Peter Cooper | The Tennessean
Mr. Jones’ signature song was the Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman-penned “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which regularly lands atop critics’ lists of greatest country recordings. In it, the King of Broken Hearts sang of a man whose death signaled the end of his unrequited love. In the studio, the song was difficult to capture, exacerbated by Mr. Jones’ slurring of the spoken-word portion: When inebriated, he sung more clearly than he spoke. When the recording was finally concluded, Mr. Jones told producer Billy Sherrill, “It ain’t gonna sell. Nobody’ll buy that morbid son of a bitch.”
But they did. Mr. Jones consistently credited Sherrill with the song’s success, but it was the empathy in Mr. Jones’ voice that made the song’s abject sadness somehow palatable.
“I’d rather sing a sad song than eat,” said Mr. Jones, who sometimes lacked for food (he once withered to 105 pounds) but never for sad songs to sing.
. . . Born in Saratoga, Texas, on Sept. 12, 1931, Mr. Jones grew up hard. His father was an alcoholic prone to drunken anger, but he bought his son a mail-order catalog guitar that turned out to be a lifeline. “After my dad got me my first little guitar, I wouldn’t lay it down, hardly,” Mr. Jones told The Tennessean. “I took it to school with me. I’d hide it in the woods and cover it with leaves, and if a big rain came and it got wet, I’d pour the water out of it. Them guitars never warped.”
By 15, Mr. Jones was playing and singing on the streets of Beaumont, Texas.
“A lot of them started throwing change down in front of me, down on the concrete,” he said. “When I was done, I counted it and it was $24 and something, and that was more money than I’d ever seen in my life.”
. . . Friday morning, after the announcement of Mr. Jones’ death, other artists surveyed a legacy that drew author Nick Tosches to proclaim, “He is the spirit of country music, plain and simple. It’s true Holy Ghost.”
Slideshow | The Tennessean
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The Grand Ole Opry | Opry Live
Nick Tosches | Texas Monthly | July 1994
LIKE A HONKY-TONK ORPHEUS RETURNED FROM THE dead, George Jones, the world’s greatest country singer, is alive and sober.
“I ain’t touched a drink in ten years,” Jones will tell you. A little more than a decade ago, he was drinking himself into a straightjacket, but now the dark-starred Jones, at 62, is once again on top of the world. Lately, on record, he has lent his voice to some intriguing duets. On “Never Bit a Bullet Like This,” the single from his last album, High-Tech Redneck, he was joined by Sammy Kershaw, one of his many young country idolaters. His collaboration with B.B. King was the standout on the recent multiartist album of duets, Rhythm Country & Blues. And his forthcoming Bradley Barn Sessions, scheduled for release this fall and fast becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated records ever to come out of Nashville, is an album of duets with ex-wife Tammy Wynette, Keith Richards, and others. But onstage, Jones, as he has throughout most of his long career, continues to stand alone, the survivor of a forty-year journey down a rugged road that would have killed lesser men.
On a winter night in his dressing-room suite at Bally’s Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Jones strolled back and forth, chain-smoking Barclay cigarettes. He is short and paunchy, and his high-heeled cowboy boots did not do much to enhance his height. The weight that he has put on in his renewed health, combined with his facial characteristics that long ago inspired the nickname Possum, made him appear more possumlike than ever before. His white hair, fastidiously styled and always in place, with impeccable scimitar sideburns, was like a sculptured pinnacle of incongruous permanence atop a distinctly mortal shell. Beneath his brown eyes, his cheeks were striated with deep fissures that seemed less the natural carvings of age than the ravages of mortification. When he grinned, the furrows were less obvious, but when his expression was blank or subtly scowled, as was more often the case, they were like the scars of a clawing.