Borrowed from the pages of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s daughter, Georgette Jones’ memoir, George and Tammy traces the complicated, frequently calamitous relationship between two of country music titans. Wynette—The First Lady of Country music — still holds the best-selling country single of all time by a female for Stand by Your Man.
Actor Michael Shannon would seem an odd choice, but Shannon’s portrayal infuses life into a profoundly flawed man known to skip concerts, mislead fans, indulge in numerous vices, and be a master of his own invention. Shannon quickly negates any casting trepidation, as he inhabits Jones’ legacy absent trivial cloning or a cartoon read of Jones' proclivities. Wynette—played by actor Jessica Chastain, maintains the white Christian veneer of her upbringing. This goes to the bones of the relationship.
While Shannon is all fire and rowdy man, Chastain stands calm, caring and uberfan. The Wynette in Chastain’s world is true to life Wynette—a woman shrouded in thick make-up, hair buffed, and looking the part of a passive 1950s wife. Yet her ambitions conflict with her husband—Don Chapel, who exploits and abuses for his own advantage. Don drives Wynette into Jone’s circle with one intention, to get Jones to record his songs. There’s a brood of children between her and life on the road and a smitten Jones, yet, from the downbeat, chemistry locks the two in a cycle of highs and lows: chase and pursuit.
As for the music. From the downbeat, the groove, feel and affections of a music borne of soil, worked by bent fingers and blistered hands, where it was commonplace to suffer the opprobrium of poverty and family tragedy, a truth is unveiled.
For all the fawning over new country artists, none come close musically to a Jones or Wynette. The lyrics match the times. The stories are everyday circumstances, practically biblical in their longings. Hope, pain, betrayal, alcohol, and trucks—something you distribute goods, collect grain, do family chores and move what little
furniture in your possession to another location when expelled from the ancestor’s farm. Not the party train.
Although Shannon doesn’t resemble a ‘possum face’ Jones,’ he shares with Jones a face cut from a different skin. Rugged, expressive and with no connection to the Hollywood portrait of a leading man. This in no way thwarts his dogged pursuit of Wynette, superior songs, and endless nocturnal pleasures.
Jones carried a well of contempt for his alcoholic father who forced him to sing for him in those violence-laden episodes. We often wonder why certain voices carry so much pain. The answer lies somewhere between the soul of a person and the crushing realities of growing up.
Chastain is a more convincing Wynette in the singing department than Shannon. Jones was a one-off voice not easily replicated. I will give Shannon this. He’d make a fine folk-singing balladeer from the 60s’.
The above is a prelude to my conversation with expat pianist David Vest from Alabama who makes his home in Vancouver. The award-winning pianist began his professional life teaming with a young Wynette playing a variety of pick-up gigs and early morning television shows. This is where we begin today. Vest’s story.