Back before Stanford’s and Westport. Back before even River Quay, there was Genova’s Chestnut Inn. The crowds packed in on weekends to hear the greats and soon-to-be-greats of Country & Western music. Kansas City was a leader in the genre and Genova’s was its shinning star.
Charlie Genova was on stage for more George Jones shows there than George. Stories of Jones no-shows and incidents go part and parcel with his legend. Andy Mortallero began tending bar for his uncle at a tender age. Ask about George and he’ll tell you if he had a nickel for every time his uncle had to lay a story on the sold-out crowd while George was passed out in the parking lot, he’d be a very wealthy man today.
Jones passed away last week in Nashville.
Many local musicians sat in with touring acts at The Chestnut Inn. Hoppy Hopkins got the call one night from Tammy Wynette‘s manager to fill in on guitar. It was during one of her breakups with George and it wasn’t going smoothly. About showtime, in walks George.
The crowd recognizes him and he eventually makes his way on stage. Tammy smiles as she begins “My Elusive Dreams.” It was a hit for them as a duet. Tammy sings a verse, then George. But not tonight.
As Tammy finished the first verse, George began to re-sing it. A puzzled Tammy then sang the second verse. Again, George repeated it.
By now the vein on Tammy’s forehead appeared ready to burst, Hopkins says. They finished the song and Tammy stormed to the tour bus.
“Somebody get my gun! I’m gonna shoot that SOB,” was heard inside the bus.
Scott “Rex” Hobart‘s mom was a member in good standing of The George Jones Fan Club. When he was touring on the East Coast with Giant’s Chair in 1996, he bought a Best of cassette at a truck stop. From there it was a short trip to Rex Hobart & The Misery Boys first gig at Davey’s Uptown.
“Jones’ voice was huge in my childhood soundtrack. I was already getting interested in writing and singing honky tonk, country music, but that cassette sealed the deal,” Hobart recalls.
Some people have expressed disgust with Jones because of his alcohol and drug problems. His abusive relationships also cost him fans.
But George Jones reputation was so great that he even wrote a song about his misbehavior, “No-Show Jones.” His fans stayed with him, reasoned an article in Billboard magazine, because they identified with his struggles. He wasn’t being a jerk, he was fighting his demons. His fans also played hard and often payed a price for their actions. When Jones was a no-show or too blitzed to perform, he would replay the venue.
One night onstage at The Chestnut Inn, George was three-sheets to the wind. He stumbled around the stage and hardly sang into the microphone. Some gentlemen from The North End had brought their best gals to the show. None too pleased, they took him to the phone booth and had him sing “The Window Up Above” to their dates.
Those days are long gone.
Along with The Silver Spur, The 2500 Club, Club Royal and Club 95, Genova’s Chestnut Inn and all the honky tonks are gone now.
Credit Rural Grit Happy Hour at The Brick to George Jones and others on the Kansas City Music Scene.
Mark Smeltzer credits George Jones with his discovering JP Richardson‘s original recording of “White Lightening.”
“George Jones was an original country music outlaw,” Smeltzer says. “He was putting out crossover hits like ‘White Lightnin’ ‘ at the same time Waylon Jennings was hanging out with Buddy Holly. But really the thing (Jones) could do is make you believe what he was singing was as real as life itself. You might have doubts about him showing up to do a show but not to the emotional content of his music.”
Saratoga, Texas was where George was born.
“The wild thing is that I only found out today – or maybe resurfaced a suppressed memory – that Mr. Jones is from Saratoga, a small town about 40 miles south of where I grew up in Livingston, Texas,” Rausch says. “One of my ol’ schoolmates told me today about parties that he would throw in Woodville, Texas – about a half hour east of our town – where folks would make music and picnic with their own coolers and such. I don’t have any memory of that. I largely rebelled against country music in my teenage years.”
Songwriter/screenwriter Tony Ladesich shot and edited “Sweet Jesus Cowtown Ballroom” along with Joe Heyen. From his days with Pendergast and other KC bands, he came to the country genre late.
“My only connection with country music as a kid was Hee Haw, I thought it was really square,” Ladesich says.”I remember Buck Owens and Roy Clark and seeing people like Jones, but I never really fell in love with it and Jones in particular until later in life.
“I was mesmerized by Jones ability to turn a phrase and just be so cool and heartbroken at the same time.”
Country superstar and friend Brad Paisley believes the fact that Jones would even sing a song called “No Show Jones,” which he used to open his shows with later in his career, was a tribute to Jones’ sense of humor and humble nature.
“No one was better at making fun of himself than he was,” Paisley says. ”It was the most self-effacing song he could have done.”
“George embodied everything that is wrong with music, and everything that is right. A dangerous balance, and all the falls that go with it.”