Not many infants receive recording contracts from legendary producers on the day they’re born, but exceptions are made when the child in question is the only daughter of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, country music’s “First Couple.” In her new memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up With Tammy and George, Georgette Jones offers an intimate portrait of her life with her storied parents and on her own.
Though the book spares no details of growing up as the only child of country music royalty, it is very much a coming-of-age memoir. Jones is open about her parents’ troubles and their lives in the public eye, and she is equally candid about her own. She details her struggles with relationships, including her reconciliation with her father in the wake of her mother’s death. Jones worked as a nurse for many years, but she recently joined the family business and launched a country music career. Her second album is due in July, and Chapter 16 recently caught up with by phone before she begins touring again.
You spent a lot of time growing up in the care of your maternal grandparents. Do you think your parents were consciously trying to keep you away from the business of celebrity?
Absolutely, and they did a pretty good job of it. Of course there were those times when you couldn’t help but hear about some things or see stories on the news. But they tried to keep us away from the dark side of celebrity. I mean, by the time you become a teenager, it is stressful enough.
You write that coming of age, to you, meant seeing yourself as a separate entity from either of your parents.
For a while, I thought the key was in music: I didn’t want to listen to country music; I wanted to listen to heavy metal. This tells you how old I am, but I had an eight-track of AC/DC. I loved KISS and anything that was completely the opposite of country music. But I always loved singing and writing, and as I got older and began trying to write songs, I found that what came from my heart was more country than anything else. And when I sing, I really pour my heart more into country music, especially ballads. I’m a sucker for a ballad. I guess eventually you come back full circle, which is kind of funny. My mom always said I would.
For a number of reasons you talk about in the book, you didn’t really get to know your father until you were an adult.
Well, they divorced when I was 4. A few times I got to spend some time with him on my own, but for the most part he would come to visit me at my mom’s house, or at my grandmother’s, maybe three or four times a year. When I was 14, though, I visited my dad in Texas, and started trying to have more of a relationship. It was just a difficult time for both of us. It’s no secret the troubles he’s had in the past. He tried to guard me from knowing any of that or being around any of that. I think he might’ve had a little guilt, too.
Being a teenager, I wanted to demand more of him. I wanted more and he wasn’t giving it, and I felt rejected and wanted to run away from him. I felt like I was being rejected. Neither one of us knew how to communicate our feelings. We were lost. We had a falling-out when I got a divorce, and he didn’t speak to me on the phone for about a year and a half. But when my Mom passed away, he and [his wife] Nancy showed up at the house. I remember seeing him and thinking I couldn’t possibly face that right now; it’s too much. I started to walk away, and Nancy grabbed me by the arm and said, “Listen, your Daddy’s here for you and he’s hurting too. Go talk to him.” And I did, and the second he gave me a hug and told me he loved me, it all kind of melted away. The fact that he was there for me when I needed him the most, more than any other time, it meant a lot to me. And so we started trying to mend the relationship and spend more time together at that point. It all started to turn around there.
So you have one album out now, and a second on the way? With a tour planned as well?
Yes, my second album comes out in July, and I do have a full band. We tour as much as we can, and we’re hoping to do some shows overseas. We’re going to Sweden in August.
So how would you describe your music? Traditional? Neo-traditional?
Well, these two albums were made for Heart of Texas Records, which is more of a traditional label, so I have some traditional Nashville-style songs, a couple of songs that are more Texas swing, and then I’ve remade some of Mom and Dad’s songs. But I do have my own songs — which aren’t as modern as, say, Carrie Underwood, but fall somewhere in the middle of that and
In the book, you write that you disagree with some of the conclusions Jimmy McDonough draws in his recent biography of Tammy Wynette. Can you elaborate?
I never thought I would write this book; I had no interest in doing it for a long time. But I made it to about Page 90 of McDonough’s book, and my fiancé Jamie realized how upset I was getting every time I would pick it up to try and read some more. He finally told me to just put it down if it was going to upset me that much. And he was right. The more I read, the more upset I got, because the picture he was painting of my mother was of someone very manipulative and hard-driven to the point where she was determined to step on anybody and use anyone to get to the top. And that’s not at all who my mom was. Anyone in Nashville that knew her or worked with her will tell you that.
I don’t know exactly how he came to all those conclusions. I do know he talked to a lot of people who haven’t been around our family for many, many years. They didn’t really know Mom in Nashville, and I think they had their own ideas. But I wanted to write a book to show my mom as I knew her. People come up to me all the time to tell me stories about her, about how she helped them or took care of them. I wanted people to see that. I didn’t want people to read the last book and think terrible things about my mom. I wanted to put the truth out.
I tell you, since my Mom’s not here with me anymore, I only have memories to lean on. But when someone comes up to you — and you know they’re being genuine because they don’t have to tell you anything — and shares something special about how Mom touched their life in some way, it makes me feel good. I feel I get closer to Mom when I hear those stories.
To read an uncut version of this interview — and more local book coverage — please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.