George Jones Is Collecting His Own Memorabilia

Kennedy Center Honors Recipient Contemplates Opening a Museum

The word legend is often overused, but not when it applies to country music icon George Jones. With a rich and storied career spanning more than 50 years, he’s one of country’s greatest singers.

In fact, during a recent tribute at the recent Kennedy Center Honors celebration in Washington, D.C., Alan Jackson called him “the last great voice of real country music.” Jackson was joined by Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, Randy Travis and Shelby Lynne during the Kennedy Center Honors segment that airs Tuesday (Dec. 30) on CBS.

It’s been an eventful year for the 77-year-old member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Aside from the accolades from other country music royalty, he also toured to call attention to Burn Your Playhouse Down, an album of previously unreleased duets with an array of diverse artists, including Keith Richards, Vince Gill, Mark Knopfler, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs and Jones’ daughter, Georgette Jones. There’s even an unreleased duet with his former wife, the late Tammy Wynette, on a 1977 recording of “Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me.”

Looking at his upcoming touring schedule, it’s clear he has no plans to slow down in 2009. Returning to the road on Jan. 16, he’s booked almost solid through the end of February and has plenty of concert dates scheduled through August.

While he and wife Nancy are busy taking care of his career as a performer, they probably won’t have a lot of time to devote to one of their other projects — opening a museum filled with memorabilia they’ve been collecting.

“We plan to open a museum at some point and share it with the fans,” says Jones. “We have a bit of a museum down in our basement right now, with all kinds of things from throughout my career — early records, guitars, clothes, various things that fans have made for me. We have a lot of framed photographs from throughout my career with other singers. I have a player piano from Gene Autry and a bunch of other stuff from him. One day, we’ll put all this stuff in a museum.”

And there’s the matter of finding the right articles to include in the museum, a process that’s complicated by the fact that a number of notable items are long gone. Jones and his wife have recently turned to the Internet to find and buy back some of the singer’s possessions.

“Nancy scours eBay looking for my old stuff,” laughs Jones. “Sometimes fans bring things back that they have found. I recently got an old guitar back after 46 years. A guy had bought it in Texas for $10 and gave it to his father — not a bad price for a Martin [brand guitar]. I’m always thrilled to see some of the old stuff.”

Of particular interest to Nancy are his classic suits, many of which were named for his most popular songs.

“We did that in the early days,” Jones says. “We would have a suit made for a hit single. Everyone did it back then.

“I don’t know how many suits are out there,” Jones continues. “I don’t have that many left, personally. I had a lot of suits made by Nudie and, later, Manuel. eBay is a good source. People contact us looking to make money. It’s a weird thing to have other people offer to sell you your own stuff back. Nancy found the ’White Lightning’ suit on eBay. When it was shipped to us, it was obvious that it had been displayed somewhere because the boots were filled with concrete or something to hold them up. The seller denied ever showing the suit.

“Nancy found the ’Window Up Above’ jacket in an old box of my stuff, so we didn’t have to pay for that one — just the original price from Nudie.”

Even if the museum never materializes, Nancy and George have gotten a kick out of digging up his career artifacts.

“We have a big cedar closet down in the basement filled with my stage clothes and boots from throughout my career,” says Jones. “A lot of them no longer fit, and some are funny to look at now. Fashions change, that’s for sure!”