George Jones: Sausage entrepreneur
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Country music fans throughout the world were greatly saddened by the death of country music legend George Jones, 81, on April 26 at Vanderbilt Univ. Medical Center in Nashville of hypoxic respiratory failure. His life was truly unique. Throughout his career, Jones put everything he had into his music. One writer correctly stated that Jones “inhabited his songs.”
Since his passing, many stories have flooded the media outlets focusing on his life and career. But I didn’t find any mention of George Jones Country Sausage in reports I read and this was an interesting part of his life that may be unknown to many folks.
George Jones Country Sausage was launched in March 2003, Roger Williams, president of Williams Sausage Company, Union City, Tenn., told MEATPOULTRY.com. “The licensing deal with George came about when a friend of his, Joel Peters, started marketing a line of George Jones Barbeque Sauce and he and George started talking about other food products that George had a particular fondness for. Pork sausage was an item George said he had a family recipe for and he believed that if he could find someone to make it for him that it would be a hit.
“Mr. Peters contacted me about the idea and we came to terms on paying George a license fee for each unit sold and he, in return, would do certain marketing and promotional efforts in his live concerts and at other venues,” Williams added. “The product line started off very well and we got immediate distribution in Kroger in the Nashville market. Distribution quickly expanded to parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio.
Over the intervening 10 years, however, the novelty of the George Jones product seem to wane and today distribution of the George Jones product is very spotty and sold mainly in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, he continued. “Though George was very proud of his product, I think its development came a little too late in his career for him to have the time and energy to devote to the promotion of his product,” Williams said.
Currently, there are just three George Jones products left — the 1-lb. Mild Country Sausage Chub, 1-lb. Hot Country Sausage Chub and 12-oz. bacon. The suggested retail price is $2.99 for the chubs and $3.89 for the bacon. Products are currently sold at Independent Grocers serviced by AWG Nashville; Laurel Grocery Company, London, Ky.; Sherwood Distributors, Cleveland, Ohio; and a few Walmart stores in Middle Tennessee.
Jones provided the seasoning recipe for his product and in the early years he made sales calls to some of the larger customers, Williams said. “He and his wife, Nancy, were featured in a television commercial we had made,” he added. “He also did several ‘meet-and-greet’ events at several stores in Nashville. One of the more popular things he did for promoting his sausage was to autograph guitars for us to use for various promotions.”
Williams next shared an early insight on how it was to work with Jones.
“One day early in our journey for making George Jones Country Sausage, I was at his house discussing various business aspects of the venture,” Williams said. “George said, ‘You know, I’m really not much of a business man because I am still having to work to pay off all those judgments against me for when I didn’t show up at all those concerts. I know how to sing a country song, but running a business has never been my strong suit. If it wasn’t for Nancy, I don’t know where I would be right now. She is one who has kept me sober, and if we want this to succeed, we better get her in here,’ and that was when I found out that Nancy was really the business person in the family. From then on, most business decisions were made by Nancy, and I found that George had a great respect for her business acumen.”
When asked what Jones’ favorite meat or poultry dish was, Williams replied, “I really don’t know, but he did seem very fond of his sausage.” As for what the future holds for George Jones Country Sausage now that Jones has passed away, Williams said, “I am not sure. I think that will be up to Mr. Jones’ family; so, we will just have to wait and see.”
There is a telling quote by Jones on the Williams Sausage Co. web site about how he felt about placing his name on products: "I don't lend my name to just anything," Jones said. "Williams' sausage is some of the best I've ever had and I like the fact that they are an old family business that hasn't changed hands much. Kind of like me, I've been a country singer since the day I started off in the business and I'll be singin' country til the day I die."
George Jones’ funeral will take place on Thursday, May 2 at The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn., starting at 10 am and will be open to the public, according to www.georgejones.com. “George would have wanted his fans and friends everywhere to be able to come and pay their respects along with his family,” said publicist Kirt Webster.
And for the millions of loyal fans unable to travel to Nashville to pay their respects, Opry Entertainment Classic Country WSM-A/NASHVILLE will be the exclusive radio source broadcasting Jones’ funeral services, live from the Grand Old Opry House on Thursday, May 2, starting at 10am (CT). It just so happens that 650 WSM broadcast Jones’ first appearance at the Opry in 1956.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jones. Although you will be deeply missed by millions of fans, your music will live forever.