A packed house of artists, industry professionals, and a few fans turned out Tuesday (Sept. 13) at Rippy’s in downtown Nashville to celebrate the 80th birthday of “The Possum,” George Jones.
The Country Music Hall of Famer, who has placed more entries on Billboard’s Country Songs chart than any other, was in attendance with his wife Nancy, and took time to chat with reporters before heading over to the Grand Ole Opry for a birthday celebration that included performances by Alan Jackson and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Jones, whose actual birthday was Monday, was visibly moved by the number of artists and fans that were there. “It means everything,” he told Billboard.com. “I’m just overwhelmed. It’s great. Everybody has been so wonderful.”
Jones, who has seen the release of three compilations of his previous hits this year, said he doesn’t have any plans to return to the studio for a solo project anytime soon. However, he didn’t rule out any future collaborations with other artists.
“I would love to do a few albums with some different artists. As far as any singles go, I’m not really looking forward to that. I would love to do some duets again, maybe like some of the funny things that Ernest Tubb and Red Foley used to do years ago,” alluding to hits like “Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age” and “Too Old To Cut The Mustard.”
Jones, who has enjoyed hits on the charts since 1955’s “Why Baby Why” peaked at No. 4, has made some great decisions over the years. Songs like “Tender Years,” “The Window Up Above” and “The Grand Tour” stand as some of Country Music’s top performances of all time. His 1980 chart-topper, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” is generally recognized as the greatest song of all time in the genre. But, as the 2005 album “Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t” shows, there were a few songs that Jones passed on that became hits for other artists. Billboard.com asked Jones if he could pick just a few records he could have back, what would they be?
“Well, I turned down ‘Oh, Lonesome Me’ by Don Gibson (1958). I turned down ‘The Image Of Me’ by Conway Twitty (1968). One of the good ones that I fell in love with but I fell in love with too late was ‘Too Cold At Home.’ Bobby Harden brought me that one back in 1990, but he just brought me the words. That’s one I wish I had done, but I couldn’t see anything that good about it with no music. I thought ‘Who in the hell wants to hear a song about the house being cold, and it being too cold at home. That’s been going on for a lot of years. The next thing I know, Mark Chesnutt has first number one hit. So that just goes to show that you’re not always right.”
What about the songs he has cut. Obviously, Jones has his favorites. But, they may not be what you suspect. “I’m in love with a lot of them,” he says. “I think a lot of stuff from the albums are better than some of the hits I had. You can make good choices, or bad choices,” he says with a grin (and nod to his 1999 hit “Choices,” perhaps). “But, we made a few.”
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Many in Nashville probably are pleasantly surprised that Jones has reached this personal milestone. After all, his struggles with alcoholism and drugs in the 1970s and 1980s are well-documented. Is Jones surprised that he is still here today — almost six decades after his first single, “There Ain’t No Money In This Deal?”
“I don’t know what I would have said because I never thought about dying,” he admits. “You just wake up one day and look in the mirror and go ‘What happened,’ he says sheepishly. “That’s just the way it works.”