Born on September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, and was raised in Vidor, Texas, with his brother and five sisters. His father, George Washington Jones, worked in a shipyard and played harmonica and guitar while his mother, Clara, played piano in the Pentecostal Church on Sundays. During his delivery, one of the doctors dropped Jones and broke his arm. When he was seven, his parents bought a radio and he heard country music for the first time. Jones recalled to Billboard in 2006 that he would lie in bed with his parents on Saturday nights listening to the Grand Ole Opry and insist that his mother wake him if he fell asleep so he could hear Roy Acuff or Bill Monroe. In his autobiography I Lived To Tell It All, Jones explains that the early death of his sister Ethel spurred on his father’s drinking problem and, by all accounts, George Washington Jones could be physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children when he drank. In the book George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend, Bob Allen recounts how George Sr. would return home in the middle of the night with his cronies roaring drunk, wake up a terrified George Jr., and demand that he sing for them or face a beating. In a CMT program on Jones’ life, country music historian Robert K. Oermann marveled, “You would think that it would make him not a singer, because it was so abusively thrust on him. But the opposite happened; he became a chronic singer. He became someone who had to sing.” In the same program, Jones admitted that he remained ambivalent and resentful towards his father up until the day he died and observed in his autobiography “The Jones family makeup doesn’t sit well with liquor…Daddy was an unusual drinker. He drank to excess but never while working, and he probably was the hardest working man I’ve ever known.” His father bought him his first guitar at age nine and he learned his first chords and songs at church and there are several photographs of a young George busking on the streets of Beaumont.
He left home at 16 and went to Jasper, Texas, where he sang and played on the KTXJ radio station with fellow musician Dalton Henderson. From there, he worked at the KRIC radio station. During one such afternoon show, Jones met his idol, Hank Williams (“I just stared,” he later wrote). In the 1989 video documentary Same Ole Me, Jones admitted, “I couldn’t think or eat nothin’ unless it was Hank Williams, and I couldn’t wait for his next record to come out. He had to be, really, the greatest.” He married his first wife Dorothy Bonvillion in 1950, but they divorced in 1951. He was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps until his discharge in 1953. He was stationed in San Jose,California for his entire service.
Jones married Shirley Ann Corley in 1954. His first record, the self-penned “No Money in This Deal”, appeared in February 1954 on Starday Records and began the singer’s association with producer and mentor H.W. “Pappy” Dailey and the song was actually cut in Starday Records’ co-founder Jack Starnes’ living room, from whose two names were combined to create the label. Jones also worked at KRTM in Beaumont around this time. Deejay Gordon Baxter told Nick Tosches that Jones acquired the nickname “possum” while working there: “One of the deejays there, Slim Watts, took to calling him George P. Willicker Picklepuss Possum Jones. For one thing, he cut his hair short, like a possum’s belly. He had a possum’s nose and stupid eyes, like a possum.” During his early recording sessions, Daily admonished Jones for attempting to sound too much like his heroes Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell. Jones’ first hit came with “Why Baby Why” in 1955. That same year, while touring as a cast member of the Louisiana Hayride, Jones met and played shows with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. “I didn’t get to know him that well,” Jones said of Presley to Nick Tosches in 1994. “He stayed pretty much with his friends around him in his dressing room. Nobody seemed to get around him much any length of time to talk to him.” Jones would, however, remain a lifelong friend of Johnny Cash. Jones was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.
With Presley’s explosion in popularity in 1956, pressure was put on Jones to cut a few rockabilly sides and he reluctantly agreed. His heart was never in it, however, and he quickly regretted the decision; in his autobiography he joked, “During the years, when I’ve encountered those records, I’ve used them for Frisbees.” He explained to Billboard in 2006: “I was desperate. When you’re hungry, a poor man with a house full of kids, you’re gonna do some things you ordinarily wouldn’t do. I said, ‘Well, hell, I’ll try anything once.’ I tried “Dadgum It How Come It” and “Rock It”, a bunch of shit. I didn’t want my name on the rock and roll thing, so I told them to put Thumper Jones on it and if it did something, good, if it didn’t, hell, I didn’t want to be shamed with it.” Jones went on to say he unsuccessfully attempted to buy all the masters to keep the cuts from surfacing later, which they did.
