Minnesotan fans and acquaintances saw the many sides of George Jones over the years, including plenty of firsthand proof of his mighty voice and ample evidence of how he earned the nickname No-Show Jones.
The country music legend, who died today in Nashville at 81, was a regular at Bloomington’s Carlton Celebrity Showroom in the late-‘70s and ‘80s, and he regularly canceled or postponed those shows. At one of the Carlton gigs when he did show up, circa 1982, he opened with the song that poked fun at his reputation “No Show Jones,” and then quipped to the crowd about what convinced him to be there: “I had to work. I’m getting broke,” he said (and he probably wasn’t entirely kidding).
Twin Cities country music veteran Sherwin Linton -- who regularly performed on bills with Jones in the 1960s -- recalled a no-show 1967 gig at the Frontier Club in Fridley. when he agreed to pick up Jones at the airport beforehand. “I remember I got a speeding ticket going down Portland Avenue on my way to the airport,” Linton recounted, “and then when I got there, he didn’t even make the flight.”
And then there was a prior concert in 1965 at the Minneapolis Auditorium when Linton witnessed an imbibing Jones fire his entire band after the show. When Linton went to the bus later to check in on the Jones Boys, he recounted this story: “I asked them, ‘What are you gonna do?’ They said, ‘Oh we’re going to Milwaukee,’ where the next gig was. They said, ‘He won’t even remember what he did tomorrow.’”
Linton shared those tales only because he also had plenty of admiring and reverential memories to offer, too, particularly from the days when Jones performed at Minneapolis’s old honky-tonk palace the Flame in the early 1960s.He and Jones would go across the street to Kings Lanes after the shows to get breakfast. Linton recounted that Jones was at the Flame the week “Tender Years” hit No. 1, and then again the week “She Thinks I Still Care” did the same (1961-1962). “I think being here is a good omen,” he recalled Jones saying.
Perfectly summing up Jones’ talent, Linton said, “He had a feel for a song and a way of delivering it that I think is unmatched in all of country music.”
Linton’s ties to Jones turned familial in recent years: His sister-in-law and former backup singer, Brittany Allyn, served as Jones’ backup singer for the past decade. The St. Joseph, Minn., native would take center-stage with Jones at recent concerts -- including his Mystic Lake shows in 2008 -- to sing Tammy Wynette’s parts in their old duets, always a moving tribute to Jones’ late ex-wife. Allyn’s sister Pam Linton said Jones insisted on Brittany joining him at a 2006 appearance without the rest of his band on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” when Letterman specifically requested a string section for “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Said Pam, “He treated her like she was one of their children and was so loving toward her.”
While his health had forced him to cancel many recent shows on what was being billed as his farewell tour -- including an already once-postponed gig last fall at Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minn. – Jones still had gigs on the books for this year and even this weekend, Pam pointed out. That includes a Sept. 27 gig back at Mystic Lake, which will now be refunded. “This is somewhat of a shock to his family, and my heart goes out to them,” Pam said.
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Star Tribune archivist John Wareham helped with this report