- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Not so long ago, it would have been hard to find a betting man willing to offer odds that George Jones would be alive at 70 much less enjoying a thriving career.
Mr. Jones, who has survived drugs, alcohol abuse, major heart surgery and a near-fatal car crash, says he has never felt better.
"The big seven-oh," he crowed recently in anticipation of his recent birthday. "It's not a big deal to me, because I'm feeling 50."
On one of his favorite songs on his new album, "The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001," Mr. Jones sounds like an ebullient teen-ager: "Got my guitar/Got my girl/I got everything."
The album, which is due in stores on Sept. 25, also contains a duet with Garth Brooks. The presence of the superstar on Mr. Jones' album is sure to give it a commercial boost.
Mr. Jones' catalog of country music classics is being featured four times a week in Nashville in a musical celebrating the life of the late Tammy Wynette, his ex-wife.
All this prosperity comes seven years after major heart surgery and nearly three years after that car crash. During his recovery from the accident, his singing voice was injured by tubes placed down his throat to help him breathe.
"I'm finally right now getting it back," Mr. Jones says. "I've had to almost learn all over again to control my voice and not go sharp or flat. I'm just now getting back to the old George Jones, I guess."
That Mr. Jones is genuinely happy and healthy at long last is nothing short of a miracle, considering his troubled past.

Mr. Jones, considered by many to be the greatest living country music singer, was born in Saratoga, Texas. He began singing as a child, emulating his heroes Hank Williams Sr. and Lefty Frizzell.
"I was copying everything he done," Mr. Jones says of Mr. Williams. "He was God in a way, when it came to music. I still love to play his records over and over and over, and they still sound just as good to me as they did back then."
Mr. Jones had his first major hit in 1955, "Why Baby Why." His voice became progressively less a copy of the vocal style of Mr. Williams and Mr. Frizzell as he developed a sound that has profoundly influenced such younger stars as Randy Travis.
"I've been a huge George Jones nut ever since I was in high school," says singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who plays the part of Mr. Jones in "Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story." "I listened to him so much coming up, and wrote so many songs in his style."
As drug and alcohol abuse ravaged Mr. Jones' health, producer Billy Sherrill ushered him into the "Nashville Sound" era in the 1970s. (The Nashville Sound, developed by producers Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, was Nashville's answer to the threat posed by the popularity of rock 'n' roll in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Mr. Atkins and Mr. Bradley played down the fiddles and banjos, replacing them with lushly orchestrated strings and backup vocalists.)
In 1980, Mr. Jones recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today," a classic Nashville Sound record. His stormy six-year marriage to Miss Wynette in the 1970s had made him tabloid fodder, as did his increasingly erratic behavior.
Divorced from Miss Wynette and mired in drugs, Mr. Jones met Nancy Sepulvado. They were married in 1983. Gradually, she helped him drop his bad habits, and he had another string of hits in the mid-'80s, including "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" and "She's My Rock."
He kept working through the 1990s, although the hits came less often as a new generation of younger singers started to dominate.
In March 1999, Mr. Jones crashed his sport utility vehicle into a bridge near his home south of Nashville. He came close to death because of a collapsed lung and severely lacerated liver.
An opened bottle of vodka was found in the vehicle, and Mr. Jones later admitted to drinking and driving. He was fined $550 and ordered to get counseling for alcoholism.
"Even when I had my car wreck, I had went quite a few years on the wagon," Mr. Jones says. "This was just one of them stupid moments that you do in your stupid life, you know? But it put the fear of God in me this time."
Now, Mr. Jones says, he finally is through with drinking. "I've even quit drinking coffee. I quit smoking," he says.
On the best song on his new album, Mr. Jones revisits his hero Hank Williams Sr. by singing the Billy Joe Shaver song "Tramp on Your Street." The song tells of Mr. Shaver's childhood memory of seeing Mr. Williams perform.
Mr. Jones also met Mr. Williams when he came to KRIC in Beaumont, Texas, to promote his single "Wedding Bells." The teen-age Mr. Jones was the lead guitar player at the station.
"I just absolutely froze," Mr. Jones says. "I never hit the first note. He was very nice about it. He was one of the nicest people I ever met."
Mr. Jones adds, "You know, people are so different when they get too much to drink. And then when they're sober, they're a completely different person. Most people are. And he was like that."


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