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George 'Possum' Jones

George Jones

George Jones is widely considered the greatest living country singer. "Anybody who has ever wanted to sing country music," Garth Brooks has said, "wants to sound like George Jones." He's had more singles on major music charts than any other performer in any format and won every big award in popular music, including Grammys.

George Glenn Jones is one of the last of his breed: pure country singers. He is a link to a bygone age, a time when the likes of Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams were kings of the jukebox, when family values and the neighborhood church were important along with the honky-tonk down the street. Well-respected within the Country Music community, George has been listed as the favorite country singer by many of its top performers, most of whom he has influenced. Although he is one of the greatest honky-tonk singers, he has often been victimized by its way of life.

At 73, Jones still attracts sold-out audiences. This year, he will perform 70 shows around the nation. His ability to still reach and move people across generations is magical. How he does it. "I put myself in their shoes," he said. "I like a song to be about working people. I feel what they've been through-their hurt and hard times. It is happening to me while I'm singing it. I'm living their song."

Like some of the subjects of his songs, Jones spent much of his life in disarray, defeat and stupefying self-destructiveness. "I wanted to straighten up my life," he told me, "even if it took God hitting me on the head with a sledgehammer. And that's what it took."

George Jones grew up in poverty in rural Texas, the youngest of eight kids born to George W. and Clara Jones. "The doctor had told my mother not to have any more children," Jones said, "but my dad came home drunk one night, and they had me." His father, a log-truck driver, was a chronic alcoholic who terrorized his kids. Beginning at about age 4, George was regularly roused in the middle of the night by his father, who delighted in forcing him to sing. "If he came in drinking at midnight," Jones said, "he'd get me up to sing. I'd say, ‘Daddy, please, just one more song now, and we'll go back to bed.' He would say, ‘Make it two.'"

Jones got his first guitar when he was 9. A seventh-grade dropout, he began singing for coins on the streets of Beaumont, Tex. He was a diffident, sweet-faced boy, slightly built, longing for welcome. But when he sang, his shyness fell away. "I was singing up a storm, and people would stop and listen," Jones said. "Most of the time, they didn't give me anything for it. It made no difference. I wasn't in it for the money. I enjoyed it."

By age 14, he was on his own, singing and sleeping wherever he could. Two years later, Jones landed a job backing up Eddie and Pearl, a small-time singing act that performed in saloons behind chicken wire to protect them from the beer bottles flying their way. "It was fun," he said, "except for the chicken wire."

Pure Country

  • While experimenting as a rockabilly singer during the fifties, Jones went by the name "Thumper Jones."
  • Most famous duet partner was (and remains) Tammy Wynette, his second wife. Together, they released a string of duet hits which included the No. 1 hits "We're Gonna Hold On" (1973), "Golden Ring" (1976) and "Near You" (1977).
  • Is considered by many experts to be among the finest, if not the finest, country music singer of all time. His 1980 No. 1 hit, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," ranks as the all-time greatest country song, according to several fan polls.
  • His wife, Nancy, unexpectedly had to accept his 1993 Country Music Association award because he was inconveniently disposed in the restroom at the time.
  • Suffered lacerated liver and bruised lung in car accident [6 March 1999]
  • In the fall of 2001, released "Beer Run (B Double-E Double-R You In?)," a duet with country superstar Garth Brooks (who cites Jones as one of his idols). "Beer Run" continued Jones' amazing country hitmaking career, which extends back to the fall of 1955 and "Why Baby Why." In the ensuing 46 years, Jones has placed more than 150 singles (solo recordings and duets) on Billboard's country chart.

He was 17 when he married Dorothy Bonvillion. It lasted less than a year. "I wasn't in love," Jones said, "but I got a place to sleep out of it and a wonderful daughter, Susan." Now 54 and married, she lives in Franklin, Tenn.

Jones served two years in the Marine Corps, then returned to Beaumont. In 1954, he wed his second wife, the late Shirley Corley. The marriage lasted 14 years. They had two sons- Jeffrey, 50, and Brian, 48- but Jones' long absences during their childhood eventually led to permanent estrangement. "I never had time to be with my own kids back then," he said.

At 24, Jones had his first hit, "Why Baby Why." A year later, in 1956, he joined Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. His life would never be the same. "You look up one day, and you have a hit record," he said, "and the next thing you know, you're doing shows with big artists, and you don't know how to cope with all this. So you start drinking. Sometimes I wasn't fit to go onstage." The hits continued, despite his heavy drinking. He toured constantly yet missed enough performances to earn the epithet "No-Show Jones."

In 1967, he had a No. 1 single, "Walk Through This World With Me," and toured with Tammy Wynette, one of the reigning country divas. They married in 1969 and produced some of the most famous duets ever recorded. They also had a daughter, Georgette, 35, and were happy for a time. In the mid-'70s, their marriage fell apart-and so did Jones.

