RIP George Jones, country legend (1931-2013)
George Jones at the Freeborn County Fair in 2010.
To begin a remembrance of George Jones, one need look no further than his song lyrics. "He stopped loving her today, they placed a wreath upon his door." "Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone, and so are you." Jones died this morning at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, after being hospitalized there last week for treatment of a fever and irregular blood pressure. He was 81.
George Jones was and is peerless, his place in and influence on country music unmatched. When he was dealing in heartache, as his songs often did, his emotive and distinctive voice absolutely oozed sadness, clawed at the heart, lumped the throat. But it wasn't all sad ballads; Jones could hiccup his way through an upbeat honky-tonk song with the best of them, in a way that would give his own idols Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams an absolute run for their money. And he was one of the few country artists who could be described as totally inimitable; for as many musicians who cite him as an influence, none has successfully recreated his sound.
Jones had a hard start from the get-go. He entered the world on September 12, 1931 in a log cabin in Saratoga, Texas. He was the last of eight kids born to Mr. and Mrs. George Washington Jones, a pipe-fitter with a drinking problem, and the doctor who delivered Jones dropped him, breaking his arm.
His father was a music fan who bought him a Gene Autry guitar, and demanded young Jones perform for his drinking buddies. By the age of nine, Jones was busking on the streets of Beaumont and before long, he ran away from home and made a living playing backup guitar on radio shows.
After flirting briefly with rockabilly as many of his era did, he became a mainstay of country music. He performed both on Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, and between 1955 and 1974 placed at least one song in the country Top Ten each year, with hits like "Why Baby Why," "White Lightning," "Window Up Above" and "She Thinks I Still Care." Over the course of his illustrious six-decade career, he released over 100 solo, live and duet albums, and clocked in over 150 hits. He earned two memorable nicknames over the course of his career: "Possum" was for his resemblance to the marsupial of the same name; "No-Show Jones" didn't come 'til later, when he became notorious for his drinking and drug binges, and the shows he missed as a result.
But in remembering the man, there's little sense belaboring all that because through it all - problems with drugs and alcohol, financial and legal woes, and multiple divorces, including a failed marriage to singer and duet partner Tammy Wynette -- Jones was able to hold on, continuing to tour and record, never wavering in his commitment to a traditional country sound, and never losing his audience. Perhaps this persistence is the major reason why he's so beloved by country fans. With the help of his wife of now thirty years, Nancy, he was largely able to sober up and enjoy a successful career up through his recently-announced retirement.
Currently on his final tour, Jones had postponed this weekend's shows in Georgia and Virginia due to his latest health problems. His final show was scheduled for November 22 at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, and it promised to be a barnburner of an event. Special guests at the quickly sold-out concert were to include Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Shelby Lynne, the Oak Ridge Boys, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, Jamey Johnson, Lorrie Morgan, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Josh Turner and Gene Watson. Jones had also hinted that a duet album with Dolly Parton might become his final studio album.
In a recent interview with Country Weekly
In closing, we can again look to Jones' song lyrics for a few final words:
You know this old world is full of singers/But just a few are chosen/To tear your heart out when they sing.
Yabba Dabba Doo, indeed. Our best to Jones' family.
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