When Duane Steele was asked to be part of a tribute show sharing songs and stories from country music legend George Jones’ life, he said no at first.
Steele, an award-winning singer-songwriter in his own right, has been performing The Legend of George Jones for just over a year now. Friends of his, who are now partners in the show, had asked him to be part of it.
“I actually turned it down originally because I wasn’t sure I could sing George Jones,” he says in a phone interview from his Alberta home.
“It was daunting. He’s considered the greatest country singer of all time, and he has such a unique singing style that I wasn’t sure I could do him tribute.”
Steele says he has always been a fan of George Jones, and he played some of his songs when he was younger. His friends kept at him and eventually told him he could pick the songs that made up the show.
“I didn’t jump on it immediately, but I’m glad I did,” says Steele. “I do love doing the show because not only the music, but George’s story is just phenomenal.”
Steele did his first The Legend of George Jones show in March 2017, and he says the response has been “fantastic” and the shows have almost all been sold out.
“Part of the reason I think it’s so popular is I believe people are starved for classic country music, and I think this fills a big void in some of those listeners’ lives, for sure,” he says.
Steele says there are people who have come back to see the show three or four times, and he gets to visit with many music fans after the show and hear about their connections with Jones and his music.
“It’s a very emotional show for a lot of people,” he says.
The Legend of George Jones, which comes to Quesnel June 6, takes the audience on an audio-visual journey through Jones’ incredible musical career and tumultuous personal life.
In a career that lasted more than 50 years, “the Possum” evolved from a young honky-tonker to a music icon, as he recorded nearly 150 albums and became the symbol of traditional country music. His music continues to inspire artists of all genres.
With this show, Steele and his band take music fans on a journey of Jones’ life through stories and songs. Steele sings the George Jones hits that spanned five decades, including his duets with Tammy Wynette, right up to the No.1 country song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Audience members will also hear stories of Jones’ life, which echoed the country songs he sang – filled with success, failure, hard drinking and heartbreak.
Steele says it is hard to pick a favourite George Jones song, but “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is always a highlight for him and for the audience.
“All the songs we do in the show are favourites of mine, but I think I’ve got to say when I tell the story leading up to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ arguably his biggest song, that gives me the greatest thrill,” he says. “It’s very recognizable, and people go crazy for it.”
While researching songs for the show, the song “Once You’ve Had The Best” was a revelation for Steele. He had never sung the song before, and he hadn’t realized it was written by Johnny Paycheck, who was in Jones’ band for a while.
“I always enjoyed the song and listening to it over the years, but once I started researching it, that was an interesting story, and their relationship was really interesting,” says Steele. “We tell a lot of these stories as a prelude to many of these songs.”
Steele is very clear that this is “Duane Steele singing George Jones” and not Duane Steele trying to be George Jones. He says one of the reasons he originally turned the show down is he didn’t want to be part of a tribute band or try to be the second coming of George Jones, because he doesn’t enjoy those types of shows as an audience member.
“In order to sing George Jones, he has to be researched, and for the songs to come across, he has to be emulated to a certain degree, but I try to maintain Duane Steele as a recording artist,” says Steele. “We try to maintain the show as that, Duane Steele bringing George Jones to people and not trying to be a George Jones clone, so to speak.”
Steel thinks there are a lot of reasons Jones has made such a lasting impression on so many people, but it really comes down to the fact people can relate to him.
“His voice is very, very unique, for one thing,” says Steele. “He has an absolutely amazing singing voice. I think also because of his troubles, his struggles as a human being, people relate to that. I think his songs are very indicative of his life.
“I think people really believe him as an artist. He lived the words he sings. I think when they hear him sing his songs, I think they can feel the angst and pain in the country songs he sings. I think he’s just a believable artist.”
The Legend of George Jones comes to the Quesnel and District Seniors’ Centre June 6 and will also be in Williams Lake, playing at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Centre June 5.
In Quesnel, doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the Quesnel show are available at Circle ’S’ Western Wear and online at thelegendofgeorgejones-quesnel.eventbrite.ca. Tickets for the Williams Lake show are available online at thelegendofgeorgejones-williamslake.eventbrite.ca.
The Observer has six tickets to give away to The Legend of George Jones! Turn to page 14 for your chance to enter, or follow our Facebook page at Facebook.com/QuesnelCaribooObserver for a chance to win.