Jones moved to Mercury in 1957. In early 1957 Jones teamed up with singer Jeannette Hicks, the first of several duet partners he would have over the years, and enjoyed yet another Top Ten single with “Yearning.” Starday Records merged with Mercury that same year, and Jones scored high marks on the charts with his debut Mercury release of “Don’t Stop the Music.” Meanwhile, George was travelling the black-top roads in a 1940s Packard with his name and phone number emblazoned on the side. Although he was garnering a lot of attention and his singles were making very respectable showings on the charts, Jones was still playing the “blood bucket” circuit of honky-tonks that dotted the rural countryside.
In 1959, he had his first number one on the Billboard country chart with “White Lightnin'”, ironically a more authentic rock and roll sound than his half-hearted rockabilly cuts. In the Same Ole Me retrospective, Johnny Cash insisted, “George Jones woulda been a really hot rockabilly artist if he’d approached it from that angle. Well, he was, really, but never got the credit for it.” “White Lightnin'” was written by J.P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper. In I Lived To Tell It All, Jones confessed that he showed up for the recording session under the influence of a great deal of alcohol and it took him approximately 80 takes just to record his vocals. To make matters worse, Buddy Killen, who played the upright bass on the recording, was reported as having severely blistered fingers from having to play his bass part 80 times. Killen not only threatened to quit the session, but also threatened to physically harm Jones for the painful consequences of Jones’ drinking. On the final vocal take used on the recording Jones slurs the word “slug”, something he would mimic in live performances of the song.
One aspect of Jones’ early career that is often overlooked is his success as a songwriter; he wrote or co-wrote many of his biggest hits during this period, several of which have become standards, like “The Window Up Above” (later a smash for Mickey Gilley in 1975) and “Seasons Of My Heart” (a hit for Johnny Cash and also recorded by Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis). Jones wrote “Just One More” (also recorded by Cash), “Life To Go” (a top five hit for Stonewall Jackson in 1959), “You Gotta Be My Baby” and “Don’t Stop The Music” on his own and had a hand in writing “Color Of The Blues” (covered by Elvis Costello), “Tender Years” and “Tall Tall Trees” (co-written with Roger Miller). Jones’ most frequent songwriting collaborator was his childhood friend Darrell Edwards.
Jones signed with United Artists in 1962 and immediately scored one of the biggest hits of his career, “She Thinks I Still Care”. His voice had grown noticeably deeper during this period and he began cultivating the singing style that became uniquely his own. During his stint with UA, Jones recorded tribute albums to Hank Williams and Bob Wills and cut an album of duets with Melba Montgomery, including the hit “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”. Jones was also well on his way to gaining a reputation as a notorious hell-raiser. In his Rolling Stone tribute Merle Haggard recalls, “I met him at the Blackboard Café in Bakersfield, California, which was the place to go in ’61. He was already famous for not showing up or showing up drunk, and he showed up drunk. I was onstage – I think I was singing Marty Robbins’ “Devil Woman” – and he kicked the doors of the office open and said ‘Who the fuck is that?’ It was one the greatest compliments of my entire life when George Jones said I was his favorite country singer…In 1967, I released a ballad called “I Threw Away The Rose” and he was so impressed he actually jumped ship and left his tour, rented a Lear Jet and came to Amarillo, Texas. He told me my low note changed his life. He also folded my steel guitarist Fuzzy Owen in a rollaway bed and rolled him out on the street. That was the pinnacle.” Former president of Starday Records Don Pierce told director Mark Hall in 1989 another famous story about Jones after Pappy Daily bailed him out of the drunk tank and got him a gig in Houston for $2,500. The next day Jones came to Dailey’s office broke again. According to Pierce, an irritated Dailey said, “Well, George, you just made $2,500 but I talked to some of the guys you were out partying with and they said you went and flushed it down the toilet.” “Pappy, that’s a damn lie!” Jones shot back. “It wasn’t but $1,200.”
