- Dierks Bentley: His friend and inspiration, country music legend George Jones has died
- He says listening to Jones means "hearing" him; his words filtered through a broken heart
- He says in Jones' catalog you can hear what great country does: reaches out, consoles
- Bentley: Jones part of country's "greatest generation." Thank them while you can
"Damn it, I knew I needed to get in touch with George when I'd heard he was ill, that he had been admitted to the hospital for respiratory ailments. How did I let this happen?"
Those where my initial thoughts sitting on the tarmac at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport reading the texts and e-mails about George Jones's death Friday morning.
George was a friend, a country music legend, an influence to me and to countless other musicians.
If you aren't able to fully hear and appreciate George Jones' voice, you really can't fully appreciate country music. His voice opens up country music's depth and power. You feel it or you don't. It helps to have done some living and to have had your heart broken, like George did. And it really helps if you can hang around one of its greatest singers, which I was fortunate enough to do over the years.
During a show at the Ryman Auditorium in the mid-'90s, I heard the great bluegrass singer Peter Rowan say that if you have a musical hero, you should do anything you can to be near that person. For him that meant driving Bill Monroe's tour bus. For me, it meant hanging around Terry Eldredge, my hero when I moved to Nashville, and the lead singer of a band called "The Sidemen," which played Tuesdays at the Station Inn.
Terry idolized George Jones. It was through him that i began to "hear" George, not just listen to him. There is a big difference between listening and hearing. I had listened to George growing up with my dad, a big country fan. I had listened to him in high school again, when I discovered Hank Williams Jr. and found out Hank also loved George. But it wasn't until I was in Nashville and hanging out with Terry that I finally heard George Jones. I finally got it. The tone and the ache of his voice clicked. I heard how every word George sang was first filtered through a broken heart.
We became friends eventually. From time spent together backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, visits at the home of George and his wife, Nancy, dinner at his favorite O'Charley's or Logan's Roadhouse, I cherished every moment in his presence, getting to hear firsthand accounts of stories I had read, the jokes and the laughter, the love between him and Nancy.
Having the opportunity to sing to George from the Opry stage for his 75th birthday in 2006 and to record in the studio together are unforgettable highlights of this crazy honky tonk dream.
People will always say that "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was George's best song and perhaps the greatest country song of all time. I certainly wouldn't disagree. But do yourself a favor and dig a little deeper. One of those nights when you are feeling down or lonesome, instead of going to the usual modern day distractions, grab some whiskey and listen to "A Picture of Me (Without You)," "The Cold Hard Truth," "A Good Year For The Roses," or my favorite, "The Door." Put your heart in George's hands and trust that he will take care of it.
That is what great country music (at least my favorite kind) and great country singers do; that is what country is all about: consoling the lonely, letting you know someone else has been there and has felt the way you do. It's about walking you through the hard times.
My dad was a member of this country's greatest generation. He grew up in The Depression and fought in WWII. There aren't many left. George is a member of country music's greatest generation. And there are only a handful of those men and women left. Go to their shows, talk to them if you can. Let them know how much you appreciate their music and if you are lucky enough, their friendship. Let them know the impact their singing or songwriting has had on your life. But don't do it for their sake, do it for your own.
So that when they are no longer with us, you might feel just a little less sad.
Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.