Wednesday, 5 June 2013
George Jones 1931 - 2013
George Jones graces the cover of the June Country Music People. The country legend who died in April may not have achieved the wider fame of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton or his former wife Tammy Wynette, but to the cognoscenti he was the greatest country vocalist of them all.
I saw Jones once, when he and his ex-wife, Tammy Wynette, played a reunion concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The moment he walked on stage and opened his mouth is one of the most memorable I have ever seen in a lifetime of watching great singers. That vast, golden voice expanded to fill the theatre.
If you haven’t heard him, have a look on YouTube.
George’s most popular hit is He Stopped Loving Her Today, and its lyric, by Bobby Braddock, is a masterful piece of storytelling - a tear-jerking movie distilled into three minutes.
In fact, it was songs like that, more than any prose, that first opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be done with words. As a kid I marvelled at the way songs like Squeeze’s Up The Junction could evoke such a sense of character, place, atmosphere and passing time in such few words.
In country music I was fascinated by Guy Clark’s character study songs Let Him Roll and Desperados Waiting For A Train - sepia-tinted slices of American life that would take Steinbeck a whole book to convey, put across in a handful of succinct, finely honed couplets.
Nashville’s song-writing community still produces some of the finest writing in the world - check out the imagery and drama in Carrie Underwood’s recent Blown Away.
It was the close-knit world of that city’s wordsmiths, and their dedication to their craft, that I wanted to celebrate when I wrote Nashville Cinderella.
When I began, I thought a murder mystery would be a good vehicle and typed the working title Murder on Music Row (fittingly for a crime novel, I ‘stole‘ the title from a George Strait and Alan Jackson song of that name). Within a few pages, however, I realised the thing I was most enjoying was the banter between waitress Cindy and diner chef Tony - an aspiring singer and songwriter, respectively. They were too light-hearted and upbeat for a crime novel and as I wrote them I realised I’d rather write about people falling in love than killing each other. So Murder on Music Row became a feel-good romantic comedy, Nashville Cinderella.
The magic of music making, and the work that goes into a song, remained at its heart, though.