Written by Brittney Haynes. 2 March 2016.
The name George Jones is synonymous with country legend. He led a career that spanned over six decades, selling millions of records, and obtaining copious amounts of awards such as: Billboard Award for most promising new country vocalist, CMA’s Male vocalist of the Year, Living Legend Award, Pioneer Award, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Kennedy Center Honoree, and finally the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. With such prestigious accolades as these, one would think George wouldn’t have to worry about staying relevant in country music, but as the world entered the 90’s you would barely hear George on the radio at all, which why his song, “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” was an epic anthem to the belief that traditional country was over.
1991 was the year that SoundScan was used to report record sales data via barcode scans at cash registers, leading to Nashville country music elites to request more airtime on radios. Cooper reported, “the new rules of major label Music City commerce- ‘Sell as million, get on the radio or get out of mainstream country music,’” lead to older artists who were considered “country,” like George Jones, out of the “in crowd.” But, in regular George fashion, He didn’t take this sitting down; instead George came out with a single in 1992 entitled, “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair.”
The lyrics in this song were basically a personal statement to “The Man,” asserting that George was determined to continue to perform and sing songs just like he always had. With the new generation of country singers rising up, such as; Garth Brooks, and Tim McGraw, bringing their different influences into the country music genre, those who had paved the way in the genre, were being pushed to the back burner because of their refusal to adapt their sound. They were considered as “artists of the past,” no longer culturally relevant, but in his lyrics, George takes a stand against these allegations, crooning choruses such as; “This grey hair don’t mean a thing/ I do my rockin’ on the stage/ You can’t put this possum in a cage/ My body’s old but it ain’t impaired /Well I don’t need your rockin’ chair.” If that isn’t a big “F*** you” to the Nashville Music industry I don’t know what is. He is basically saying just because I am old, “this grey hair don’t mean a thing,” doesn’t mean that he still can’t produce good music and appeal to the audience. George goes on to sing “Retirement don’t fit in my plans/ You can keep your seat I’m a gonna stand,” meaning even if he doesn’t get as much airtime on the radio or his songs don’t rise to the top of the charts, he is still an artist who loves to perform on stages for his fans.
By the 1980’s Jones was a well-loved country artist, earning him the honor to record the song “Rockin’ Years,” with country diva Miss Dolly Parton. In 1988 the two recorded the track, yet Columbia Records decided not to release the song. It wasn’t until 1992 that Dolly would rerecord and release the song, with Ricky Van Shelton instead. The song went #1 on the Country charts, with lyrics reading, “And I’ll stand by you thru our rockin’ years/ Rockin’ chairs, rockin’ babies, rock-a-bye, rock of ages.” The same year George released his song, “I don’t need your rocking chair.” This could have very well been a message to Columbia telling them, he didn’t need that song to boost his career in anyway. With very similar lyrics it isn’t far fetched to assume that George could have held a grudge toward the record label for not releasing the original version he was on, due to the fact that they wanted to go with a “more attractive” male partner for Dolly. George goes on to sing, “This grey hair don’t mean a thing/ I do my rockin’ on the stage,” which could be linked to the event that he was released from Columbia before this song came out. He is saying, “I don’t need the company or publicity,” he will continue to give his fans a live show as long as they are willing to listen. He goes on to sing, “you can’t put this possum in a cage/ my body’s old but it ain’t impaired/ well I don’t need your rockin’ chair,” again this could be George indicating that he doesn’t appreciate not having his music released because he isn’t considered a “sex symbol” or attractive to the younger audience listening to country in that decade.