The hardcore life

The fact that he lived to see 81 is pretty amazing, given how hard he lived life. All things considered, he could well have gone the way of his music idol, Hank Williams, who died at 29. But over a 50+ year career of battling the law, booze, drugs, and women, Jones staked his claim not only as the greatest voice in country music, but the personification of its bad-boy side. And while he never really crossed over from country to rock, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone more rock & roll than George Jones. The country music legend led the hardcore life.
  1. In 1959, his first No. 1 hit, White Lightening took 83 takes because of Jones' drinking throughout the session.
  2. On the other hand, he held on to the title of "Greatest Living Country Singer" for half a century.
  3. A legend needs an nickname, and Jones had the weird but still-pretty-cool, and totally Texas nickname "Possum," for his close-set eyes and sharp nose.
  4. He scored 143 top 40 country singles. You read that correctly: 143!
  5. … And that includes 14 number ones. To put that in perspective, Michael Jackson had 13 number one hits.
  6. He got hitched for the first of four times at the ripe old age of 17. Country legend Tammy Wynette was wife number three.
  7. Jones served in the Marines for three years, though he never saw active combat. But still, he was a Marine. Semper Fi, motherfuckers.
  8. He was arrested for attempted murder in 1977 after shooting up a buddy's car. The charges were later dropped.
  9. Frank Sinatra called him "the second greatest singer in America." That's so Frank.
  10. Keith Richards called him a national treasure. Really though, he was more like Keith Richards plus Mick Jagger. Plus Hank Williams. But yeah, Keith's right, he was a national treasure.
  11. When shit got really weird in 1979, Jones entered an Alabama psychiatric institute.
  12. But apparently it didn't really work, as he led Nashville police on a high-speed chase in 1980.
  13. According to Waylon Jennings, "If we all could sound like we wanted to, we'd all sound like George Jones."
  14. The guy gained a reputation for using any means necessary to get his booze, including riding his tractor to the liquor store and local bar when his wives hid the car keys. According to his memoir: "There, gleaming in the glow, was that 10-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did." That's pretty stupid, definitely dangerous, but also…kind of awesome? The lesson: if you're going to drive drunk, do it at five miler per hour. (But don't drive drunk!)
  15. At his worst, Jones missed so many gigs he earned the nickname "No Show Jones."
  16. No, really. In 1979 alone he missed 54 concerts. Take that, Axl!
  17. His manager, who'd gotten Jones hooked earlier in the decade, was arrested for dealing cocaine in 1979.
  18. Two decades later, he nearly died in a car crash after crashing into the side of a bridge. A half-full bottle was found in the car.
  19. Still, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. In 2008, he was named a Kennedy Center honoree. And last year, he received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. It's pretty amazing he lived long enough for any of these.
  20. His father's name was George Washington. Just like America's father. Is it possible that George Jones was America?

Wynette would claim that Jones went on periodic rampages, tearing up their house, and that he once pointed a gun at her-a charge he strongly denies: "I never shot a gun at Tammy Wynette." How their marriage ended according to George. "It was the night Tammy kept me awake all night, bawling about her career," Jones said. He added that he believed Wynette wanted him to take the public blame for their breakup. "I was on the wagon, and I think she wanted to drive me back to drinking. Sure enough, I did what she planned: The next day, I went to a bar and got drunk. I called her that night. She said, ‘You rotten, no-good drunk, you're never coming back to this damn house! I don't ever want to see you again!' I just kept on drinking. She got a lawyer, and I lost everything. "I had my faults," he admitted. "There's no use in lying about it."

After the divorce, Jones' life spiraled downward into squalor. He added cocaine addiction to his mounting problems. In 1979, Nashville passersby saw Jones living in his car and singing on the street. A year later, he entered a rehab facility. After his release, Jones recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today," a huge hit. But he was back on booze and drugs. George finally turned his life around. "I met Nancy, she saved my life." In 1981, on a blind date, Jones, then 49, met Nancy Sepulveda, 30, a factory worker from Shreveport, La., with a daughter, Sherry, from a previous marriage. The couple married in 1983.

Jones' career has been so successful since then that he now lives on an 88-acre Tennessee estate. "I lost everything I'd always dreamed about," George Jones said. "It was all there, right around me, and I was drowning in the middle of it. When it was gone, I thought, ‘There's no way back.' Then I came to my senses...I've learned what love means." A few years ago, Sherry, her husband, Kirk Hohimer, and daughter, Breann, now 9, moved into the house next door on the estate.

Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. Ironically, the clean and sober George Jones of the late eighties and early nineties, though still recording credible music, was all but banished from the country charts. Yet he has emerged as one of country music's most revered and cherished figures.

In 2000, Jones said, his happiness became complete when the Hohimers adopted Carlos, a 10-month-old Guatemalan orphan. Jones was intimately involved in the adoption and felt an immediate attachment. "He changed my life," Jones said of the boy, now 5. "He sees his Pawpaw every minute he can," Jones said, using Carlos' pet name for him. "He's here until he goes home to sleep. I could never be a real daddy before," he continued. "Working all the time, I was never around my kids, so I never got the joy you can get from a family. Now I have Carlos. I feel like he's my son. Now I know what it feels like every day to be wanted by a child." He smiled. "We love each other, you see."

In August 2012, it was announced that at the conclusion of his 2013 tour, titled "The Grand Tour", Jones intended to retire to spend more time with his family. However, Jones was hospitalized with fever and irregular blood pressure, and died on April 26, 2013 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. After being on oxygen for several days, George Jones died early in the morning of April 26, 2013 of acute hypoxia, at the age of 81 according to family members. He had been hospitalized since April 18, 2013, at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville with fever and irregular blood pressure. The New York Times described him as "the definitive country singer of the last half-century". The BBC said Jones was noted both for his discography and his "hard-living lifestyle". The national American daily broadsheet USA Today eulogized "Jones influenced generations of country singers and was considered by many to be the greatest of them all."

David Swanson. 20 Reasons George Jones Was Country's Ultimate Rock Star. Maxim [Print + Kindle] . April 2013.
Dotson Rader. I've Learned What Love Means. PARADE Magazine. July 3, 2005.

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