On tour Jones was always backed by the Jones Boys. Like Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and Merle Haggard’s Strangers, Jones worked with many musicians who were great talents in their own right. These included Dan Schafer, Hank Singer, Brittany Allyn, Sonny Curtis, Kent Goodson, Bobby Birkhead, and Steve Hinson. In the 1980s and 1990s, bass player Ron Gaddis served as the Jones Boys’ bandleader and sang harmony with George in concert. Lorrie Morgan (who married Gaddis) also toured as a backup singer for Jones in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Johnny Paycheck was the Jones Boys’ bass player in the 1960s before going on to his own stardom in the 1970s.
In 1964, Pappy Daily secured a new contract with Musicor records. For the rest of the 1960s, Jones would only score one number one (1967’s “Walk Through This World With Me”) but he practically owned the country music charts throughout the decade. Significant hits include “Love Bug” (a nod to Buck Owens and the Bakersfield sound), “Things Have Gone To Pieces”, “The Race Is On”, “My Favorite Lies”, “I’ll Share My World With You”, “Take Me” (a song he co-wrote and would later record with Tammy Wynette), “A Good Year For The Roses” and “If My Heart Had Windows”. By this point, Jones’ singing style had evolved from the full-throated, high lonesome sound of Hank Williams and Roy Acuff on his early Starday records to the more refined, subtle style of Lefty Frizzell. In a 2006 interview with Billboard, Jones acknowledged the Texan’s influence on his idiosyncratic phrasing: “I got that from Lefty. He always made five syllables out of one damn word.”
Jones’ binge drinking and use of amphetamines on the road caught up to him in 1967 and he had to be admitted into a neurological hospital to seek treatment for his drinking. Jones would go to extreme lengths for a drink if the thirst was on him. Perhaps the most famous drinking story concerning Jones occurred while he was married to his second wife Shirley Corley. Jones recalled Shirley making it physically impossible for him to travel to Beaumont, located 8 miles away, to buy liquor. Because Jones would not walk that far, she would hide the keys to each of their cars they owned before leaving. She did not, however, hide the keys to the lawn mower. Upset, Jones walked to the window and looked out over his property. He later described his thoughts in his memoir: “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-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.” Years later Jones comically mocked the incident by making a cameo in the video for “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” by Hank Williams, Jr.. He also parodied the episode in the 1993 video for “One More Last Chance” by Vince Gill and in his own music video for the single “Honky Tonk Song” in 1996. Curiously, in her 1979 autobiography Stand By Your Man, Tammy Wynette claims the incident occurred while she was married to Jones, maintaining that she woke up at one o’clock in the morning to find her husband gone: “I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away. When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, ‘Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.’”
Jones became aware of Tammy Wynette because their tours were booked by the same agency and their paths sometimes crossed after Wynette’s first minor hit “Apartment #9” in 1966. Wynette was married to songwriter Don Chapel, who was also the opening act for her shows at the time. The three became friends but eventually Jones took more than a passing fancy to Wynette, who was eleven years his junior and grew up listening to all of his records. According to his autobiography, Jones went to their house for supper and while she was fixing the meal Wynette and Chapel got into a heated exchange with Chapel calling his wife “a son of a bitch”. Jones wrote: “I felt rage fly all over me. I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don’s and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.” Jones professed his love for Wynette on the spot and the couple were married in 1969.
