George Jones, a.k.a “The Possum,” perhaps the greatest interpreter of song in the history of country music, passed away today at the age of 81, after being hospitalized last week for a fever and irregular blood pressure.
Texas-born Jones’ music career began in the mid-1950’s; his first charting hit was 1955’s “Why Baby Why.” He first became known for recording upbeat honky-tonk barn-burners like “White Lightnin’” and “The Race is On.” He entered what is generally regarded as his greatest and most prolific period in 1971, when he began working with producer and arranger Billy Sherrill at Epic Records. Sherrill was famous for his dense “Nashville wall of sound” production, and augmented Jones’ signature sound with sophisticated vocal and orchestral arrangements. Jones’ 1974 Epic release, The Grand Tour, is perhaps his most consistent single LP, a moody collection of lovelorn ballads which could be considered the country music equivalent of Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours. Leonard Cohen commented in a 1994 interview he’d like to have the album’s title track (one of Jones’ biggest hits) played at his funeral. His 1979 No. 1 hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” is probably the single greatest achievement of his career and has often been called the greatest country song of all time.
Jones is also known for his tumultuous relationship with Nashville starlet Tammy Wynette and the albums of duets that they recorded together. He struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for the better part of his life, and gained the nickname “No-Show Jones” for missing concert dates as a result of his erratic behavior. He maintained a regular touring and recording schedule up until the very end of his life, and received a lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Grammys.
Videos for “The Grand Tour” and one of my personal favorite Jones songs, “Never Having You,” below: