Country music icon George Jones passed away this morning at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The star was 81 years old.
Known for his incredibly unique voice, “The Possum”, was one of country music’s most influential singers in the history of the genre. With dozens of hits on the charts, including 14 Billboard # 1 songs, George Jones was truly a living legend.
When I first got into country music, I was always listening to the classics – not what was considered new country at the time. I was born in 1990, seven years after George Jones’ final number one hit “I Always Get Lucky With You” (1983). Even in a decade dominated by line dancing and larger than life songs such as “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Til The Sun Comes Up”, and “Any Man of Mine”, George Jones’ music was still at the forefront of all things country.
As a young kid, I listened almost exclusively to a radio station based out of Edmonton and Camrose, Alberta called 790 CFCW. Their music library spans nearly six decades, so growing up on a cattle ranch in the heart of the CFCW listening region, I was privileged to hear many, if not all of George Jones’ singles at one time or another.
For me, it was his life, portrayed through his lyrics, that spoke to my soul – something I know resonated with country fans around the world. George’s hard livin’ was a symbol of honesty and truth. He was the epitome of “hurtin’” country music.
Long time George Jones fan, Garth Brooks even said in a statement following his passing: “The greatest voice to ever grace country music will never die. Jones has a place in every heart that ever loved any kind of music.”
This, and many other tributes were pouring in through social media today.
George Jones battled addiction all his life. In the 1950′s and 60′s, in the first decade of his career, George was not only becoming known for his hits like “White Lightning” and “She Thinks I Still Care” but for uncontrollable drinking. It was said that he spent much of his performing career drunk. Wasted. Stoned.
From what I heard, many stars back in those times drank – but rarely could anyone out drink Jones.
His war with alcoholism affected numerous tour dates throughout his career resulting in the infamous nickname of “No-Show Jones”. After hundreds of missed or reschedule tour dates, somehow, through it all, his ever-adoring fan base stood beside him.
Over the years, I have been privileged to hear stories from many people close to George. One common tale being that from time to time his people (management, agents, and the like) would ask the opening act on his tour to “close the show”, allowing George Jones to entertain first. Out of fear that George would be too drunk or stoned to make it to the headline spot, management would put him onstage at the beginning of the evening to ensure the crowd got the best possible Possum.
As a headliner, you called the shots. As an opening act, you listened.
No one ever wanted to follow George Jones.
Artists such as Tracy Lawrence, Tracy Byrd, Mark Chesnutt, and Joe Diffie have all had to “close shows” for George Jones, most of which were performed to half full arenas as fans had already left following the end of Jones’ set.
More than once the singer was caught driving a lawn tractor to the nearest town to buy alcohol. One night in the mid-1970′s, when George’s wife, country singer Tammy Wynette, had taken away the keys to every vehicle on the property, George was forced to drive his lawn mower down the highway, to go drinkin’, at the bar.
What would be a horrific news stories on TMZ and every check-out line magazine cover today, was a legendary act of brilliance back then. (Or have they just become legendary stories now?)
Prior to his passing this morning, George Jones was sober for over 10 years, thanks to the help, support, and love of his wife and manager Nancy Jones. Out of all his marriages, George was married to Nancy the longest – 30 years, this year.
Both my wife Cecilia and I got to meet George and Nancy – their love certainly inspired us.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today…”
Like in Garth Brooks’ quote, George Jones’ music will never die. His amazing musical legacy will consist of heart wrenching country hits, inspiring duets, and unforgettable live performances.
His greatest single of all, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, will hold a place in the heart of country music forever. The song will also hold a record that will never be broken.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today”, (along with a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980 and the ACM “Single of the Year”), was awarded “Song of the Year” at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards twice. Both in 1980 and 1981. The song was number one on the charts for both eligible voting periods. Only dropping to somewhere in the top ten by the end of the second voting year. This resulted in the double award win for one of country music’s greatest songs EVER!
“Under the Influence…”
Like me, many people have grown up idolizing the likes of George Jones. Country superstar Alan Jackson may have been influenced the most.
In 1999, during the Country Music Awards show, Alan Jackson, a notorious “good-guy” in the industry showed a rebellious side as he protested a decision made by the show’s producers to cut George Jones’ performance short on the broadcast awards.
Fresh off a hit with his remake of Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop A Top”, Alan Jackson was asked to perform the entire song at the awards show. George Jones who also a hit that year with a song called “Choices”, an autobiographical song about The Possum’s life and times, was slated to perform just prior to Alan’s set.
However, when George was asked to perform on the awards show, he was only given a 60 second time slot – only enough time to sing the chorus of his huge comeback hit. Many country artists backstage protested, but no one took it to heart, quite like Alan Jackson did.
I vividly remember watching this all go down on live TV with my parents. I was nine years old, sitting cross-legged in front of the tube when Alan Jackson and his band immediately stopped their performance of “Pop a Top”, and started singing the rest of “Choices” by George Jones.
When “Choices” was complete, and while the crowd and producers were in shock, Jackson laid his guitar on the floor, and exited the stage without a word. A standing ovation for his gutsy and rebellious move was given.
“Who’s Gonna Fill His Shoes?”
Yes, we lost a country legend today. Yes, we lost one of the greatest voices, if not the best country singer ever. But no one can have a career like his, a life like his, and a road like his, and not be remembered.
When you listen to Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, or Alan Jackson, you are hearing George Jones. You are hearing his legacy, his style, and his influence in their voices, their lyrics, and in the way they perform today.
You may also hear a little George Jones in me.
Rest in peace George. You will be sadly missed by the entire music community.
© Brett Kissel & BAK 2 BAK Entertainment Inc.