RIP: George Jones

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Posted April 26, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
rip-georgejones

Country music legend – often hailed the “greatest voice in country” – dies at the age of 81

Country music legend George Jones, a Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member, and Kennedy Center Honoree, died Friday, April 26, 2013 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was hospitalized April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure. The untimely news was confirmed by his publicist, and picked up heavily by the Associated Press and Rolling Stone.

Jones, born on September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, was heavily regarded as one of the most important and influential singers of country, with a long list of No. 1 country hits including “The Grand Tour,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “Tender Years” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” along with “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” his memorable 1981 duet with Barbra Mandrell.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning to Texas and recording for the Starday label in Houston, Texas. In 1955, his “Why Baby Why” became his first Top 10 country single, peaking at number four and beginning a remarkable commercial string: Jones would ultimately record more than 160 charting singles, more than any other artist in any format in the history of popular music.Jones’ first number one hit came in 1959 with “White Lightning,” a Mercury Records single that topped Billboard country charts for five weeks. He moved on to United Artists and then to Musicor, notching hits including “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Race Is On,” “A Good Year for the Roses” and “Walk Through This World With Me.”Jones signed with Epic Records in 1971 and worked with producer Billy Sherrill to craft a sound at once elegant and rooted, scoring with “The Grand Tour,” “Bartenders Blues” and many more. Sherrill also produced duets between Jones and his then-wife Tammy Wynette, and in the 1970s they scored top-charting hits including “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and “Near You.”

By the time “Golden Ring” and “Near You” hit in 1976, Jones and Wynette were divorced, and Jones was battling personal demons. His solo career cooled until 1980, when he recorded “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a ballad penned by Curly Putman and Bobby Braddock that helped Jones win Country Music Association prizes for best male vocal and top single. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” revived a flagging career, and Jones won the CMA’s top male vocalist award in 1980 and 1981. He also earned a Grammy for best male country vocal performance.

In 1983, Jones married the former Nancy Ford Sepulvado. The union, he repeatedly said, began his rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol and prolonged his life. He signed with MCA Records in 1990 and began a successful run, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. His guest vocal on Patty Loveless’ “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me” won a CMA award for top vocal event in 1998, and it became his final Top 20 country hit.

In 1999, Jones nearly died in a car wreck, but he recovered and resumed touring and recording. He remained a force in music until his death, playing hundreds of shows in the new century and collecting the nation’s highest arts award, the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement, in 2008.

 In recent years, Jones invested in opening Possum Holler Bed & Breakfast in Country Crossing, an entertainment venue in Cottonwood, Alabama. He resided in Franklin, Tennessee, but also shared a home in Enterprise, Ala. In late 2012, Jones announced his farewell tour, which was to conclude with a sold-out, star-packed show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on November 22, 2013. Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Sam Moore, The Oak Ridge Boys and many others were all set to perform at Jones’ Bridgestone show.

The reaction to Jones’s passing along with accolades of his great achievement and friendship poured out across the Internet through a frenzy of press statements and ready-to-print quotes.

“I believe if you ask any singer who was the greatest country music singer of all time, they would say ‘George Jones’,” country legend Barbara Mandrell wrote in a press statement. “He was without question and by far the best! I first met and worked with him when I was thirteen years old; I am so very grateful that he was my friend.”

Country singer Mark Chesnutt also reacted to Jones’s passing: “I have no words to express my admiration and love for George Jones. To say he was my ‘hero’ does not do justice to the lifetime impression he made on me, both personally and professionally.  George Jones is the foundation of country music and he’s the reason I wanted to perform.”

“Country music lost an icon today and I have lost a dear and beloved friend,” country singer Lorrie Morgan, daughter of country legend  George Morgan, wrote. “With tear-filled eyes, I’m reminiscing this morning about all that I learned from and loved about George Jones.  He was part of my ‘country music education;’ he made country music history and, in my opinion, George Jones is a song’s best friend.”

In the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Encylopedia of Country Music, author Bob Allen wrote that “he [was] the undisputed successor of earlier natural geniuses such as Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.”

Jones is survived by his loving wife Nancy, his sister Helen Scroggins, and by his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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