Formerly managed by Nancy Jones, and mentored by George Jones, Jason Byrd has become an ambassador for traditional country music throughout the Gulf Coast region. After a recent appearance at a memorial concert honoring George, Byrd felt prompted to share memories of the hero who became a mentor and friend. Below are his memories in his own words.
Remembering My Friend, George Jones - Jason Byrd
A longtime radio guy in Tallahassee named Bill Kelly first introduced me to Nancy and George. Bill was familiar with my music and my love for traditional country. He gave me tickets to a concert with Vern Gosden, Conway Twitty and George Jones at the Civic Center in Tallahassee. Bill was there that night, too, backstage with all the stars and he was kind enough to tell Nancy and George about this singer songwriter in town who was out in the audience. Nancy had done some management; guiding the careers of other country artists and, thanks to Bill’s enthusiasm, she expressed an interest in hearing my demo. Not long after, I got a call from Nancy Jones and she was interested in talking about management.
Nancy told me to let her know if I was ever in the area (in Middle Tennessee) and I was going to make sure that I’d be in that area. I planned a trip to Nashville and scheduled a meeting with Nancy. They were still living in Brentwood at the time, a suburb of Nashville. I never dreamed I’d be able to just walk up to the door of George Jones. No gated community. No passwords. Not an imposing estate, but a beautiful family home. I’d never been around anyone like that before and it was not at all what I expected. I just drove right up to the front door and Nancy herself answered the door. She recognized me from my picture and invited me right inside.
My first meeting with Nancy was also the first time I met George. I looked into the living room and there he sat on the sofa, the legend, watching an episode of Cops on TV with his feet kicked up on a coffee table. He got up out of his seat, came over and shook my hand. He was so complimentary; told me that he and Nancy really enjoyed my singing and that he was looking forward to talking about how he and Nancy might be able to help my career. He was as nice as he could be. They both were. From the second that we all decided to work together, we hit the ground runnin’ pretty hard. Nancy reached out to so many of her great connections, made introductions for me, and created so many opportunities. George had just released “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” and was on a real high in own career at that time. Alan Jackson had also released “Don’t Rock The Jukebox” which shined a light back on George, too.
During one of my early trips to Nashville, George and I were chatting in the parking lot of Warner Brothers after an A&R meeting the Jones’ had scheduled for me. I told George that I planned to attend a TV taping the next night for a show on which George was scheduled to appear. Well, he tells Nancy she ought to just call over there and get me on the show, too. The next night, I found myself on the Nashville Now TV show with George, Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Lawrence, and Danny Shirley of Confederate Railroad. That was kind of a shock to me, very nerve wracking. I’d never done anything like that before. Nancy is strong and determined and George was just always so generous and gracious. They opened a lot of doors for me. From that night on, I began to do some shows here and there with George on the road. He’d get me up to do a couple of songs with his band. It really kicked off in the early 2000’s when he invited me to do some show openings. I had my own band for some shows, and on others, it was just my guitar player and me doing an acoustic set before George’s show. I’d also get up and do “Yesterday’s Wine” with George during his show, and then he’d have me come out to do the parts for “Rockin’ Chair.”
We did a bunch of dates together. It was just an awesome experience being out there on the road with him and being around his organization. They were all great people. I learned a lot about live performances, travel and routing, and all of the stuff that goes along with touring. We were on the road for months straight a couple different times. Once was on the West Coast, and another time was in Canada. Most of our dates were Thursday through Sunday, something like that, but I did open up a pile of shows for George back then.
I got to be on the Opry a couple of times with George. The show had moved back to the Ryman at that time, so it was really cool to just be on the Opry, but to be introduced by George Jones at the Ryman was pretty surreal. Everything that I did with George Jones was awesome. He went into the studio with me, taught me
how to think about writing songs. There was a lot that I did professionally with George and he was always generous with ideas and direction and feedback. Although we never co-wrote, I worked on a song called “Better Life” off and on for some time. I’d share the progress with George and he’d give me feedback and advice. I was thrilled when, eventually, he agreed to appear as a guest on the recorded track. Recently, Nancy was integral in organizing a memorial concert in Huntsville, AL marking a decade since George’s passing. Some real heavy-hitters took the stage to perform George’s music, and I was honored to perform “Better Life” for all of the VIPs at a dinner before that concert. I’d spend quite a bit of time on the road with George, but always tried to respect his time and privacy. We’d hang out on his bus, work through soundcheck together, stuff like that. When we were off the road or getting ready for a tour, I’d stay at the Jones’ home whenever I was up there, which was really kind of them. We spent a lot of time together, but I knew he needed time when he didn’t have to be “on”. We really developed a good relationship, both professionally and personally. Just being around George as much as I was, it was just so cool. We’d go to breakfast or dinner, stuff like that. He’d come get me and let me tag along to meetings and be with him whenever he was doing stuff. I think he liked the company, and he was just really generous with his time. That’s how he was with his family and friends.
