He ended the show with "I Don't Need No Rockin' Chair," and for the most part he proved it.

After a 53-year career pockmarked by hard living, country music legend George Jones, 76, deserved a standing ovation just for making it all the way through his 90-minute performance Thursday night at Mystic Lake Casino. Fortunately, there was more to applaud than just stamina at the singer's first of two nearly sold-out Mystic gigs (he returns to the Prior Lake casino tonight).

Although he hasn't seriously mentioned retirement -- and in fact he also has concerts booked Aug. 30-31 at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker, Minn. -- Jones' fans probably couldn't help but wonder if these would be his last Twin Cities appearances.

Why should we care? The country legend known as the Possum (or by his dubious, drunken-days nickname, No Show Jones) had 40-plus hits and the greatest set of pipes of any male singer in country music. The guy could make hard-working men weep into their beers with his heartbreaking voice, a pain that many believed grew out of his failed marriages and struggles with alcoholism.

"Had" is the right word to use in regards to Jones' voice, though. He clearly couldn't hit many of his old high notes Wednesday, which is likely what forced him to wedge snippets of the classics "She Thinks I Still Care" and "Walk Through This World With Me" into a medley near the end of his set. He was also short of breath and fumbled the lyrics on faster-paced songs, including the opener "Why, Baby, Why" (his first hit from 1955) and one of his biggest hits, "The Race Is On."

Where his voice fell short, however, Jones craftily used emotions and his trouble-lifting charm to fill in, mainly through video-screen montages and stories. He augmented "Choices" with personal photos and clips, ranging from family snapshots to ugly TV footage of one of his arrests. He drew a standing ovation with "50,000 Names," featuring footage from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a dedication to "all the veterans, especially the ones from the current war."

Most touching of all, he sang "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" to photos of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette.

Wynette, Jones' former wife and singing partner, was also remembered during a series of their hit duets, including "Near You" and "Golden Ring." St. Stephen, Minn.-reared backup singer Brittany Allen ably raised Tammy's parts.

Of course, Jones also brought up his resilient wife of the past 28 years, Nancy, dedicating "One Woman Man" to her after purportedly forgetting to sing it at a recent show ("I'll never forget again," he quipped).

Nancy also probably had something to do with the hokey cross-promotion awkwardly dropped into the show. George turned into shill onstage behind a new brand of fruit juice, GeorgeJonesSausage.com and even -- no kidding -- a line of bottled water dubbed George's White Lightning Tennessee Spring Sipping Water. Amazingly, he didn't flub those words.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658