Barely Afloat in a Sea of Troubles, C&W Star George Jones Plots His Own Rescue

For much of his 30-year show business career, George Jones has been a prolific master of the lachrymose country ballad, boasting scores of hits like Alone Again and She Thinks I Still Care. Sadly, the honky-tonk angst in Jones’ life has recently been finding its way into police—not platinum—records.

Several months ago Jones, 47, was charged with assault with intent to murder after allegedly shooting at his friend Earl “Peanut” Montgomery in Florence, Ala. (The charge was later dismissed, but the local prosecutor says it could be reinstated.) Then his ex-wife and former C&W partner Tammy Wynette filed suit for $36,000 in unpaid child support for their daughter, Tamala Georgette, 8 (who lives with Tammy and her fifth husband, George Richey, in Nashville). Later in the fall Jones’ live-in girlfriend, Linda Welborn, pressed charges of assault and battery after a fight that ended their four-and-a-half-year relationship.

Drained and haggard, 20 pounds lighter and struggling with insomnia, Jones still faced the coup de grâce. As his problems multiplied, he missed 54 singing dates, then failed to appear in court to answer suits by bookers (thus incurring some $100,000 in default judgments). Beset by crushing financial burdens, Jones last month filed for personal and business bankruptcy, citing assets of $65,000 and debts of $1.5 million. “I was so far behind,” he moans, “I could never catch up. I had no other choice.”

Jones admits his problems are partially “my own doing” but adds bitterly, “When it rains it pours. Once people saw I was facing hard times, everybody came down on me.” He places some of the blame on his own booking agency for scheduling him into consecutive one-nighters in places as far apart as Texas and South Carolina. “It costs a lot of money to move my band and equipment from place to place,” he claims. “I need three nights in one city to make it worthwhile. But they were more interested in their commissions.” As for his child-support troubles, Jones contends Wynette “knew I was getting a $60,000 check from CBS Records the same day she filed. I can only guess they wanted some press for Tammy or some bad press for me.” His only motive for delaying the payments, Jones says, was “to make sure Tamala got the full benefit of the money.”

The cruelest cut, though, may have been inflicted by his onetime ladylove, Linda. “I am sorry for what happened,” Jones says. “But I took her and her 3-year-old son in when they had nothing, gave her a home, a car, fine clothes and jewelry.” As for the scuffle, he says, “A mean man would have done worse. Being a fool,” he adds, “I left her with the furniture, the car and some money to start over again.” Having ended three marriages on pocket-emptying terms, Jones is looking for retribution in Hillbilly Heaven. “If I ended up with nothing,” he says with a sigh, “I figured they would have to answer to the good Lord.”

The buffeting of the past year may have had a sobering effect on Jones, a native Texan who started his singing career as a teenager on a local radio show. A chronic tippler, he swears he’s taken “only one or two drinks at a time the past few weeks.” Moreover, the song he recorded with Johnny Paycheck, Maybellene, is moving up the charts. He has a new manager and booking agent, a revamped stage act and a prospective album of duets with stars like Waylon, Willie, Emmylou, Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt. “I’m gonna meet all my engagements,” says Jones. “I want to find out if I have anything left. All I’ve ever wanted is a little peace of mind and to be able to sing.”

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