Country singer George Jones lived such a colorful and public life that several biographies about him have been written in the past few years. I have tCountry singer George Jones lived such a colorful and public life that several biographies about him have been written in the past few years. I have three of those on my own bookshelves: George Jones: The Saga of an American Singer (Bob Allen - 1984), Ragged but Right: The Life & Times of George Jones (Dolly Carlisle – 1984), and George Jones: I Lived to Tell It All (George Jones & Tom Carter – 1996). Interestingly, both the first two books were published about the time that George returned to his roots and built Jones Country in tiny Colmesneil, Texas (population 600). But Jones continued to add to his legend after 1984, of course, and although Tom Carter’s book covers the years up to 1996 when it was published, those years are somewhat filtered through the eyes of Carter’s co-author, George Jones himself.
Now, a full three years after Jones’s death, his legacy has become more settled and his whole story can be told in one volume – and that is exactly what Rich Keinzle has done in The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. From the very beginning of his career, country music fans were intrigued by the craziness that always seemed to follow Jones around the country as he performed. By the end of that career, George Jones was a respected vocalist (still with a reputation for craziness) who had managed to grab the attention of music lovers around the world. It was never easy for the shy, insecure performer that Jones was throughout his lifetime, but, public warts and all, he was just too good to ignore.
Rich Keinzle has done his George Jones homework, and it shows. The Grand Tour recounts everything from the life of poverty into which Jones was born, through his battle with drug and alcohol addictions that almost killed him, and on to his rescue by Nancy Sepulvado, the Shreveport woman, who saw him through the worst of his addictions and saved both his life and his career. It is impossible to recount the life of George Jones without spending a great number of pages on the singer’s problems and demons – and Keinzle does that. But the high points of Jones’s life, including the best (and worst) of his recordings are also recounted in great detail.
I appreciate The Grand Tour – and I am no casual George fan. George Jones and his music have been in my life for more than five decades. I grew up near the city of Beaumont, Texas, which Jones called home for a number of years. My wife’s grandparents knew the Jones family in Saratoga, Texas, and her grandmother occasionally had George over to the house when he was a boy. Too, I personally witnessed two of the milestone events cited by the author in The Grand Tour: the one and only country music show ever presented at Jones’s Rhythm Ranch in Vidor, Texas, and his later induction into the Beaumont Walk of Fame, a site that honors the most famous citizens born in the county surrounding that city. And all that said, Rich Keinzle still told me a thing or two about George Jones I never knew; it’s that kind of book – maybe a little bit crude and rough around the edges…but then so was George. ...more
One of the presentations I most looked forward to at the 2015 Texas Book Festival was the one featuring Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. Even thoughOne of the presentations I most looked forward to at the 2015 Texas Book Festival was the one featuring Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. Even though Ray and his co-author David Menconi were allotted the very last time slot on the second day of the festival and I still had a three-hour drive ahead of me, I was determined to make that session. Good decision.
I’ve been a fan of Ray’s music since the early eighties and especially appreciate his efforts to keep Western Swing music alive. Not only has Asleep at the Wheel recorded Western Swing albums of its own, Ray has produced three very fine Bob Wills tribute albums, and recorded a successful swing-oriented album, “Willie and the Wheel” with the one and only Willie Nelson. But that’s the public Ray Benson everyone knows. And I wondered if he would be anything like that public persona when seated on a small stage to discuss his new autobiography, Comin’ Right at Ya? Well as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
Comin’ Right at Ya is the life story of Ray Benson Seifert, one of four children born into a Jewish Philadelphia family, a guy whose inventor father founded the Seifert Machinery Company and whose schoolteacher mother earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Ray Seifert grew up and became a self-described “Jewish Yankee Hippie” – and then his love of roots music led him to invent the “character” that the world now knows as Ray Benson, Texas country music star.
It took a while for Ray to make his way to Austin, Texas but thanks largely to Willie Nelson’s invitation he finally got here. And he brought Asleep at the Wheel with him. And the rest is history. The Jewish Yankee hippie is now one of the state’s favorite sons, even to having been named “Texan of the Year” in 2011 by the Texas legislature.
A whole lot happened to Ray and the band before he achieved that lofty status, of course, and Ray tells it all - well, most of it because he admits that his publisher lightly censored some of his stories. But even with the publisher looking over his shoulder, Ray shares stories about Willie, Dolly, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, a lot of other friends he’s made in the business, and a few folks he doesn’t think too highly of. Ray is as bluntly honest about his business and personal failures as he is about his successes, and his is a career which has seen many of both, including the nine Grammies Ray and the band have earned along the way.
Comin’ Right at Ya is for the fans, especially those who appreciate the heck out of Ray’s music but are only vaguely aware of his roots and how he has so successfully reinvented himself. He’s Texas’s number one “Jewish Yankee Hippie” now, and the state is proud to claim him as one of its own. ...more
"Johnny Cash: The Life," by Robert Hilburn, is one of the best musician biographies I have ever read - and I've read a bunch of them, especially those"Johnny Cash: The Life," by Robert Hilburn, is one of the best musician biographies I have ever read - and I've read a bunch of them, especially those of country music legends like Cash. This one does not hold back anything, often exposing things I never suspected could have been true of Cash and his family. I was particularly surprised at some of the things revealed about June Carter Cash, things that go directly against the image that most country music fans probably have of June (and the whole Carter family, for that matter).
The book is formatted along the lines of Cash's progression in the music industry. All the milestones are there, and knowledgable fans will know exactly where they are in Cash's story simply by looking at the chapter titles. In fact, less than ten percent of the book is devoted to Cash's life prior to his settling in Memphis and working with Sam Phillips at Sun Records.
This one should appeal to even the most knowledgable of Johnny Cash fans. It is almost certain that somewhere in the book's 633 pages there is something that will have you shaking your head in surprise. Don't miss it....more
When the book is about Ricky's musical history, etc., it is interesting and informative. Unfortunately, there are way too many pages filled with sermoWhen the book is about Ricky's musical history, etc., it is interesting and informative. Unfortunately, there are way too many pages filled with sermonizing, witnessing, and quoting Bible scripture. I realize that Ricky is a devout Christian and I admire that about him, but it makes for rather mind-numbing reading when it goes on for successive chapters (especially near the end of the book) that are each a dozen or so pages long. I might very well be in the minority feeling this way, but for me it easily took a 4-star book right down to a 3-star book.
Best part of this one is Ricky's explanation of his switch from bluegrass to country music and back to bluegrass. The man has matured into one of the most respected artists in bluegrass music and seems devoted to protecting and promoting the legacies of those bluegrass music pioneers who preceded him. For that, I wholeheartedly applaud him. ...more