Peterson detailed, that during a time when “commercial-music firms are geared almost entirely to the creation, production, distribution, and selling of large numbers of new records,” country stars were beginning to stray from the “roots” of country music for a more “pop” feel that would be played on radios. (Peterson, 1978) It seemed, at the time, that country music was slowly dying. Confirming this claim was the duet of George Strait and Alan Jackson named, “Murder on Music Row” recorded in 1999. This song was a lament of the continuous trend of country pop crossover acts and influences on country music that pushed traditional artists to the fringe. Jackson sings a verse that stated how the country music pioneers (Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones) wouldn’t stand a chance on today’s radio, “Why, they even tell The Possum (Jones) to pack up and go home,” by “they” he is referring to the Nashville music industry. Again, this criticizing song just endorses that the transitioning genre of country music was no longer interested in “your grandparent’s music.”
In fact, during a recent 2012 interview for GAC’s Backstory television series, Blake Shelton was quoted saying, “Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, “My God, that ain’t country!” Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.” (Trigger, 2013) As he is now considered one of the dominate, leading male country artists of today, I believe his statement speaks volumes toward the mindsets the country music industry has today toward the greats who made the genre famous in the first place. But while the industry may be thinking this way, fans, both old and young, on the other hand were outraged by Blake’s statement. Many took to social media to express their appall of his statements, and even requested that his songs be taken out of many radio rotations. Andrew Mann tweeted his sentiments on the issue saying, “Blake Shelton is a straight up jackass I’d gladly listen to any of those “old farts” music any day compared to the shit that jackass puts out.” Shelton later apologized and was forgiven for his dreadful comments.
When asked on his 80th birthday in 2011 (when he was still recording and selling out shows might I add), “what advice do you have for other artists who want your career longevity?” George’s answer was, “If you sing songs you love, people know it and know that you are being honest with them. If you compromise too much and sing what you don’t believe, the fans feel betrayed and they know the difference.” (Taste of Country Staff, 2011) This is great advice for those who are making records in a time when a lot of country fans don’t consider what’s on the radio “country music.” George was known for his stubbornness in not willing to conform to what the industry wanted and instead stayed true to who he was. The song “I don’t need your rockin’ chair,” instrumentation is that of the traditional country sound, he has acoustic guitars, a fiddle, and a piano, which reinforce his love for the tradition of country.
Despite diminishing health, as he grew older, George continued to record and perform well into his 70’s and early 80’s. Having his life echo the lyrics “I ain’t ready for the junkyard yet/ Cause I still feel like a new corvette.” Even though the “corvette” he’s referring to (himself) may be an older model, singing, “It might take a little longer but I’ll get there,” he continued to give his fans music up until his dying day. This led to Jones receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his amazing career traversing over 60 years in the music business. Not bad for an “old fart” if you ask me. Even though, “I don’t need your rockin’ chair” only made it to #34 on the Country Billboard charts, it will be known as an anthem that cries older country artist still matter. But it was George’s love for country music and the way that he put his heart and soul into his songs that the fans really loved, despite his flaws as a person and performer. After his death fans still watch old YouTube videos of his music video and interviews, and Amber Girdner commented, what I believe is the thought of every country music lover. She said, “George Jones can never be replaced by anyone he was a legend of country music he will always be forever missed by so many,” solidifying his colossal influence on country music and its supporters. “I don’t need your rocking chair,” was George’s way of stating his claim in the music industry as a legendary performer, while saying, “I don’t need your rockin chair… I do my rocking on a stage!”
Dean, Chuck.”Q&A: George Jones on How He Lived To Tell It All.” Rolling Stone. N.p., 26 Nov. 1996. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.“George Jones Answers Eight Questions on His 80th Birthday.” Taste of Country. N.p., 12, Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
Mann, Andrew (AndyMannn13). “Blake Shelton is a straight up jackass Id gladly listen to any of those “old farts” music any day compared to the shit that jackass puts out.” 25 Jan 2013. Tweet.
Peterson, Richard. “The Production of Cultural Change: The Case of Contemporary Country Music.” Social Research 45.2 (1978): 292-314. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
“Rare Interview with Country Music Legend George Jones by GeorgeJonesMusic.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
Trigger. “‘Blake Shelton Calls Classic Country Fans “Old Farts” & “Jackasses.’” Saving Country Music. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.