Kirk West, a man indelibly linked to music as a former road manager for The Allman Brothers Band, reminisced Friday about the late George Jones, a country music legend whose music lured West to his concerts dozens of times over the years.
Jones died Friday in a Nashville hospital after a year of ill health. He was 81 years old.
He was the greatest country music singer who ever lived, West said, and theres some major competition there.
Save Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, he said, Jones was the last of a dying breed of country star.
In the 1980s, West found himself in the company of some other big names in the business -- Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash -- while on a freelance photography assignment for The Chicago Tribune.
He and the newspapers music writer had flown to east Texas, near the Louisiana state line, to spend the weekend working on a cover story of Johnny and June. The Cashes were in town to perform at a venue called Jones Country, owned by Jones.
West and the reporter spent the weekend as guests at Jones ranch.
Thats probably one of the coolest things, said West, who as a professional photographer had the opportunity to capture images of Jones and his ex-wife Tammy Wynette.
Jones had a penchant for alcohol and missing concert dates because he was too drunk to perform.
West, who now lives in Macon, said those stories arent exaggerated.
The old No Show Jones thing was real, he said. I went to a couple of concerts where he didnt show up.
West said Jones was a great, gentle guy, but when he was lit, it was a whole other story. He wasnt a bad man, but he could be cantankerous.
In Putnam County on Friday, another of Jones fans said she cried when she learned of the stars death.
This is worse than Elvis dying, said Kathy Butler of Eatonton. To me, George Jones was bigger, better (than Elvis).
Butler once got Jones autograph after a concert he performed near Lake Sinclair in Baldwin County.
After the concert ended, Butler and a group of fans hung out near his bus to see if we could catch a look at him.
To their surprise, Jones came to the bus door wearing only a T-shirt and boxer shorts.
He acted like it wasnt a big deal interacting with fans in such a casual way, she recalled. It was like, this is who I am. This is me.
He signed his name for fans for just a couple of minutes, but its a moment Butler said shell never forget.
It was difficult hearing the news that Jones was gone.
He was one of those icons you think will always be here and never leave us, said Butler who maintains theres no better song than Jones He Stopped Loving Her Today. Weve been listening to his songs all morning. It feels like a family member has died.
To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477.