George Jones, who died April 26 in Nashville at the age of 81, worked hard—or rather, played hard—to earn the nickname “No Show Jones.” The moniker came from Jones’ propensity to miss concerts due to his well-chronicled affinity for alcohol and drugs.
Nashville insiders believe Jones’ career survived his bouts with drug and alcohol abuse because fans could relate to his flawed character. “They identified that it wasn’t him being a jerk,” says Country Music Hall of Fame staffer Michael McCall. “It was him struggling with addictions and struggling with himself. It wasn’t that he walked out on stage and cussed ‘em out—although he may have done that, too—but they saw that this was a man struggling with himself and not somebody who was just high and mighty and being a jerk.”
Joe Taylor, who booked Jones in the ‘80s, agrees. “Even when he was doing bad, the fans were still with him,” he says.“People would always apologize for him; they’d make excuses for him because they loved him so much.”
It also helped that Jones would come back and make up the shows he missed, McCall says.
Taylor recalls a particular venue in Chattanooga, Tenn., being wary of booking Jones because of his reputation. “I had gone to school there and had worked at the venue, and they told me they wanted to book George,” says Taylor.“But they said, ‘Look, we want you to guarantee that George Jones will show up and we want you to come down here for the date.’ I told them ‘okay’ and that he would show up.”
The story has a happy ending. “When they introduced George that night he got a standing ovation,” Taylor remembers.“I found out later he had missed two different shows with them before the one I booked.”
Shelia Shipley-Biddy, who served as VP of promotion at MCA Nashville when George recorded for the label, says it also helped that George continued to record hit songs despite his struggles. “When he was at the heyday of hislife and being ‘No Show Jones,’ the music was still in the groove,” she says.“He still had songs that people could relate to, and because of that, I think they were more forgiving.
“It was part of his character,” she continues.“If you think of the times, Waylon [Jennings] was getting in trouble and Johnny Cash was getting in trouble. It really was like a soap opera.”
Later in his career, Jones was so settled that rather than heading out to drink, he was more concerned about not missing his favorite television show. “He’d been through it all and seen it all, and I know that when he was on the road touring, a lot of times, he didn’t want to close the show,” Shipley-Biddy recalls. “’Matlock’ used to come on at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock or whatever, and that was one of his favorite shows, so he would want to open so he could get back to the bus to watch ‘Matlock.’ He wanted to go out there andperform and reach his fans, but then he was ready to go to the bus and watch ‘Matlock.’”
Superstar and friend Brad Paisley believes the fact that Jones would even sing a song called “No Show Jones,” which he used to open his shows with later in his career, was a tribute to his sense of humor and humble nature. “No one was better at making fun of himself than he was,” Paisley says. ”It was the most self-effacing song he could have done.”
—additional reporting by Tom Roland and Vernell Hackett