By Benjamin Leatherman
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George "No Show" Jones is coming to town, so you're probably expecting all the cliché jokes ("Well, he's scheduled to play on Thursday . . .").
But that would be lazy, and, honestly, you can make only so many jokes about a concert not happening. Since the rest of the press — and everyone else over the age of 50 — can be relied on to beat that old horse to death, it may be worth taking a moment instead to mark the occasion of a significant anniversary in the career of the greatest country singer of all time.
Yes, his and Tammy Wynette's 42nd wedding anniversary just passed — except for the divorce and her being dead — but, more importantly, Jones' appearance in Phoenix comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of his return to relevance.
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Back up just past those 30 years, and you'll see the George Jones who rightly earned the "No Show" tag that sticks to this day — ditching as many shows as he showed up for, bankrupted by the resulting multimillion-dollar lawsuits, his bank accounts frozen. The former murder suspect was drowning in booze, mobsters were force-feeding him cocaine to give him the energy boost he needed to get on stage, and he was barely capable of pulling his shit together long enough to record an album of 12 songs that someone else was writing for him.
It got so bad that Tammy had to convene country and rock's biggest names to put together what amounted to a charity album to get this pathetic loser back on his feet. Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, and a whole gang of superstars showed up to lay down some tracks, but The Possum was barely able to function. Propped up with guest appearances, the final product had enough star power to chart, but even No Show would admit that he half-assed it all the way and let down every last person involved with the project.
It's hard to say just what it was that kicked his ass back into gear between then and his following album – maybe the three-week stint in rehab – but the next year, Jones recorded I Am What I Am, a collection of rock-solid country tracks that gave him a chance to dust off his talents for lyrical interpretation and the voice that had come to define country music, a perfect balance of twang and plaintiveness that was so salt-of-the-earth you could taste it.
The album was filled with great songs, including "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me" and "I've Aged Twenty Years in Five," but the real gem was "He Stopped Loving Her Today," at once the greatest and saddest country song ever written. The song shot to the top of the country charts and, soon, Jones was putting his life back together: wrapping up those pesky bankruptcy proceedings, getting over his divorce, and sobering up – if only a little. Heck, they even gave him his credit card back. And just five months after the album dropped, Jones found himself getting a little emotional at Radio City Music Hall, accepting his first Grammy, for "He Stopped Loving Her Today," on February 25, 1981.
With that, George Jones' star was on the rise again. There's been a hiccup or two along the way, but No Show eventually turned his reputation around, even if he couldn't shake the nickname. Now, 30 years minus one day later, the man whose friends all expected him to die decades ago is coming into town as America's country crooner emeritus.
He's racked up enough hardware in the meantime that he probably won't even notice the 30th anniversary of his life turning around as that statue was placed in his hand, but that doesn't mean we can't take this opportunity to declare a moratorium on those stupid jokes about whether he's actually coming to town.