It is a sad evening here in Helsinki as I just received word that country music legend George Jones has passed away. George was a huge part of The Starday Story and it is so sad to lose yet another Starday legend.
I recall very early on in my project wanting to talk with George about Starday, but Don Pierce wasn’t so sure if George would want to talk with us. George and he had had a tumultuous relationship at Starday. Don always felt like he had to be the “hatchet man” and was the only person who could say “no” to George. And then there was that incident out at the Starday Studio... George’s relationship with Pappy Daily also became strained when Jones left Daily for Epic Records. Even knowing this, I felt like the book couldn’t be complete without his input. Don made several calls to George on my behalf and even went and had lunch with him to convince him to talk with me. While it was great to see George and Don’s relationship repaired, I was still waiting years for my interview opportunity. I even recall hearing the owner of his record label at the time, Evelyn Shriver of Bandit Records (and by the way, a million ‘Thank You’s’ are due to Evelyn), telling George that I have been trying to track him down for several years and his response: “Well, let him wait a few more then!”
Fortunately, laughter followed. George was only kidding. In the end, my patience and persistence was rewarded. George not only shared some of his earliest memories about Starday, recording with Sonny Burns, singing gospel music on the Houston Jamboree, making ‘Why Baby Why,’ meeting Jack Starns and Pappy Daily, befriending the Big Bopper, being pressured to record rockabilly music against his will, and recording in the Starns’ home studio (among other topics covered), but he also sent me photos and gave me permission to use his picture with the Packard on the book cover (and I think it makes a beautiful book cover!).
A few years later George and his wife Nancy invited me to join them in Chicago for one of George’s shows. The Starday book was then finished, but it hadn’t been published yet. It was an extreme honor getting to hand George and Nancy the finished text and to hang out backstage for the night. We talked more about Starday, this time more about the royalties (or, lack thereof) and the fall-out with the label, and I was thankful that I got to hear his side of the story. It was also my first time getting to meet Nancy and she was such a kind and encouraging soul. My heart goes out to her and George’s family today.
In the end, I’m not sure how to best pay tribute to George… I know a lot of people are posting YouTube links to their favorite George songs… My problem is that I have so many favorites, I really don’t know if I can pick just one… To me, George is one of the top three or four vocalists who have ever lived, regardless of genre. He had such an expressive way of singing that just really strikes a chord with me. That said, I did, along with the Hi-Fly Rangers, record one of George’s songs from 1957 last year: Too Much Water. http://nategibson.bandcamp.com/track/too-much-water
And while I tried to pay tribute to George in song myself, I’m also quite fond of Jackie D. Parrish’s tribute song to George Jones, ‘I Like To Hear George Jones Sing.’ I’m pretty certain this was the first ever tribute song about George Jones, though there have been many more recorded ever since. The Parrish tune was released on the Nashville label, a Starday subsidiary, back in 1966 while George’s career was still taking off, and incorporates most of his major hits in one way or another… It’s a catchy tribute to a great country singer. Thanks to WFMU for posting the mp3 online and to George for all of the great music and memories! Viva la George Jones!
Jackie D. Parrish – I Like To Hear George Jones Sing, Nashville-Starday Records 1966