A booking-agent friend recently brought me an ashtray from the George Jones gift shop and museum in Nashville. It’s a ceramic dish embossed with a photo of Jones next to an outline of a naked woman. Stamped next to the images is a matter-of-fact Watch Your Butt. The semiotics of this piece of Americana are manifold, but the ultimate message is one of irony, coming as it does from an artist who seldom heeded his own advice and nearly gutted his career in the process. His nicknames alone reveal a complicated man “The Possum,” “Country Music’s Living Legend,” and, the most notorious of all, “No Show Jones.” The bottle that surfaced so acutely in some of his countrypolitan classics spilled into his personal life as well, leaving a trail of canceled dates and busted relationships. But his artistic reach stretched far beyond boozy melodrama. Gripping dissections of heartache like “Good Year for the Roses” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” set a standard few current singers can match. Jones’s instinctive phrasing and keening voice have always harbored a spiritual melancholia so profound it seemed no woman could assuage it and no amount of liquor could drown it. Last summer, when a big wind blew down the Taste of Chicago and canceled George Jones’s appearance, for once the bottle wasn’t to blame. “And old George Jones, I’m glad to see, is finally gettin’ straight,” Hank Williams Jr. observed in “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down).” It looks like this time around the only storm will be the one onstage. Conway Twitty and Vern Gosdin are also on the bill. Saturday, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 443-1130.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim DeVault.