n The News
TALKING WITH...TOM CARTER
The Nashville journalist has given voice to some of country music’s biggest stars.
JEOPARDY! ANSWER: THIS NASHVILLE journalist has co-written more bestselling celebrity memoirs than any author in the ‘90s. Question: Who is Tom Carter?
His name has no marquee value, but for country warblers hankering to tell their heartbreaking tales, Carter, 49, is the man with the golden pen. During the past six years he has shared bylines with Glen Campbell, Ralph Emery, Reba McEntire and George Jones, whose new autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, has sold more than 150,000 copies in its first seven weeks. “People are not buying Tom Carter,” says the author, who has four hardcover and three paperback bestsellers to his credit. “My task is to put the celebrities’ stories into their words.”
To do that, he says, “I become a surrogate member of their family. I eat; I sleep and breathe next to these people. I live totally at their disposal.” That means, for example, getting summoned to Ronnie Milsap’s tour bus at 3 a.m. when the durable singer got a sudden urge to gab. “I didn’t have much of a life until I began doing these books,” says Carter, who is divorced and the father of a 26-yeas-old son, Travis. “Now I’m pretty much married to my work.”
That is, after he persuaded his subjects to say “I do.” All were reluctant at first. When Ralph Emery said no, Carter had to corner the talk show personality five times in The Nashville Network’s parking lot. The result of their eventual collaboration, Memories, spent 26 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. “Talent counts, but it’s persistence that pays,” says Carter, who wrote a sample chapter for Reba McEntire before making a deal for Reba: My Story (more than 600,000 copies in print). “George Jones didn’t want any part of a book,” says Carter, “hut I kept calling his house and talking to his wife.”
Carter, writing solo, is now working on a novel set in Nashville. Oh, and he has a call in to Kenny Rogers.
• KRISTIN McMURRAN
July 22, 1996
NONFICTION BOOK REVIEW: I LIVED TO TELL IT ALL... WITH GEORGE JONES
Country music star Jones started performing in rural Texas bars when he was 14 and rose to fame in spite of heavy drinking, drugging, brawling and a penchant for not showing up at his concerts. Writing with Carter, coauthor of books with Ralph Emery, Reba McEntire and others, he lays bare his troubled past, including an account of his disastrous marriage to country singer Tammy Wynette. It's not a pleasant story, and Jones himself is amazed that his career has prospered in spite of everything he has done to destroy it. Now 65 and recovered from a triple bypass operation, he claims he has conquered his addictions and settled into a happy marriage. There are no insights here about his musical abilities or the reasons for his success, but Jones makes sobering comments on the state of country music today, which he observes is mass-marketed and mass-produced for the young with total disregard for the older performers like himself who started it all. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
April 1, 1996
GEORGE JONES'S ROCKY ROAD
I don't know why anyone would want to hear about my sordid past, but I'm told a lot of folks do." That's the voice of George Jones, arguably the greatest living country singer, and in his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All (333 pages, Villard. $23), his collaborator Tom Carter has the sense to let that plainspoken, rueful, sometimes wry voice break through the ghostwriting. Here's Jones on singing a $500,000 record deal--$400,000 of which went to his creditors: "I took my $100,000 and bought a new Corvette, a lot of cocaine, and spent the rest on foolishness." And Jones on touring with wife-to-be Tammy Wynette before they came lovers: "I think there is something to be said for the fact that I went all over the country with a man's wife and never touched her until I had the decency to run off with her."
If Jones's hasn't told it all, we don't want to hear the rest. He's been sued, by one estimate, more than a thousand times, mostly for missed shows. He's sung in such wasted condition his torso had to be wrapped in tape and hemmed in with sidemen's guitar necks to stay upright. He's terrorized friends and strangers with pistols. He's battered his current wife, Nancy, to whose love--not AA--he says he owes his sobriety and his life. And he's committed such relatively minor sacrileges as twisting Porter Wagoner's privates in the Grand Old Opry men's room during a speed-and-booze-fueled fit of jealousy.
Many of these tales of drink and drugs are already legendary: Jones's no-shows, his pre-rehab IQ testing out at a sodden 74, his cocaine-induced channeling--sometimes on-stage--of the babbling alter egos he called "Deedoodle the Duck" (who sounded like Donald) and the "Old Man" (who sounded like Walter Brennan). ""So you're the great George Jones,' one might say ... "World's greatest country singer, my ass.' ... I could hear myself talking that way, and with every word I tried to stop ... I knew then that I was going insane." (That last bit sounds as if "The Ghostwriter" has momentarily taken over.) Skeptics' eyes may roll when Jones is captured by evil pushers who stuff coke up his long-suffering nose, and he admits his memory, "from time and personal abuse, isn't the best." But Carter has interviewed old associates, and Jones insists his version of events is accurate--or that, at any rate, "there is no insincerity."
In his preface, Jones apologizes for not being more self-analytical. No need: that stuff we can get anyplace nowadays. What Jones give us is rarer and more precious: humility before the primal forces of self-hatred and selfless love that tore him apart and put him back together. He doesn't claim to understand them any more than he understands the gift that makes us care about his sordid past in particular, and that gives his book its trite, triumphant climax: induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. "The award had been given to George Glenn Jones from Kountze, Texas," he tells us. "That's all I ever thought I was." This everyday-Joe voice is telling us pretty much what Jones's inner voices told him--minus the nasty edge. But Jones's truest voice is his singing voice. And that voice tells a whole other story.
• DAVID GATES
May 5, 1996