By the late 1970s, a lengthy battle with drugs and alcohol had earned country music legend George Jones the pejorative nickname “No Show Jones,” as his concert and public appearances became more erratic and unpredictable. But on February 17th, 1998, with those struggles mostly behind him, the singer debuted his own music/talk show on TNN, the Nashville Network, welcoming longtime friends and rising country stars of the era in a relaxed and informal setting.
The George Jones Show began as a series of six hour-long specials with an episode featuring Jones performing and chatting with Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. Taped in front of a live audience at Opryland’s TNN studios, the format initially proved challenging for the shy entertainer, but he grew more at ease as time went on. “I’m not much of a talker,” he told the Knight Ridder News Service just before the series’ premiere, “but I enjoyed that.” With a touring schedule of more than 115 shows in 1997, Jones was eager to cut that number back and spend more time close to home, which the show allowed him to do. It also allowed him more time to do two of his favorite things: Fishing and watching TV. “I’m a TV nut,” he said at the time.
Jones would continue to tour extensively right up until his death in 2013, but his TNN series, which kept the focus on more traditional-leaning artists of the time, took him and his special guests into homes for the next couple of years. In May 1998, an episode of the show featured contemporary hitmakers Terri Clark and Ricky Van Shelton, along with pioneering country superstar Charley Pride. In the above clip, Jones and Pride perform a song together that had one of the most successful track records in the history of country singles. “Why Baby Why,” penned by Jones with Darrell Edwards, broke an unsuccessful string of non-hits for Jones on the Starday label in 1955 to become his first-ever chart entry, reaching the Top Five. Later that same year, Webb Pierce and Red Sovine teamed up on a duet of the tune, taking it all the way to Number One, a feat no doubt aided by Decca Records’ status as a powerhouse label, something Starday couldn’t match at the time. Others who hit with the song included Hank Locklin that same year and Warren Smith and Shirley Collie, whose duet on the rollicking honky-tonk number charted in 1961.
In 1983, Charley Pride was nearing the end of a phenomenal streak of Number One hits, all for RCA, when he cut “Why Baby Why.” His penultimate chart-topper, the song was included on an LP titled Country Classics, which, ironically, included Pride’s takes on several Webb Pierce smashes, including “More and More,” “Wondering” and “In the Jailhouse Now.” After Pride introduces the song, noting that Jones wrote it, Jones explains more of the song’s chart history, referring to the “Triple Crown” of charts, which were then based on airplay, sales and the record’s presence in jukeboxes across the country. “I don’t know if I like that or not,” Jones jokes about Pride reaching Number One. “Yeah, ya did. You got money off of it,” Pride shoots back. As the guitarists join in, the two open their loose rendition with the song’s memorable chorus, but as Pride starts to sing a verse Jones steps over his vocal by continuing on with the chorus, before catching himself and laughing. By the time they get back to the chorus, Jones chimes in on some pure honky-tonk harmony. And while it’s an all-too-short clip of two country-music giants, it’s also a reminder of why Pride and Jones are now both enshrined the Country Music Hall of Fame.
On Friday, February 22nd, PBS will premiere the latest in their American Masters series with the documentary film Charley Pride: I’m Just Me. The hour-long special, narrated by Tanya Tucker, also features original interviews with Whoopi Goldberg, Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley, Marty Stuart, as well as Pride’s longtime friend and steel-guitar player Lloyd Green, author Alice Randall and country singer Jimmie Allen.