They began touring together and Jones bought out his contract with Musicor so he could record with Tammy and her producer Billy Sherrill on Epic Records (the singer had split with longtime producer Pappy Daily on acrimonious terms). Jones and Wynette became known as “Mr. & Mrs. Country Music” in the early 1970s, scoring several big hits, including “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Let’s Build A World Together”, “Golden Ring”, “Near You” and “(We’re Not) The Jet Set”. In October 1970, shortly after the birth of their only child Tamala Georgette, Jones was straightjacketed and committed to a padded cell at the Watson Clinic in Lakeland, Florida after a drunken bender; he was kept there to detoxify for ten days before being released with a prescription for Librium. Jones managed longer stretches of sobriety with Wynette than he had enjoyed in years but as the decade wore on his drinking and erratic behavior worsened, leading to the couple’s divorce in 1976. Jones accepted the responsibility for the failure of the marriage but vehemently denied Wynette’s allegations in her autobiography that he beat her and fired a shotgun at her.
Remarkably, Jones and Wynette continued playing shows and drawing crowds in the years after their divorce, as fans began to see their songs mirroring their stormy relationship. In 1980, they recorded the album Together Againand scored a hit with “Two Story House”. Jones also spoke publicly about his hopes for a reconciliation and would jokingly reference Tammy in some of his songs – during performances of his 1981 hit “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” he would sing “Tammy’s memory will” – but the recrimination continued unabated. After years of sniping, Jones and Wynette appeared to make peace in the 1990s, recording a final album, One, and even touring together again before Wynette’s death in 1998. In 1995 Jones told Country Weekly, “Like the old saying goes, it takes time to heal things and they’ve been healed quite a while.”
Jones pairing with Billy Sherrill at Epic Records came as a surprise to many; Sherrill and business partner Glenn Sutton are regarded as the defining influences of the countrypolitan sound, a smooth amalgamation of pop and country music that was popular during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a far cry from what was George’s honky tonk roots. Despite a shaky start, the success that Sherrill had with Jones proved to be his most enduring; although Billboard chart statistics show that Sherrill had his biggest commercial successes with artists such as Wynette and Charlie Rich, with Jones Sherrill had his most longest-lasting association. In 1974, they scored a number one hit with “The Door” (I’ve heard the sound of my dear old mother cryin’/and the sound of the train that took me off to war) and followed that in 1975 with “The Grand Tour”. Unlike most singers, who might have been overwhelmed by the string arrangements and background vocalists Sherrill sometimes employed on his records, Jones’ voice, with its at times frightening intensity and lucid tone, could stand up to anything. While Jones wrote fewer songs himself – songwriters had been tripping over themselves pitching songs to him for years – he still managed to co-write several, such as “What My Woman Can’t Do” (covered by Jerry Lee Lewis), “A Drunk Can’t Be A Man”, the harrowing “I Just Don’t Give A Damn” (perhaps the greatest “lost classic” in the entire Jones catalogue) and “These Days (I Barely Get By)”, which he had written with Wynette.
In the late seventies, Jones spiraled out of control. Already drinking constantly, a manager named Shug Baggot introduced him to cocaine before a show because he was too tired to perform. The drug would increase Jones’ already considerable paranoia. During one drunken binge he shot at, and very nearly hit, his friend and occasional songwriting partner Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery after Montgomery had quit drinking after finding religion. He was often penniless and acknowledged in his autobiography that Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash came to his financial aid during this time. Jones also began missing shows at an alarming rate and lawsuits from promoters started piling up. In 1978, owing Wynette $36,000 in child support and claiming to be one million dollars in debt, he filed for bankruptcy. Jones appeared incoherent at times, speaking in quarrelling voices that he would later call “the Duck” and “the Old Man”. In his article “The Devil In George Jones”, Nick Tosches states, “By February 1979 he was homeless, deranged, and destitute, living in his car and barely able to digest the junk food on which he subsisted. He weighed under a hundred pounds, and his condition was so bad that it took him more than two years to complete My Very Special Guests, an album on which Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, and other famous fans came to his vocal aid and support. Jones entered Hillcrest Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon his release in January 1980, the first thing he did was pick up a six-pack.”
