By Katherine Cole
George Jones, arguably the greatest country singer ever, died today.
It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. The Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Famer was 81 years old and lived what you might call “a hard life.” But it was still a shock to see the obituaries start popping up on my facebook feed.
Today, we call anyone who’s had one hit song a star. George Jones was the real deal. He had No. 1 songs in five decades: the ’50s to the ’90s, recorded more than 150 albums and dozens of hits. Music historians regard him as one of the most important and influential singers in American popular music history. His long string of hits include “She Thinks I Still Care,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “Tender Years” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The latter is often atop industry lists of the greatest country music singles of all time, not to mention one of the saddest songs ever written. Some days I think it is…other days, the crown goes to another one of his hits, “The Grand Tour.” This version is especially cool because it features an intro by the one-time Mrs. George Jones, the late Tammy Wynette.
George Jones’ life story reads like one of his songs. Born with a broken arm, he gained the nickname “No-Show Jones” when an especially rough patch found him missing more concert dates than he actually played. He earned millions of dollars from his concerts and record sales and lost much of it to bad business decisions, drug and alcohol abuse and expensive divorces. He was famously stopped for driving to the liquor store on a tractor because his wife had taken away his car keys. This actually happened twice: the second time he was on a riding lawn mower. We could spend days talking about the ups and downs and arounds of George and Tammy’s relationship —it played out just like a soap opera with multiple separations and divorce filings. Known as the “King and Queen of Country Music” the pair recorded several classics, including “Golden Rings.”
There are some wonderful George Jones appreciations on the web already. If you’d like to read more about him, I suggest starting with the New York Times story and the extensive coverage in the Nashville Tennessean.
I hate it when living legends pass on to become just plain ol’ legends. As George sang just a few years ago “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”