It was almost exactly 50 years ago that George Jones first came to Augusta, performing seven shows over three days at the Exchange Club of Augusta Fair.
His appearances Oct. 26-28, 1960, were with headliner Little Jimmy Dickens, The Carter Sisters (Helen, Anita and June) and also Smiley & Kitty Wilson and Clyde Beavers.
The year before those appearances, Jones had scored his first No. 1 country hit with White Lightnin', written by fellow Texan Jiles Perry "J.P." Richardson Jr., better known as "The Big Bopper."
Jones will be back in Augusta at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bell Auditorium.
It was in a backstage dressing room at Bell Auditorium where I first interviewed Jones and his then-wife Tammy Wynette on Jan. 16, 1972, when WFNL-AM radio station brought to town a package show for performances at 2:30 and 8 p.m.
Also in the same two shows were Hank Williams Jr., Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Faron Young and Hank Williams Sr.'s original Drifting Cowboys band. Tickets cost $4 advance or $5 at the door with children 12 and younger charged $2.50.
I remember the evening performance especially because legendary singer Webb Pierce was in the area checking on his three Georgia radio stations in Sylvania, Swainsboro and Waynesboro, which were managed by former Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride star Johnnie Bailes.
Jones and Pierce ended up singing together several of Pierce's classic hits including There Stands The Glass, Tupelo County Jail, Why Baby Why (which Jones co-wrote) and Wondering, Wondering.
It was one of those magical nights with some incredible musical moments. I remember that night introducing Tammy Wynette to an upcoming area singer named Terri Gibbs who later would open shows for Jones.
There are no telling how many times I've written about George Jones over the past 40 years, including about sitting next to him on a bar stool at the old Holiday Inn on Washington Road while he was drinking a Bloody Mary a few hours before his scheduled show.
His then girlfriend, Nancy Sepulvado, came into the bar and asked if he had found some medicine he was taking for a cold. He had driven her most of the way to Augusta in a motorcycle sidecar in the rain, because he reportedly wasn't allowed then to drive a car because of prior DUI arrests.
Jones looked down at the glass he was holding with both hands, tilted the glass to one side and said in a low voice, "I found my medicine."
Honestly, I'm not making any of that story up.
Nancy and George now have been married 27 years, and she deserves all the credit in the world for chasing away Jones' old drinking buddies and standing by him -- even though his former wife, Wynette, sang Stand By Your Man and didn't.
Jones used to make fun of his own drinking days including recording his hit (They Call Me) No Show Jones.
His former wives, Shirley Corley and Wynette, both told about Jones driving a riding lawn mower to the liquor store when his wives took away his car keys.
Jones re-created those lawn mower rides in Hank Williams Jr.'s music video All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight and Vince Gill's music video One More Last Chance .
And just last Christmas, singer Ronnie McDowell presented Jones with a painting that McDowell had done of Jones riding his lawn mower. The painting was commissioned by non other than Jones' wife, Nancy.
As much as I love Jones' classic solo singles such as A Window Up Above, Walk Through This World With Me, He Stopped Loving Her Today, Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes and A Picture of Me (Without You), I even more love his classic duet recordings.
That long list includes We Didn't See A Thing with Ray Charles, We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds with Melba Montgomery, Bartender's Blues with James Taylor, Yesterday's Wine with Merle Haggard, Size Seven Round with Lacy J. Dalton, Have A Little Talk With Jesus with Brenda Lee, You Don't Seem To Miss Me with Patty Loveless, I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool with Barbara Mandrell and his legendary duets with Wynette including Golden Ring, We're Gonna Hold On (To Each Other) and Two Story House .
Jones has recorded duets with dozens of singers through the years including recently with country artist Eric Lee Bedingfield of Dearing, Ga.
Elvis Costello not long ago told me backstage at Ryman Auditorium, "In the late '70s, George Jones recorded one of my songs, Stranger in the House , and I sang on it. So that was a hole-in-one for my first time in Nashville."
The Jones-Costello duet can be heard on Jones' 1980 album, My Very Special Guests , and also as a bonus track on Rhino Records' 2004 reissue of Costello's 1981 country album, Almost Blue .
It's a shame that time and changing country music trends in the recording world have caught up with the 79-year-old Jones.
The same country radio stations that owe their existence in large part to Jones don't even play his recordings. The same country stars who list Jones as a major influence don't take him along on their tours (which may be his choice).
But in the hearts and music souls of those who love traditional country music, George Jones always will be at the top of their favorites' list.
ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST DAVID LEE: The 2004 winner of the International Images of the King contest in Memphis, Tenn., and Canadian Grand Elvis Champion performs at 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday at Mi Rancho, 4645 Jefferson Davis Highway, in Clearwater.
His wife, Tara Kay, will perform a Reba McEntire tribute show; no cover charge but donations accepted. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk7U1SyW6Ao.