Jones often displayed a sheepish, self-deprecating sense of humor regarding his dire financial standing and bad reputation. In June 1979, he appeared with Waylon Jennings on Ralph Emery’s syndicated radio program and at one point Jennings cracked, “It’s lonely at the top.” A laughing Jones replied, “It’s lonely at the bottom, too! It’s real, real lonely, Waylon.” Despite his chronic unreliability, Jones was still capable of putting on a captivating live show. On Independence Day, 1976, he appeared at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in Gonzales, Texas in front of 80,000 younger, country rock oriented fans. A nervous Jones felt out of his comfort zone and nearly bolted from the festival but went on anyway and wound up stealing the show. The Houston Post wrote, “He was the undisputed star of this year’s Willie Nelson picnic…one of the greatest.” Penthouse called him “…the spirit of country music, plain and simple, its Holy Ghost”. The Village Voice added “As a singer he is as intelligent as they come, and should be considered for a spot in America’s all-time top ten.” Jones began missing more shows than he made, however, including several highly publicized dates at the Bottom Line club in New York. Former vice president of CBS Records Rick Blackburn recalls in the 1989 video Same Ole Me that the event had been hyped for weeks, with a lot of top press and cast members from Saturday Night Live planning to attend. “We’d made our plans, travel arrangements and so forth. George excused himself from my office, left – and we didn’t see him for three weeks. He just did not show up.” Much like Hank Williams, Jones seemed suspicious of success and furiously despised perceived slights and condescension directed towards the music that he loved so dearly. When he finally played the Bottom Line in 1980, the New York Times called him “the finest, most riveting singer in country music.”
By 1980, Jones had not had a number one single in six years and many critics began to write him off. However, the singer stunned the music industry in April when “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was released and shot to number one on the country charts, remaining there for 18 weeks. The song was written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam and tells the story of a friend who has never given up on his love; he keeps old letters and photos from back in the day and hangs on to hope that she would “come back again”. The song reaches its peak in the chorus, revealing that he indeed stopped loving her when he died and the woman does return—for his funeral. In a lesser singer’s hands, the song might have sounded corny or even comical but Jones’ interpretation, buoyed by his brilliant delivery of the line “…first time I’d seen him smile in years”, gives it a mournful, gripping realism. When it began being played on the radio in the spring of 1980 just about everyone who heard it was floored. It is consistently voted as the greatest country song of all time, along with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams and “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.
According to producer Billy Sherrill and Jones himself, the singer hated the song when he first heard it. In Bob Allen’s biography of the singer, Sherrill states, “He thought it was too long, too sad, too depressing and that nobody would ever play it…He hated the melody and wouldn’t learn it.” Sherrill also claims that Jones frustrated him by continually singing the song to the melody of the Kris Kristofferson hit “Help Me Make It Through the Night”. In theSame Ole Me retrospective, Sherrill recalls a heated exchange during one recording session: “I said ‘That’s not the melody!’ and he said ‘Yeah, but it’s a better melody.’ I said ‘It might be—Kristofferson would think so too, it’s his melody!'” In the same documentary, Sherrill claims that Jones was in such bad physical shape during this period that “the recitation was recorded 18 months after the first verse was” and added that the last words Jones said about “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was “Nobody’ll buy that morbid son of a bitch”. A big part of Jones’ success over the years was that he could always smell a hit but this time his instincts were woefully off. Although he had disliked “He Stopped Loving Her Today” when it was first offered to him, Jones ultimately gave the song credit for reviving his flagging career, stating that “a four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.” Jones earned the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980. The Academy of Country Music awarded the song Single of the Year and Song of the Year in 1980. It also became the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year in both 1980 and 1981.
The success of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” led CBS Records to renew Jones’ recording contract and sparked new interest in the singer. He was the subject of an hour-and-a-quarter long HBO television special entitledGeorge Jones: With a Little Help from His Friends, which saw the painfully wan singer performing songs with Waylon Jennings, Elvis Costello, Tanya Tucker, and Tammy Wynette, among others. Jones continued drinking and using cocaine, appearing at various awards shows to accept honors for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” obviously inebriated; his condition was readily apparent when he slurred the words to “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” with Barbara Mandrell on a televised broadcast. He was involved in several high speed car chases with police, which were reported on the national news, and one arrest was filmed by a local TV crew; the video, which is widely available online, offers a glimpse into Jones’ Jekyll & Hyde persona when drinking, with the singer looking genuinely frightening as he argues with the police officer and lunges at the camera man. Conversely, when sober, Jones was known to be friendly and down to earth, even shy. In a 1994 article on Jones, Nick Tosches remarked that when he first interviewed the singer in April 1976, “One could readily believe the accounts by those who had known him for years: that he had not changed much at all and that he had been impervious to fame and fortune.” In an unusually unguarded self-appraisal in 1981, the singer told Mark Rose of The Village Voice, “I don’t show a lot of affection. I have probably been a very unliked person among family, like somebody who was heartless. I saved it all for the songs. I didn’t know you were suppose to show that love person to person. I guess I always wanted to, but I didn’t know how. The only way I could would be to do it in a song.” Years later he commented to The Christian Broadcasting Network’s Scott Ross, “I think you’re mad at yourself, I think that you’re sayin’ to yourself ‘You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve those fans. You don’t deserve makin’ this money.’ And you’re mad at yourself. And you beat up on yourself by drinkin’ and losing friends that won’t put up with that…It’s just one terrible big mess you make out of your life.” In 1982, Jones recorded the album A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine with Merle Haggard. While the album cover was shocking, with Jones looking gaunt and wasted, his singing was flawless. His run of hits also continued in the early 1980s, with the singer charting “I’m Not Ready Yet”, “Same Ole Me (backed by the Oak Ridge Boys)”, “Still Doin’ Time”, “Tennessee Whiskey”, “We Didn’t See A Thing” (a duet with Ray Charles) and “I Always Get Lucky With You”, which was Jones’ last number one in 1984.
In 1981, Jones met Nancy Sepulvado, a 34-year-old divorcée from Mansfield, Louisiana. Sepulvado’s positive impact on Jones’ life and career cannot be overestimated; she eventually cleaned up his finances, kept him away from his drug dealers (who reportedly kidnapped her daughter in retaliation), and managed his career. Jones always gave her complete credit for saving his life. Nancy, who did not drink, explained to Nick Tosches in 1994, “He was drinking but he was fun to be around. It wasn’t love at first sight or anything like that. But I saw what a good person he was, deep down, and I couldn’t help caring about him.” Jones managed to quit cocaine but went on a drunken rampage in Alabama in the fall of 1983 and was once again straightjacketed and committed to Hillcrest Psychiatric Hospital suffering from malnutrition and delusions. But by this time, physically and emotionally exhausted, he really did want to quit drinking. In March 1984 in Birmingham, Alabama – at the age of 52 – Jones performed his first stone cold sober show since the early seventies. “All my life it seems like I’ve been running from something,” he told the United Press International in June. “If I knew what it was, maybe I could run in the right direction. But I always seem to end up going the other way.” Jones began making up many of the dates he had missed, playing them for free to pay back promoters, and began opening his concerts with “No Show Jones”, a song he had written with Glen Martin that poked fun at himself and other country singers. Jones always stressed that he was not proud of the way he treated loved ones and friends over the years and was ashamed of disappointing his fans when he missed shows, telling Billboard in 2006, “Now I know it hurt my fans in a way and I’ve always been sad about that, it really bothered me for a long time.”
Mostly sober for the rest of the 1980s, Jones consistently released albums with Sherrill producing, including Shine On, Jones Country, You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart, Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, Wine Colored Roses (an album Jones would tell Jolene Downs in 2001 was one of his personal favorites), Too Wild Too Long and One Woman Man. Jones’ video for his 1985 hit “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes won the CMA award for Video of the Year (Billy Sherrill makes a cameo as the bus driver).
