Los Angeles-based vocalist Staci Griesbach is a student of the work of such jazz legends as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but she’s also a lover of the country music she was raised with in rural Wisconsin. On her albums My Patsy Cline Songbook and My Shania Twain Songbook, she paid tribute to the two female country giants by covering their material with great jazz arrangements and players.
Now Griesbach is paying homage to probably the greatest male country singer of all time, country icon and iconoclast George Jones, on her new album My George Jones Songbook. The album features 14 classics from the extensive six-decade recording career of the man they called “The Possum,” interpreted in Griesbach’s jazz style with a crack group of L.A. and Nashville musicians who have worked with the best. Her readings of such Jones classics as “The Grand Tour,” “White Lightning,” and, of course, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” give a different kind of life to great songs that are still as relevant in this millennium as they were in the last.
Griesbach is a former Sony Pictures executive who started singing professionally during her college years, and found herself on the stages of clubs in Los Angeles as well as Carnegie Hall and Birdland. For this new album, Griesbach did her homework, studying songs from different eras of Jones’ career and talking to people like Jones’ duet partner Melba Montgomery.
“I hadn’t realized how many tunes Melba Montgomery had written herself,” Griesbach said, “what a prolific songwriter she was [Montgomery wrote for dozens of country artists]. I got her phone number and reached out to her, and I was a little terrified to call her – at Sony Pictures I had worked with these big-name stars, but when I want to reach out to a musician or songwriter who I really love, my palms start sweating. But we talked on the phone several times, and she was the sweetest woman, was excited to hear that I was working on this album.”
Bobby Braddock, the co-writer of Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Golden Ring,” which Griesbach covers on the new album, praises My George Jones Songbook in his liner notes: “Genius. I love this album. From the heartfelt emotion on the ballads to the fun up-tempos throughout the album, Staci demonstrates her gifts, guts and guile. This is perfect for an old country songwriter who also loves jazz…It’s terrific to hear two of my songs are included in this compilation.”
Country music is also about image to a degree, and George Jones was known for wearing suits designed by the famous tailor Nudie Cohn. Nudie is no longer alive, but Griesbach did the next best thing, ordering a new suit for the occasion created by Nashville’s tailor-to-the-stars Manuel Cuevas.
“I went to Nashville to pick up my Manuel suit,” she said, still excited about the new country apparel that she had designed as part of her tribute to Jones. “I started talking to Manuel and his team back in April, and I told him that if I’m gonna do a George Jones album, I’m gonna do it right, you know? Nudie had done these suits for George that were to the hilt. So I was almost in tears when I saw what Manuel had done for me, with the red on the black…I had told him I wanted hummingbirds because I love the hummingbird, and he’s got hummingbirds with the roses. And since I’ve got ‘A Good Year for the Roses’ on the album, it all worked out beautifully.”
You can check out Griesbach’s music and her cool new wardrobe at stacigriesbach.com.
Griesbach will be in Music City to perform selections from the album on Friday, October 29, playing with some stellar local musicians at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s new Jazz Cave. For more information go to nashvillejazz.org/events/staci-griesbach-george-jones-tribute-in-concert-2021/.