George Jones Interview, August 1976, at Sunset Park, West Grove, PA, by Peter Stone Brown
George Jones to me is the greatest Country & Western singer of all time. His voice can stretch and slide and twang, but it’s the intensity, the feeling he puts into it that cuts right through you. This interview was done at a legendary country music park about 50 miles south of Philadelphia on the Delaware/Maryland border. It was an old-style park that had been running for decades – Hank Williams had played there. This was during the time Jones was notorious for not showing up and stories about his drinking binges were legendary. It was my first or second interview. I had been to Sunset Park several times, but this time I was there alone and let’s just say I didn’t look like most of the rest of the audience. Sunset Park would have two complete shows every Sunday. In front of the stage were rows of plain wooden benches, and the regulars would bring foldable lawn chairs and put them over the benches. There was a tiny ancient Ferris wheel, a couple of other rides for the kids, and a food stand with burgers and cokes. Alcohol was strictly forbidden. The stars would drive their busses right up to the stage and the busses usually didn’t arrive until it was close to show time. There were three acts every week. The opening act, in fact the house band, was Ola Belle Reed and her family. Then there was a bluegrass band, quite often Del McCoury, and then the main act. After the show the main act would sign autographs while the band sold albums, and then after a little break the whole thing would start again. So George showed up and did his show which is usually about an hour. So I waited through the autograph signing, and then I waited some more, and then some more. And then I waited through the opening acts. About a half-hour before he took the stage again, they finally brought me onto his bus. And all this time I’m wondering whether they were sobering him up (not that he seemed drunk at the show) or what. This was done right at the time the whole outlaw movement championed by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson was causing a stir.
When did you first start singing and who were your first influences?
I started singing when I was very young. First influences was people like Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. Of course closely to follow was Hank Williams and then Lefty Frizzell and people like that.
How often are you on the road?
Oh we work about ten to twelve days a month.
Do you still write a lot of songs?
Not too many. We write just now and then, when we feel like we got an idea.
Could you tell me about your club?
The Possum Holler club? We still have it, doin’ great.
You’ve done a lot of songs by Dallas Frazier and Leon Payne who people up North haven’t heard too much about.
If they haven’t heard about them, I don’t know what’s happenin’. Dallas Frazier wrote a lot of great things even that I didn’t record. He wrote some great things like “There Goes My Everything.” There’s only about three songwriters as far as I’m concerned that come from Nashville, as far as country music is concerned and that’s Leon Payne and Bill Anderson…. I can’t even think of his name right now, I’ll think of it in a minute. You have a lot of songwriters. You have the type that’ll write pop and they’ll write rock and roll and then they’ll write country. But when I say these names, I’m speaking of country writers.
Other than the music that you’re doin’ now, is there any period you’re particularly happy with or feel best about?
Yeah I’ve been on several different labels. I think I was probably more happier with the United Artists label because I didn’t even have to know what my record sales were. They seemed to see to it that my associates found out and knew and I received more money from them, over the years that I was with them than anyone else.
You said that you’d never do anything but country, and I’d like to know how you feel about some of the recent trends in country western like what the record industry calls the Outlaw Movement which to me just seems like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson doing what they’ve always done.
I think that’s just people talkin’ when they call it the Outlaw Movement or Progressive Country. I just think that’s people that love to dream up things and talk. Country music is country music. You can identify it anywhere. People listening to your show right now, you might play a record right after we sign off this interview. It might even be country or not really the true country that we’re talking about. But you can’t fool the people, they’re gonna know. Your biggest listener in country music is the hard-working type of group which to me are the greatest people in the world. And they’re more understandable, they might call us simple folks, but they’re the people that started and are a very big symbol of what we call country music.
Is there anybody who you listen to?
Oh yes, I love Merle Haggard, he’s about my favorite and I love Ronnie Milsap, Mel Street, people like that. I stick basically to good country music. You know it’s hard to stick to as true country as you would love to, as what you was raised around is what I would prefer over all the rest. But it’s hard to speak directly to it because your producers and your record labels have a little something to say about it. And they decide to overdub violins or something else, some other type of non-country instrument on your record, there’s nothin’ you can do about it. You just have to grin and bear it and say well, one of these days.
I read in the press that you recently decided to try and record a more basic country sound than what you have been putting out.
That’s goin’ back to progressive and modern. There’s nothing that’s more modern than we are, then the people themselves. And all you do is go along and try to keep doing what you think that you’re doin’ best and if so many people like it, then you’ve gotta be doin’ something right. So why change and try to be something that you aren’t, and try to go to all this stuff of growin’ a big beard or else the one’s that had beards they cut ’em off, so it doesn’t make any difference, vice versa. Everybody’s tryin’ to find a place in life. That seems to be the place they found and God Bless ’em.