George Jones, September 12, 1931-April 26, 2013
With Johnny Paycheck (vocals & bass), et al., “Things Have Gone To Pieces,” TV show, 1960s
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. He was 81.
Mr. Jones was a presence on the country charts from the 1950s into the 21st century, and as early as the 1960s he was praised by listeners and fellow musicians as the greatest living country singer. He was never a crossover act; while country fans revered him, pop and rock radio stations ignored him. But by the 1980s, Mr. Jones had come to stand for country tradition. Country singers through the decades, from Garth Brooks and Randy Travis to Toby Keith and Tim McGraw, learned licks from Mr. Jones, who never bothered to wear a cowboy hat.
George Glenn Jones was born with a broken arm in Saratoga, Tex., an oil-field town, on Sept. 12, 1931, to Clare and George Washington Jones. His father, a truck driver and pipe fitter, bought George his first guitar when he was 9, and with help from a Sunday school teacher he taught himself to play melodies and chords. As a teenager he sang on the streets, in Pentecostal revival services and in the honky-tonks in the Gulf Coast port of Beaumont. Bus drivers let him ride free if he sang. Soon he was appearing on radio shows, forging a style modeled on Lefty Frizzell, Roy Acuff and Hank Williams.
In his last years, Mr. Jones found himself upholding a traditional sound that had largely disappeared from commercial country radio. “They just shut us off all together at one time,” he said in a 2012 conversation with the photographer Alan Mercer. “It’s not the right way to do these things. You just don’t take something as big as what we had and throw it away without regrets.”
“They don’t care about you as a person,” he added. “They don’t even know who I am in downtown Nashville.”
—Jon Pareles, New York Times, 4/26/13