Music fans are mourning the loss of a true country legend. George Jones, 81, died Friday at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
In 1955, Jones recorded “Why Baby Why,” his first hit for Starday Records. Born in Saratoga, Texas, he began performing in local clubs at age 10. In the late 1940s, he worked as a disc jockey at various radio stations in his home state, before entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1950. Three years later, Jones completed his military service and returned to the Texas nightclub circuit. He was discovered by Starday’s founder, “Pappy” Dailey, who convinced Jones to record for his label.
Jones says his first studio session proved a great learning experience.
“The first time I went in to do my first recording session, for about two hours I sang like Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams,” he said. “Finally, the producer came in the studio – after he figured I’d had enough fun – and he wanted to know if I could sing like George Jones. So I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. I thought I was supposed to sing like those people.’ They were selling records. I didn’t know the difference, you know.”
After leaving Starday Records in 1957, Jones worked with several other labels. In 1969, he joined Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, and the same year, married singer Tammy Wynette. Their union lasted only six years, but during that time, they collaborated on numerous duets, including the Number One hits “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Near You” and “Golden Ring.”
Through much of his life, George Jones battled an addiction to alcohol that nearly ruined his professional career. He earned the nickname “No Show Jones” for missing numerous concert dates. At one point, lawsuits against him by show promoters seeking compensation forced Jones to declare bankruptcy. He credited his fourth wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1983, for helping him overcome his dependency to alcohol and giving his life new meaning.
Countless singers, including Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Randy Travis name George Jones as a major influence.
At age 62, Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The surprise announcement was made during the 1992 Country Music Association Awards telecast.
New pop-oriented trends have broadened country music’s boundaries in recent years, but never lessened the popularity of George Jones’ traditional sound. Several of his peers, including Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Pam Tillis, fulfilled a life-long dream, when they collaborated with Jones on the Grammy Award-winning single, “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”