. The song became so synonymous with George that the Corvette became a permanent fixture in his personal life, too. Publicity pictures of George and Corvettes began appearing in country music magazines. Many times in the early and mid '90s George was spotted at various local car shows...admiring the Corvette section, of course. A 1993 album shows George standing in front of a Corvette. "The One I Loved Back Then", subtitled "The Corvette Song", reached the Top-5 early in 1986.

Meanwhile, on a more serious note, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" honored the heroes and legends of music and a riveting music video was filmed...winning a fan-voted award in 1986 as Music Video of the Year from the readers of Music City News magazine. "Somebody Wants Me Out of the Way" is in the cheating song category and it became a Top-10 hit in mid 1986.

I like the entire 1985 album. It also features two duet recordings: Lynn Anderson joins George on "If You Could Touch Her At All" while Lacy J. Dalton appears with George on "That's Good - That's Bad". One of my favorites, besides the hits, is "Just When". There's just something about that song and his vocal performance that makes a person wonder why it was never released as a single. There's a great narration segment as well.

The album is ballad heavy and the only mid to uptempo recordings are "The One I Loved Back Then", "A Whole Lot of Trouble For You", and "Call The Wrecker For My Heart". In later years, much of the 1990's specifically, George's albums would feature more mid-tempo and uptempo recordings and just a few ballads. I assume the reason for that is due to the popular belief that country songs only sell if they're dance-friendly and uptempo!?

Wine Colored Roses came along in 1986 and it, too, is ballad heavy. The album's first three songs were released as singles throughout the latter half of 1986 into mid 1987. "Wine Colored Roses", one the many songs dealing with alcohol in George's career, leads off the album. A ballad, it was issued as a single late in 1986 and it tells the story of a man who gets a letter from an estranged lover asking several questions. One question in particular is if he's stopped drinking. The song's follow-up was "The Right Left Hand" in early 1987. This particular song is mid-tempo and it was written especially about George's personal life and his marriage to Nancy. The two of them married in 1983 and have remained together for 29 years. This song reached the Top-10 in the spring of 1987.

Joining that recording as mid-tempo is "Ol' Frank", track 19. This song tells a very familiar gold-digging story of a younger woman marrying an older man for his money. It's a whimsical tale as is the much more uptempo "The Very Best of Me". In that song George refers to an ex-wife which no doubt will conjure up memories of his previous marriage to Tammy Wynette. George duets with Patti Page on the mid-tempo "You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine". As you can tell by it's title the song was playful as two former lovers see one another in their later years and, based strictly on appearance, regret not staying together. "Don't Leave Without Taking Your Silver" is one of my favorites. It's title has a double meaning. One of the greatest songs he recorded during the 1980's is the album's closer, "These Old Eyes Have Seen It All". Once you hear it you'll be saying the same thing.

"I Turn To You" became a single in the summer of 1987 and it reached the early victim of country radio's New Country brand. It's a sentimental song and a ballad about love affirmation. I feel if the song had been recorded and released a couple of years earlier it would've been a much more bigger hit.

By late 1987 the New Country brand was being heavily promoted at country radio...there were still quite a few outlets for established country artists to get their albums and songs publicized to a mass audience. This was accomplished mostly through appearances on The Nashville Network and Hee-Haw. There were also magazine publications that were still in print that catered to the audiences of the established country singers.

What was going on, though, from 1987 onward was a distinct difference between what was largely being heard on country radio and what was being viewed on country music television programs. It was very common, in 1994 for example, to turn a country radio station on and hear a lot of New Country artists but then switch on The Nashville Network later that day and see a lot of artists that country audiences knew but weren't hearing on the radio with any degree of consistency anymore. So, for a period of 4 or 5 years, country radio and country TV catered to two distinct demographics. Nowadays the radio and TV outlets for country music are indistinguishable. Unless you're one of the chosen that gets radio airplay you more or less won't get the opportunity to appear on any number of TV shows that focus on country music, either.

You can purchase the CD through the following link...2 album on 1 CD. I'll soon copy and paste this review over on Amazon's product page.