May 1, 1983
George Jones performs at the Duluth Arena on May 1, 1983. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
REVIEW: GEORGE JONES DELIVERS REAL COUNTRY
By Bob Ashenmacher, Duluth News-Tribune
A vacuous country-pop machine like Kenny Rogers effortlessly sells out the Duluth Arena to its 7,000-plus seating capacity. On a weeknight.
The real item – George Jones – draws only 1,895. On a weekend.
Why? The explanation has to do with the invisible cord called television that runs around so many people’s necks like a leash – but I’ll quit before I start ranting and sounding like I don’t like people.
It just stings to see the real thing, the beautiful thing, ignored because it hasn’t been packaged and perfumed like Kleenex. (Television dislikes things human. Things human are rough-edged, unpredictable, vulnerable to failure. Television extends its cool embrace to things that are soft, malleable, come in decorator colors and couldn’t possibly generate sparks – perspiration-free machines like Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys, ad nauseum.)
At any rate, the man a lot of people call the world’s best country singer gave a good, if brief, performance at the Arena on Sunday afternoon. Jones sang 13 songs and a medley in just less than an hour onstage. Throw in a few more from his band, the Jones Boys, and a sparkling warmup from the soulful-throated Terry Gibbs, and the 2-hour concert was worth the ticket price.
Jones is infamous for his personal and professional troubles. The divorce from Tammy Wynette, the drying up of his career. Rejuvenation a couple of years ago, only to be hit with speeding, drunken driving and possession of cocaine raps. George has sold his diamond rings to pay bills. George has written bum checks for drunken driving fines. Missed court dates. Missed many, many concert dates.
He addressed his reputation right away, opening with the predictable "They Call Me No-Show Jones." He looked clear-eyed and healthy in a dark western-cut suit and open-necked shirt. His initial nervousness gave way to amiability as he got into some of his good up-tempo material. By "The Race Is On," the third tune, he was fine.
"Rush down and buy a few thousand copies of my new album," he said. "I don’t need the money but my creditors might."
Among the slower numbers, "Shine On" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" were very strong. "I’m Not Ready Yet" was a beaut, complete with a fragile falsetto.
"She Still Thinks I Care" and "If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me" sounded rather perfunctory. Even so, the singer’s voice was pleasant. The phrasing was relaxed and he was always on note. Over the years the lower register has gotten warmer while he still retains most of the nasal twang when he goes for the high bits. Fans who like it when he reaches up were probably sorely disappointed that he didn’t do the bouncy "Why Baby Why." "White Lightnin’" was a good consolation.
The Jones Boys’ current lineup isn’t going to go down as the best. The fiddle, pedal steel, piano and guitar players failed as soloists to memorably embellish any of the songs. Fiddler Murrel Counce was visibly unwilling to play, cradling his instrument shyly to his chest through several numbers that could have used some spritely accompaniment. Jones finally had to toss his head at him to even get him up to the mike. The band shone best on "Fox On The Run," which Counce sang well.
Warmup act Gibbs had a much sharper group. She walked them through an engaging 45 minutes of country laced with a touch of blues here, a bit of R&B and rockabilly there.
Her rich alto voice was most attractive on "Georgia On My Mind," "Ashes To Ashes" and her big hit, "Somebody’s Knockin’."
Here is another photo from the Attic’s files, of Tammy Wynette and George Jones in 1980 (this was not taken in Duluth):