Canadian country star Duane Steele brought some Music City history to Arcola's MacMurray Theatre as he presented 'The Legend of George Jones' to a near sell-out crowd.
Steele, guest vocalist Andrea House and the members of his five-piece band - Rob Shapiro, Phil Hall, Joel McIntyre, John Thiel and Mark Whitehead - made their stop onstage in Arcola thanks to the efforts of the Arcola Optimist Club.
“We were really lucky to be able to bring this great show to Arcola,” said Optimist Club member, Kelvin Leudtke. “It worked out because they were on their way to perform in Winnipeg after performing in Edmonton. This show has been a sell-out throughout Western Canada and the Optimists are thrilled to bring a show of this calibre to our area.”
Steele's two-act performance took the audience of nearly 200 people on a musical and emotional journey chronicling the complex life of country music superstar, George Jones.
“It's indeed a pleasure and an honour to bring you the life of George Jones,” said Steele during his introduction.
“I was born in northern Alberta, coming from a long line of farmers and homesteaders, but I had a serious aversion to hard work, so I took up music instead,” he smiled.
“Now I'd like to take you on a tour of the life of the greatest country singer who ever lived. And boy, did he live...”
Steele started the show with highlights, low lights and hits from the storied singer's early career, including songs 'She Still Thinks I Care' and 'The Race Is On.'
Steele told the story of how Jones became known as 'The Possum' - a nickname that stuck throughout Jones's decades-long career.
“A Texas DJ described George Jones as having a flat-topped haircut, squinty little eyes and a turned-up nose - just like a possum,” said Steele. “When asked what he thought of being called 'The Possum,' Jones said: 'I don't care what they call me, just as long as they play my records.'”
Steele entertained his audience with tales recounting the singer's ill-fated business, 'The George Jones Rhythm Ranch' (in partnership with fellow country star, Merle Haggard) and Jones's infamous trips to his local liquor store in Beaumont, Texas driving a riding lawnmower, at the height of his addiction to alcohol.
The second half of Steele's show recounted Jones's marriages to fellow country superstar, Tammy Wynette and to his saviour in sobriety, Nancy Sepulvado Jones.
Singer-actress Andrea House joined Steele onstage as they performed 'Golden Ring,' 'Stand By Your Man' and Jones's biggest hit - and second chance song - 'He Stopped Loving Her Today.'
Steele told the story behind the song that would prove to be an integral part of Jones's professional salvation.
“Even though he had enjoyed a decades-long career and a lot of hits, George Jones hit bottom at the age of 54,” he said. “In the grip of addictions to both alcohol and drugs, he earned the nickname 'No-Show Jones' and was broke, homeless, deranged, addicted and living in his car.”
Even at his lowest point - professionally and personally - Jones initially refused to record “the greatest country song of all time,” said Steele.
“But in the end, a four-decade career was saved by a three-minute country song.”
Steele's show ended with a standing ovation and the audience was rewarded with an encore and the opportunity to meet Steele and Co. after the show.
Steele said of playing in Arcola's acoustically-perfect theatre: “You guys have a really nice theatre here...You're really lucky to have a place like this here.”
“We'd welcome Duane Steele back anytime,” said Leudtke. “What a great show.”