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George Jones: One of country music's true living legends

Years -- no decades -- from now when there is a discussion about country music, one of the first names that will come up is George Jones.

Born some 78-plus years ago in Saratoga, Texas, Jones, who early in his career was a budding rockabilly singer, became a country music legend worthy of mention in a select group that includes the likes of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.

Jones, whose "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is considered by many to be one of -- if not the -- best country songs of all time, had his first top 5 hit in 1955, the classic "Why Baby Why." His first No. 1 -- "White Lightning" -- hit the charts in 1959, and the hit parade was on.

"Tender Years," "She Thinks I Still Care," "The Window Up Above," "The Race Is On" and "Walk Through This World With Me" -- all chart-toppers -- followed, but even their success paled in comparison to "He Stopped Loving Her."

"It goes without saying that it was what they call my career song," Jones, who will perform at the Albany Civic Center Saturday, said. "I had some big hits before and some after, but I doubt I will ever equal that song again."

The pressures of success -- and his high-profile marriage to fellow country star Tammy Wynette (with whom he had a string of hits like "Golden Ring, "Near You" and "We're Gonna Hold On") -- weighed on Jones, and he turned to the bottle for relief. He developed a reputation for not making a number of scheduled appearances and was given the nickname "No Show Jones."

"Unfortunately, most of the stories" are true, "I guess," Jones said in an interview with The Herald. "But I probably haven't heard them all."

Jones overcame his drinking problems and strung together a number of hits through the '70s and '80s, including "The Grand Tour," "The Door," "A Picture of Me Without You," and, of course, "He Stopped Loving Her," which earned Jones a Grammy award, a CMA Single of the Year award, and, in 1990, recognition as best country song of all-time.

Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and while he and other legends are all but forgotten on modern country radio, he still plays around 100 shows a year to adoring audiences.

Jones took time out from his busy touring schedule to answer questions about his famed career.

ALBANY HERALD: When most artists have reached your stature, they either lose touch with their music or they walk away for other reasons. Artists like you, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy endure and just keep getting better. What keeps you performing at this level?

GEORGE JONES: I would have to say it is because of the wonderful fans I have. They continue to come to my shows and support my music, and I still love to perform.

AH: People talk about "contemporaries" of truly iconic artists like yourself. Are there other country singers -- Willie Nelson? Merle Haggard? -- you consider your contemporaries?

GJ: I absolutely do. They are both dear friends and in my opinion true country music artists who will never be replicated or replaced.

AH: Do you listen to modern country music?

GJ: In a word, NO.

AH: Are there artists playing today whose music you like?

GJ: I have always like Alan Jackson because he's stayed true to the roots of country music.

AH: You've had a colorful career, one that was no doubt embellished upon by the media as your career grew. How many stories from the "No Show Jones" era are actually true?

GJ: Unfortunately, most of them, I guess, but I probably haven't heard all of them. There has definitely been a lot of embellishment over the years. As Faron Young once said, "You can't sling a cat by his tail and not hit someone who has a story about me or Jones."

AH: I've said over the years -- and nothing has come along to change my mind -- that "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is the greatest country song ever. What has that one song meant to you?

GJ: Well, it goes without saying that it was what they call my "career song." I had some big hits before "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and some after, but I doubt I will ever equal that song again.

AH: If you had to pick a Top 5 or Top 10 list of George Jones songs, what would be on the list?

GJ: Well, of course, at the top of the list would be "He Stopped Loving Her Today," but then there are so many songs I recorded that I love: "Why Baby Why," "White Lightning," "Window Up Above," "The Race Is On," "A Picture of Me Without You," "Once You've Had the Best," "The Grand Tour," "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," "Choices" ... I could go on and on.

AH: Are there any songs -- country or otherwise -- that you wish you'd recorded?

GJ: Yes. As a matter of fact, I did an entire album of them which was titled "Hits I Missed ... And One I Didn't." It included "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Detroit City," "The Blues Man" (with Dolly Parton), "Here in the Real World," "If You're Gonna Do Me Wrong," "Today I Started Loving You Again," "On the Other Hand," "Pass Me By," "Skip a Rope," "Too Cold at Home" and "Busted" ... plus, of course, the one I didn't miss, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

AH: The music business has changed a great deal in the last decade. How has that affected you and how you make music?

GJ: It really hasn't affected how I make music. Of course, radio won't play it, but I have to be true to the music I love and record the songs I like. I don't care if it is not on the radio. My fans buy my music at concerts and over the Internet and through my Web site.

AH: You've recorded with your daughter Georgette. What was that experience like?

GJ: It was wonderful. She wrote the song we recorded together, which made it even more special.

AH: You've done everything -- won every award -- a singer can do. You've had the No. 1 songs and are considered a legend by your industry. Is there anything you didn't accomplish in your career that you wish you had?

GJ: I kinda wish I had learned to play the guitar better. My band finally took mine away from me because they said I was messing them up. Other than that, I could never ask for more. I have been very blessed.

AH: Along those lines, you're still going strong. Is there anything else you'd like to accomplish in your career?

GJ: No, not really.