Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

After the Fire Is Gone a Critical Look at Why George Jones Was Country Music's Greatest Singer

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

After the Fire Is Gone a Critical Look at Why George Jones Was Country Music's Greatest Singer

Article excerpt

Music historian Rich Kienzle's telling of the life and music of George Jones begins with an anecdote about the hero's appearance at the Country Music Association Awards in October 1981. The CMAA has an opportunity to right a blatant wrong, to finally honor the greatest singer in the history of country music, and the protagonist might not even show up. And if he shows up, he might embarrass not only himself but also the entire industry.

"Much of Nashville and many fans concluded that any day, George would follow his longtime idol, Hank Williams Sr. . who died drunk and drugged up in the backseat of his Cadillac, into the darkness," says Mr. Kienzle, who writes the online Get Rhythm column about music for the Post-Gazette.

It's an interesting, maybe even necessary, place to start in "The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones." Most casual fans know only the caricature, so get the caricature out of the way right at the top so we can get down to talking about what is really important: the music, the songs, the voice.

One might be tempted to see the whole arc as rote: a rags-to-riches story in which the hero's demons compel him to scandal, disgrace and indignity, redeemed only by the beauty of his art and the number of lives it touches.

What distinguishes this tale is the origin of the protagonist. Mr. Kienzle writes: "He [George Jones] was born into poverty in a harsh, inhospitable region of East Texas, the youngest of eight children initially raised in an environment that in many ways hearkened back to 19th-century America." In the book's opening chapter, Mr. Kienzle introduces the fascinating world of "The Thicket . piney woods, bayous, swamps ... sort of a terrestrial black hole, a place that explorers and even Native Americans largely avoided due to the potential for entering and never exiting."

Violence. Volatility. Austerity. Libertarianism.

George Jones first showed signs of affinity for music as a baby in church with the "uncanny ability to remember a melody and even sing it back. …

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