George Jones, the definitive country singer of the last half-century, whose songs about heartbreak and hard drinking echoed his own turbulent life, died on Friday in Nashville at the age of 81. He was nicknamed Possum for his close-set eyes and pointed nose and later No-Show Jones (and he himself made fun of this in a song) for the concerts he missed during drinking and drug binges. His publicists, Webster & Associates, said he died at a hospital after being admitted there on April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.
George Jones has long been the consensus pick for country music’s greatest ever singer. No less a country legend than Roy Acuff, whose tearful, gulping singing had been a major building block of Jones’s own style, once allowed, “I would give anything if I could sing like George Jones.” Waylon Jennings said, “If we could all sound like we wanted to, we’d sound like George Jones.” Through the years a who’s who of country stars—Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, countless more—have in one way or another endorsed the sentiment. Like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash (and Merle Haggard, who recorded fine duet albums with Jones in 1982 and again in 2006), Jones has become a modern symbol of old-school country-ness itself. “Don’t rock the jukebox,” Alan Jackson, among his chief contemporary disciples, shouts to the world. “I want to hear some Jones.”
If you don’t know George Jones’ music, there are all sorts of places to begin. Some would recommend his 1950’s hits, songs like “Why Baby Why” and “White Lightning” (his first No. 1 song was an ode to bootleg booze—and fittingly, according to his 1996 autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, it took him 80 takes to record vocals during a drunken day in the studio). Others prefer his work from the 1960’s, when he recorded so many of country music’s most pained ballads: “She Thinks I Still Care,”(many surveys have called it the greatest country song of all time; others have called it the saddest. It won him the Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980), “Color of the Blues,” “Tender Years,”” A Girl I Used to Know,” and literally dozens more.
It was hard for me growing up as a kid that loved listening to The Beatles, Beach Boys and more of the rock & roll music from my Aunts who would babysit me, or listening to whatever stuff was being played on the local am radio station during the day to not at least hear the old country stuff was next to impossible as Dad loved it. So yes a lot of the country music that I never liked growing up would become etched somewhere deep down in my “music subconscious” and I would learn to love it and appreciate it later on my life after having gone through a few other genres of music first. The guys like George Jones, Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Merle, Kris were after all the ones that were at the forefront of actually making country music popular and into what it is and has become today. So in my closing I offer an honest and heartfelt thank you to Mr. Jones for the music that you left us that will be here for future generations to enjoy,and may you Rest In Peace Sir.