George was a lot of fun. One time, we went on a vacation to the Bahamas with our families. Now, folks might not think of George Jones as one for water parks, but he hung out poolside with us, although he didn’t go down the slides or anything like that. It was a great time, and he got a kick out of the youngsters. When we were on our Canadian tour, we had shows from the West to the East, all across the country. One of our last shows was in New Foundland and we found ourselves on a 6-hour ferry ride. This thing was huge. It had like three semi’s, buses and cars in addition to a bunch of people. A couple of hours into it, I got a call that George wanted to get together in a common area and just jam. My guitar player and his guitar player and I found ourselves sitting there with George Jones, playing George Jones songs. We had us a big ol’ time. The ferry wasn’t full, but word got around pretty quick that George was in there, so we got us a little crowd gathered. That was a really special time; seeing him enjoy others making music. He’d ask for certain songs and really seemed to enjoy himself.
My relationship with George was well after the “No Show” days. He’d tell some stories about those times, and his band members who’d been with him back then would tell some stories. He’d gotten his act together and he was really happy to be alive, and to recognize the error of his ways, so to speak. He was really grateful to the fans who’d stuck with him, and to the new fans who came along. That was genuine, the way he appreciated fans believing in him. George always told me, “Son, always do this because you love the music, not because you have to.” That stuck with me . I love what I do, and I feel a kind of obligation to keep traditional country music alive as best I can and keep it in the forefront. He was my mentor and it’s important to me to keep George’s name and legacy in the forefront, too.
Another thing that sticks with me is George’s attitude about appearance. He believed in giving people what they paid for. He kept it high and tight, and his band was always high and tight. That was the tradition of the music that he came up in and that’s what his heroes did. He’d say, “If you want people to think of you as a star, you need to look like a star.” You never saw George go on stage without looking like a star. He taught me to get out there and look like somebody whether I was or not. If George went out in public, he looked like George Jones. It was a deep kind of respect that he had for the music, and part of his gratitude, I think, for getting second chances.
George was a big-hearted person. He cared a lot about people, and he loved his family. He loved the people he was associated with, and he wasn’t the kind that would associate with people he didn’t like. It meant a lot to me that he enjoyed my company. We’d watch TV in back room; sports or old Westerns, or we’d hang on the bus out on the road. A lot of old Westerns. He’d tell stories. I’d just listen. Sometimes, I would call just to see what he was up to, and sometimes, he’d call me. It was really weird to get a phone call from George Jones. I never thought I’d meet the man, but to become friends and work together, that was really special. It was like him, though. George genuinely took an interest in the people in his life. He was as nice as he could be to me. He was a bit of a restless soul. When we were on the road, he was so eager to get home, but when he was home for a while, he’d be itchin’ to get back out on the road.
I was excited about that Showtime series on George and Tammy, but it didn’t depict either of them in a very positive light. There was so much more dimension to the man, and when he finally got his act together, he did it in a big way … as an artist, father, a man of faith, and as the best husband possible for Nancy. George was one of the greats in country music. His name is always at the top of the list in any
conversation about real country music. One of the things that drew me to him so much, that I have so much respect for, is the way George, in those outlaw years and beyond, just got out there and did what he did. He was genuine. He never tried to be something he wasn’t. The songs he sang were believable because he lived them. That’s one of the biggest lessons from George as a mentor. You have to have some experience in what you’re singing about to make it believable for other people. He was so passionate about the music and he wanted somebody to take that baton and keep runnin’ the race. He saw that in me and I’m so grateful. I’m still runnin’ that race, sharing traditional country music because I love it, and to honor George.
I came off the road when my son was born, but we kept in touch and talked periodically. I was very humbled that George was really apologetic because we hadn’t been able to really get something big going in my career. I told him that everything that happened, and just about everyone I met in country music, was due to him and Nancy. To this day, just getting out there and sharing the music with people in an authentic way is how I carry that baton forward and honor George. I still have so much respect for the man. George’s legacy in country music will never go away. He was one of the greatest to ever draw a breath, but I want fans to know that he was just a really nice guy. The iconic star will never be forgotten, and I will never forget my friend.
ABOUT JASON BYRD
A third-generation firefighter, Jason Byrd has always had another fire burning within … as a
traditional country music singer, songwriter and performer. Mentored by none other than George
Jones, Byrd has played stages across the US and Canada, opening for powerhouse artists such as
Tracy Lawrence, Loretta Lynn, Mark Chesnutt, Dierks Bentley and, of course George Jones. Jason
has appeared on the world-famous Grand Ole Opry and made multiple TV appearances.
In 2019, Jason retired from his post as a Battalion Chief of the Tallahassee Fire Department to focus
on music full time. In 2021, with the blessing of Nancy Jones, he released “Better Life," a song he’d
written and worked on with Jones. The duet was originally recorded more than a decade earlier.
Despite pressure to release the song he’d so carefully worked on with Jones, Byrd held onto the song
in the wake of George’s passing. Upon its release, the song was nominated for Single of the Year at
the Josie Music Awards. Based in Tallahassee, Byrd has become something of an ambassador for traditional country music along the Gulf Coast and throughout the Southeast states. Jason currently has two songs nominated for the 2023 Josie Music Awards Song of the Year and continues to delight real country fans with a full tour schedule. After working several shows with Lauren Spring, another Florida-based writer, Byrd chose to record “Gulf Coastin’,” a song Lauren co- wrote with Colin Black, as a summer song for 2023.