Country singer George Jones lived such a colorful and public life that several biographies about him have been written in the past few years. I have three of those on my own bookshelves: George Jones: The Saga of an American Singer (Bob Allen - 1984), Ragged but Right: The Life & Times of George Jones (Dolly Carlisle – 1984), and George Jones: I Lived to Tell It All (George Jones & Tom Carter – 1996). Interestingly, both the first two books were published about the time that George returned to his roots and built Jones Country in tiny Colmesneil, Texas (population 600). But Jones continued to add to his legend after 1984, of course, and although Tom Carter’s book covers the years up to 1996 when it was published, those years are somewhat filtered through the eyes of Carter’s co-author, George Jones himself.
Now, a full three years after Jones’s death, his legacy has become more settled and his whole story can be told in one volume – and that is exactly what Rich Keinzle has done in The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. From the very beginning of his career, country music fans were intrigued by the craziness that always seemed to follow Jones around the country as he performed. By the end of that career, George Jones was a respected vocalist (still with a reputation for craziness) who had managed to grab the attention of music lovers around the world. It was never easy for the shy, insecure performer that Jones was throughout his lifetime, but, public warts and all, he was just too good to ignore.
Rich Keinzle has done his George Jones homework, and it shows. The Grand Tour recounts everything from the life of poverty into which Jones was born, through his battle with drug and alcohol addictions that almost killed him, and on to his rescue by Nancy Sepulvado, the Shreveport woman, who saw him through the worst of his addictions and saved both his life and his career. It is impossible to recount the life of George Jones without spending a great number of pages on the singer’s problems and demons – and Keinzle does that. But the high points of Jones’s life, including the best (and worst) of his recordings are also recounted in great detail.
I appreciate The Grand Tour – and I am no casual George fan. George Jones and his music have been in my life for more than five decades. I grew up near the city of Beaumont, Texas, which Jones called home for a number of years. My wife’s grandparents knew the Jones family in Saratoga, Texas, and her grandmother occasionally had George over to the house when he was a boy. Too, I personally witnessed two of the milestone events cited by the author in The Grand Tour: the one and only country music show ever presented at Jones’s Rhythm Ranch in Vidor, Texas, and his later induction into the Beaumont Walk of Fame, a site that honors the most famous citizens born in the county surrounding that city. And all that said, Rich Keinzle still told me a thing or two about George Jones I never knew; it’s that kind of book – maybe a little bit crude and rough around the edges…but then so was George.