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Living to tell it 

by Mike Corrigan


In the wild and wooly tradition of real country singers, they don't come any wilder or woolier than GEORGE JONES. Like many of the country performers of his generation, Jones came up through the school of hard knocks. And unlike the current crop of prefabricated country stars manufactured by Nashville's hit machine, Jones' success is a direct result of his own talent, perseverance and uncompromising devotion to his traditional country roots. Not only is he still walking around among the living (no small feat considering his past), but he continues to enjoy -- as he has for more than 40 years -- an evergreen career. He's one of a kind, arguably the greatest living country singer, with more authenticity and soul in one calloused finger than Garth Brooks has in his entire body. And he's coming to Spokane to perform at the Opera House this Saturday night.


Jones was born and raised in East Texas near the town of Beaumont. As a boy, he displayed an early love of music, specifically the gospel and country-western that flowed from the family radio and phonograph. His father bought him his first guitar and soon had young George playing for nickels and dimes out on the streets of Beaumont. "I was about nine when I discovered people would give me money to sing," Jones notes on the back cover of 1999's Cold Hard Truth. "I was happy to do it for free."


At the age of 16, Jones left home and school and found work singing on a Jasper, Texas, radio station. By the time he was 22 years old, he had been married and divorced and had served two years in the Marine Corps. But playing guitar and singing on the Texas honky-tonk circuit was where he discovered his true calling.


He was officially discovered in 1953 by Texas record producer Pappy Daily of Starday Records and had his first hit in 1955 with "Why Baby Why." The next year, he made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. By the early '60s, Jones had a string of hits under his belt ("White Lightning," "Tender Years," and "She Thinks I Still Care" among them) and had started a fruitful recording collaboration with singer Melba Montgomery (they charted in 1963 with "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds").


After Jones' second marriage collapsed in 1968, he moved to Nashville where he met rising star Tammy Wynette. The two formed a musical and romantic partnership that culminated in both hit records (under the direction of Epic producer Billy Sherrill) and marriage.


Under Sherrill's influence, Jones completed his transformation from a rough-edged honky-tonker into a sensitive balladeer. The material he recorded with Sherrill at Epic would prove to be some of his most popular and enduring. By 1971, Jones and Wynette were country music's top stars, charting with their songs and performing to sold-out crowds all over the country.


But even as he was enjoying the fruits of success, Jones' personal life began spinning out of control. His notorious boozing and highly volatile marriage to Wynette were much publicized. But even had it not been, the frankness and raw emotion of his albums during the mid-'70s (with songs like "We're Gonna Hold On" and "The Grand Tour") left little doubt that there was trouble in the couple's country music paradise. Their marriage officially ended in 1976.


Addiction to alcohol and later cocaine would continue to wreak havoc on Jones' personal and professional career. His intoxicated rampages made headlines. He began to miss performances (in 1979 alone, he missed a total of 54) earning the nickname "No-Show" Jones. But his popularity continued unabated. He scored a major hit in 1980 with the beautiful "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and maintained a chart presence throughout most of the decade.


The next 15 years were transitional for Jones -- a time to battle demons, find his niche within a rapidly changing music industry and re-establish his reputation as a dependable performer.


In 1998, Jones began work on what would become Cold Hard Truth. But before the album could be completed, he plowed his car into a bridge in Nashville, critically injuring himself. Yet once again, the indestructible Nashville cat found a way to tap into one more life. He recovered and with the help of his current wife, Nancy ("She literally saved my life"), preceded to swear off all of his old vices -- booze, drugs, cigarettes, even coffee -- this time for good.


"I realized I was getting to that age that I had to quit all that mess," Jones said recently. "Within months, I was hitting higher notes than I ever hit before and wishing I had done it years ago."


Getting to that age? He's only now feeling that way? Man, what endurance. Obviously, there's just no stopping George Jones. And as long as he's out there with seven decades of life, love and loss to draw on, singing hard-core (or as he calls it, "traditional") country his way, the man's audience will be there, too.





Indescribably odd yet strangely alluring. Magically delicious and ultimately, SATAN IN YELLOW. This simmering melting pot of local heavy rockers was formed nearly five years ago by Krush Krulesza, a local visionary (of sorts) with a rare and fragile dream: to make unpretentious but very loud music that defies easy categorization; music that requires very little rehearsal time to perfect; music that people from all over Spokane would embrace as "karaoke from hell."


This self-described "hodge-podge side project" has as its main ingredients Krush (lead vocals), Clint Estabrook (backing vocals and un-selfconscious dancing), Silas McQuain from Five Foot Thick (drums) along with "Durb" Durbin (bass) and Sean Van Blaricom (lead guitar) from Killswitch. The band plays at Ichabod's North this Friday night with Clintch and After the Crash.


Hell. Satan. The words reverberate with underworld implications. Should the righteous be concerned?


"We named the band after Clint," explains Krush. "One day he shows up in a yellow leisure suit with this big old Alice in Chains goatee, and I said, 'Man, you look like Satan in yellow.' I thought it would make a great band name. It'll offend people, and they won't know why."


Offense, however, is in the eye of the beholder.


"The best thing is, we also offend Satanists because they come to our shows expecting some big metal message. We piss everybody off. We're definitely into equal opportunity as far as that goes."


Satan in Yellow began as an anti-band, a reaction against what its members perceived as too much gloom and pretense in Northwest rock.


"None of us wanted Satan in Yellow to be a serious project or for it to go anywhere. Because of that, though," laughs Krush, "it's actually snowballed and has a fairly decent following. We're all marketing and hype."


Most of the group's material is admittedly pilfered from other artists -- though pilfered judiciously, from sources far and wide and with a clear motive.


"We figured, everybody's ripping off somebody already, so we just thought we'd be a little more blatant about it. It started off as straight covers. For instance, we used to do a punk version of 'Leroy Brown' by Jim Croce. But what it's evolved into is more original than half the original stuff out there."


To illustrate, Krush points to one of the band's recently inked tunes, "Horton Hears a Flute." Into the sonic blender goes the guitar riff from Jethro Tull's "Aqualung," the lyrics to "The Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton and, he says, "a little bit of Van Halen, D.O.A. and Slayer Reign in Blood tossed in for good measure."


Though live is the best way to immerse yourself in this music and mayhem, those wishing to take a little Satan in Yellow home with them will be pleased to learn that the band has three CDs to pimp with a fourth on the way.


As Krush explains, "Here's our marketing thing: limited pressings. We sell 50 copies, and the album goes tin [as opposed to gold or platinum]. Unfortunately, most of that early stuff is out of print now."


"We're entertainers," he adds in summation. "A little Sammy Davis Jr. mixed with David Lee Roth, and you've got it."





The space allotted for performance at Quinn's isn't exactly expansive. Things get pretty cozy in here. Amplifiers -- if they are required at all -- are generally kept with their volume knobs in the three to four range, just enough to nudge the music into effective competition with the murmur of conversation. Intimate is the operative word. The perfect way, I would venture, to experience jazz guitarist JOHN STOWELL this Saturday night.


The internationally renowned guitar virtuoso will take a break from the weekend's Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow to perform a free, two-hour set in Quinn's music lounge. Stowell is recognized around the world as a unique and electrifying performer and as an educator dedicated to the proliferation of jazz. His discography is extensive, and he's established a presence across this country (performing at festivals and clubs from New York to San Francisco) and in places as far-flung as Australia, Argentina, Italy and Russia.


Stowell's nuanced and understated performance style is the perfect cocktail and conversation accompaniment. But please, keep the chatter to a minimum -- because you just might miss something extraordinary.
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