Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


JONES, George

(b 12 September 1931, Saratoga TX; d 26 April 2013, Nashville) Country singer with more than 250 albums to his credit, regarded by many as the greatest country singer of all time and admired outside country music by people as diverse as Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Dave Edmunds. From a religious family background; began playing guitar with a duo called Eddie and Pearl '47; served in US Marines. He worked honky tonks in East Texas with a style heavily influenced by Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, and signed to Pappy Daily's Starday label '52, embarking on one of the most rewarding artist-producer relationships in the history of country music, lasting 16 years through Starday, Mercury, UA and Musicor. 'Why Baby Why' was a top five country hit '55; he tried country weepers and rock'n'roll under the name Thumper Jones; according to one source recording 'Heartbreak Hotel' as 'Hank Smith and the Nashville Playboys'; then had more hits on Mercury with 'Treasure Of Love' '58, 'White Lightning' '59 (his first no. 1), 'The Window Up Above' '60, 'Tender Years' '61 (second no. 1); also had hit duets with Melba Montgomery, Margie Singleton, Brenda Carter and Gene Pitney. He topped the country chart '62 with 'She Thinks I Still Care' on UA, followed by 'You Comb Her Hair' '63, 'The Race Is On' '64. He was named no. 1 country male vocalist by Cashbox '62, Billboard '63, switched to the Musicor label '65 and carried on with 'Love Bug' '65, 'Walk Through This World With Me' '67, (no. 1), 'When The Grass Grows Over Me' '68, etc. Of his 59 country-chart entries '55-71, 31 were in the top ten.

He married Tammy Wynette 16 February 1969, though for publicity reasons it was maintained that they'd married 22 August 1968: it was a stormy marriage between two strong personalities; Jones was a heavy drinker by then. On one famous occasion, she hid all his car keys and he was said to have driven ten miles to Nashville on a lawn mower to buy a bottle. They toured all over the USA together; when his contract with Musicor ran out he signed with Epic (her label) and was produced by Billy Sherrill, whose lush pop/country arrangements could not disguise his pure country voice: he had such hits as 'Loving You Could Never Be Better' '72, 'Once You've Had The Best' '73, 'The Grand Tour' '74 and 'These Days I Hardly Get By' '75; also duets with Tammy including no. 1 'We're Gonna Hold On' '73, 'Golden Ring' '76. Their duets are regarded as perhaps the best of all in a genre which has always liked male/female duets. The king and queen of country were divorced 13 March 1975; several of her hits were aimed pointedly at his life style.

He continued to have hits but his personal life was a shambles; he filed bankruptcy late '79 and volunteered for treatment for alcoholism; friends rallied round and he made his first gold album I Am What I Am '80 including the multi-award-winning single 'He Stopped Loving Her Today'. He was named CMA vocalist '80, long after he was obviously one of the all-time greats. After a stormy courtship he married his fourth wife Nancy Sepulvada '83 and she helped turn his life around; he gave up his bad habits and became one of the industry's most respected veterans. In the '80s he recorded duets with Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Costello, Harris, Clarence Carter, Keith Richards and Ray Charles, but it was his solo work that was of the most interest: as he matured the albums got even better and so did sales. He moved from Epic to MCA '91, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame '92 and carried on making classic country music.

Albums included Long Live King George '58 on Starday; Novelty Side '60 and No. 1 Male Singer '61 on Mercury; My Favorites Of Hank Williams '62, What's In Our Hearts '63 (with Montgomery) and King Of Broken Hearts '64 on UA; Old Brush Arbors '66, Songs Of Dallas Frazier '68 and My Country '69 on Musicor; In A Gospel Way '72, Memories Of Us '74, Alone Again '76, Bartender's Blues '78, My Very Special Guests '79 (duets), Still The Same Ol' Me '81, Jones Country '83, Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes '85, Too Wild Too Long '88 and One Woman Man '89 all on Epic. Golden Ring, Encore and Together Again on Epic were duet albums with Wynette (two volumes of Greatest Hits now on Epic CDs); they got together again after 15 years to make One '95 on MCA. His albums on MCA incl. And Along Came Jones '91, Walls Can Fall '92, High Tech Redneck '93, Bradley Barn Sessions '94, I Lived To Tell It All '96 (also the title of his autobiography). Cup Of Loneliness was a two-CD compilation on Mercury Nashville; The Essential George Jones a two-CD set on Epic (with Paycheck, Wynette, Montgomery, Haggard, Ray Charles, James Taylor, Chet Atkins). Many reissues and compilations on several labels incl. Double Trouble with Paycheck on Razor & Tie, Best Of 1955-67 on Rhino.

On Saturday 12 March 1999 he got careless again and had a serious car crash: talking on a cell phone in his SUV while not wearing a seat belt, he suffered a deep cut in what was left of his liver.