George Jones Sets His Final 'Grand Tour' For 2013

Wednesday, 15 August 2012 06:03 AM Written by 

George Jones's first gig away from his Beaumont, Texas happened in 1947, when the gifted 16 year old singer and guitarist, upset over a blowout with his dad, left and spent several months singing at a Jasper, Texas radio station, 70 miles away.  But the real touring started in 1955, in the wake of "Why Baby Why," his first hit single--and it's gone on ever since.

In 2013, he'll take to the road one last time.

On Tuesday, the 80 year old Jones, s currently touring through December, announced he'll retire from performing after a 60-city Farewell Grand Tour to take place next year.  His goal: to spend more time with his family. He's also planning a new album, 57 years after his first vinyl LP: Grand Ole Opry's New Star, released in 1956.   I'm the proud owner of one.

Jones is not the first country singer to retire.  Grand Ole Opry star Carl Smith, first husband of June Carter long before she ever worked with Johnny Cash, retired in the 70's to raise horses with second wife Goldie Hill.  Buck Owens retired in 1980 to tend to his business holdings, but resumed limited touring in the 90's before settling into his Bakersfield theater-supper club.

Here's Jones in 1957 on the LA-based TV show Ranch Party, introduced by Tex Ritter, John's dad. The hot guitarist is Joe Maphis, Margie Warren is on fiddle. The female steel player is Marian Hall, one of the few women to play the country steel until Barbara Mandrell and later Cindy Cashdollar came along. The song: his Starday hit "You Gotta Be My Baby."

Dolly Parton is writing songs for a new album he plans to record.

Jones has been an enormous concert draw, though from the 50's until the early 80's, his frequent binges led to missed dates, earning him the dubious nickname "No-Show Jones." When he showed up in the bag, the show he gave could get...kinda wild.  Nonetheless, fans forgave him and with good reason: his a supremely gripping vocals on records and onstage justifiably earned him the reputation as country's greatest living singer, a Gold Standard no one has touched.  

Tunes like "Window Up Above," "Tender Years," "The Grand Tour" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" are among the greatest country performances of any era.  It's why his fan base today ranges from the elderly to folk, punk, rock, blues and Americana players. 

This is Jones in 1980, on the edge of self-destruction from both alcohol and cocaine when "He Stopped Loving Her" was brand-new, singing it on Canadian singer Ronnie Prophet's TV show.

Yes, many came to see if he'd show up at all, when in good shape, he held audiences in the palm of his hand and when he finally kicked the booze and drugs in the 80's, he entered a long period of reliability that left audiences –and Jones himself—satisfied. This tune from the old Nashville Network, is from the 90's. The song: "Tennessee Whiskey."

From the same era: a reprise of his 1963 hit "The Race Is On."

He could still chart Top 20 singles in the 1990's and remained on the charts well beyond that, even after he rebounded from a 1999 relapse into drinking that nearly killed him when he piled up his SUV near his Franklin, Tennessee farm.

In recent years, he's understandably slowed down. The decades have taken a toll on his voice that's become more apparent in the past few years.  This is from a concert in Florida this past February. The voice is rougher, but it doesn't matter. Note the audience singing along.

Earlier this year recurring upper respiratory infections hospitalized Jones, forcing him to postpone concerts, and such things can play hell with any singer's breath control.

It's true. Getting old is not for sissies. George has beaten some long odds multiple times.  I'd say there's no shame in him closing out his remarkable 60-plus year musical saga with the dignity and applause he so richly deserves.

Want more? There are more George Videos from the 50's and 60's here.

And from 1970 - 2005 here.

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