George Jones is one of the biggest names in country music. His career spanned just shy of fifty years. Between 1959 and the late eighties, Jones landed thirteen number-one country hits. His career is the stuff of legends. It isn’t just the high points of his career that are legendary though.
His highs were higher than the tall pines but his lows were deeper than any holler. For a while, he was infamous for not showing up to scheduled gigs. Later in life, as he started to straighten up his life, he wrote a song about his absenteeism. The song, “No Show Jones,” is a humorous look at himself beside his contemporaries.
We’re going to take a look behind the song and part of what made The Possum the legend that he is today.
George Jones: The Best Show You Never Saw
Like many country stars of the sixties and seventies, George Jones had some issues with drugs and alcohol. There are several stories floating around about his battles with substance abuse. The stories range from comical to depressing. From the mid-sixties until the late seventies Jones was notorious for skipping gigs. Many believed that his substance abuse played a large part in this.
According to The Austin Chronicle, his habit of not showing up was so bad that bar owners would take advantage of it. They would put George Jones’ name on the marquee even if they hadn’t booked him for a show. At the end of the night, the bar would be full and so would the till. Many patrons who were there to see George Jones would just assume that he was a no-show.
It was no secret that Jones was full of booze and blow at the time. He was living the life spelled out in outlaw country songs. He left empty bottles, broken furniture, and divorce settlements in his wake.
Nashville record producer Billy Sherrill said Jones didn’t have much of an alcohol problem until he started doing cocaine. Because the cocaine causes alertness, a user’s tolerance for alcohol will go up. Being able to drink more with a head full of coke can lead to binge drinking and alcoholism later on. That’s what happened to George Jones.
Sherrill also told the New York Times that it wasn’t just substance abuse that caused Jones to miss shows. It was his independent streak that caused more absences than the coke and booze ever did. After missing a gig one night, Jones reportedly told Sherrill, “Look, as long as I can go into a Holiday Inn lounge with a guitar and make a living, nobody’s going to push me around.”
Between the blow, the booze, and the bullheadedness, George Jones had a habit of not showing up for shows. Later in life, he would look back at this time and laugh.
“No Show Jones” Looks Back and Laughs
Part of healing after a life of addiction and missteps is the ability to look back and laugh at yourself. George Jones does that in the song “No Show Jones,” which was released in 1982 on his collaboration album with Merle Haggard “A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine.”
The song start’s with the duo name-dropping several of their contemporaries and what they’re famous for. “Waylon and Willie are the outlaws./ Roger is the king of the road./ Everyone knows Hag’s been in prison (I didn’t know that)/Dolly’s got two good reasons she’s well known (no comment).”
From the beginning, the song is light-hearted and tongue in cheek. In the chorus, George Jones talks about his infamous habit. “They call me no show Jones/ (They call him no show Jones)/ I’m seldom ever on/ (He’s seldom ever on)/ The stage singin’ my songs, my whereabouts are unknown/(They call him no show Jones).”
The real jab at himself comes in the song’s final chorus. Merle Haggard is left to finish the song alone. He, instead, wonders just where Possum has gotten off to. It’s a great song and a great look at just how seriously Jones took himself.
We can learn a lot from George Jones. His independent spirit and ability to laugh at his own mistakes are part of what made him the enduring legend that he is today.