Today was the funeral and public ceremony for country music legend George Jones, with many of George’s peers, many national dignitaries, and many younger artists who have benefited from the stature of country music that George Jones helped create, coming together to pay tribute and reflect on the life of “The Possum.”
But few, if any can give perspective on George Jones that 90-year-old Don Maddox can–the last surviving member of the pioneering and influential band The Maddox Brothers & Rose. How influential were The Maddox Brothers & Rose? Many artists can speak about how George Jones helped them get their start in the music business, but Don Maddox can speak about how The Maddox Brothers & Rose helped George Jones get his start in the mid 50’s when they stopped in Beaumont, TX to play a show.
“The guy that was booking us in there said, ‘We got a young feller in the audience, he’s just getting started, and I think he’s gonna go a long way. I was wondering if we could let him get up on the stage and do a song with you guys.'” Don recalls to me from his home in Ashland, OR. “We didn’t know who he was, but we said, ‘Sure, bring him on up!’ So he brought him up and it turns out to be George Jones. Of course he was just getting started then. He wasn’t well known, but this guy [the promoter] said he had what it takes and thought he would go a long way, and any help we could give him, they’d appreciate it… And lo and behold, he did go a long way!”
The promoter of the show at the Beaumont Auditorium was a local businessman by the name of Jack Starns. Along with a record distributor from Houston named Harold W. Daily, they formed Starday Records in 1952. Starday was George Jones’s first ever record label, releasing his debut album Grand Ole Opry’s New Star in 1957.
“So we got up on stage and we were dressed in our fancy Western outfits,” Don continues. “And George got up there and he had on his old street clothes. He got up there and he said, ‘Being up here with these guys, I feel like Minnie Pearl.’ And I said [jokingly]’ ‘Well you look a little like Minnie Pearl too!’ He was a little bit upset by that so he came over and pretended to beat me up for saying that. But it was just part of the show.”
Don was the fiddle player, and just as importantly, the comedian of The Maddox Brothers & Rose. Don had a comedy skit with his brother, bass player Fred, that resolved in Don yelling out, “That’s right!” in a high-pitched voice. The phrase became one of Don’s trademarks over the years, and every time George Jones saw Don Maddox afterwards, he would yell toward him,”That’s right!”
“Back then George Jones needed exposure. Now I’m the one that needs the exposure,” the 90-year-old Don Maddox jokes.
The Beaumont Auditorium is also where The Maddox Brothers & Rose are given credit for influencing the style of Elvis Presley. The band was playing a package show with Elvis, Slim Whitman, and others, when it’s said Elvis was caught parading backstage in one of their coats, saying, “One of these days I’m gonna get me a fancy outfit like this.”