In 1990, Jones released his last proper studio album on Epic, You Oughta Be Here With Me. Although the album featured several stirring performances, including the lead single “Hell Stays Open All Night Long” and the Roger Miller-penned title song, the single bombed and Jones made the switch to MCA, ending his relationship with Sherrill and what was now Sony Music after 19 years. His first album with MCA, And Along Came Jones, was released in 1991 and, backed by MCA’s powerful promotion team and producer Kyle Lehning (who had produced a string of hit albums for Randy Travis), the album sold better than his previous one had. However, two singles, “You Couldn’t Get The Picture” and “She Loved A Lot In Her Time” (a tribute to Jones’ mother Clara), did not crack the top 30 on the charts as Jones lost favor with country radio as the format was altered radically during the early 1990s. His last album to have significant radio airplay was 1992’s Walls Can Fall, which featured the novelty song “Finally Friday” and “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” a testament to his continued vivaciousness in old age. Despite the loss of radio airplay, Jones continued to record and tour throughout the 1990s and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by Randy Travis in 1992. In 1996, Jones released his autobiography I Lived To Tell It All with Tom Carter and the irony of his long career was not lost on him, with the singer writing in its preface, “I also know that a lot of my show-business peers are going to be angry after reading this book. So many have worked so hard to maintain their careers. I never took my career seriously, and yet it’s flourishing.” He also pulled no punches about his disappointment in the direction country music had taken, devoting a full chapter to the changes in the country music scene of the 1990s that saw him removed from radio playlists in favor of a younger generation of pop-influenced country stars. Despite his absence from the country charts during this time, latter-day country superstars such as Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and many others often paid tribute to Jones while expressing their love and respect for his legacy as a true country legend who paved the way for their own success. On February 17, 1998, The Nashville Network premiered a group of television specials called The George Jones Show, with Jones as host. The program featured informal chats with Jones holding court with country’s biggest stars old and new and, of course, music. Guests included Loretta Lynn, Trace Adkins, Johnny Paycheck, Lorrie Morgan, Merle Haggard, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Charley Pride, Bobby Bare, Patty Loveless and Waylon Jennings, among others.
While Jones remained committed to “pure country”, he worked with the top producers and musicians of the day and the quality of his work remained high. Some significant performances include “I Must Have Done Something Bad”, “Wild Irish Rose”, “Billy B. Bad” (a sarcastic jab at country music establishment trendsetters), “A Thousand Times A Day”, “When The Last Curtain Falls” and the novelty “High-Tech Redneck”. Jones most popular song in his later years was “Choices”, the first single from his 1999 studio album Cold Hard Truth. A video was also made for the song and Jones won another Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The song was at the center of controversy when the Country Music Association invited Jones to perform it on the awards show, but required that he perform an abridged version. Jones refused and did not attend the show. Alan Jackson was disappointed with the association’s decision and halfway through his own performance during the show he signaled to his band and played part of Jones’ song in protest.
On March 6, 1999, Jones was involved in an accident when he crashed his sport utility vehicle near his home. He was rushed to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was released two weeks later. In May of that year, Jones pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges related to the accident. The crash was a significant turning point, as he explained to Billboard in 2006: “…when I had that wreck I made up my mind, it put the fear of God in me. No more smoking, no more drinking. I didn’t have to have no help, I made up my mind to quit. I don’t crave it.” After the accident, Jones went on to release The Gospel Collection in 2003, which Billy Sherrill came out of retirement to produce. He appeared at a televised Johnny Cash Memorial Concert in 2003, singing “Big River” with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. In 2008, Jones received the Kennedy Center Honor along with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who, Barbra Streisand, Morgan Freeman and Twyla Tharp. President George W. Bush disclosed that he had many of Jones’ songs on his iPod. Jones also served as judge in 2008 for the 8th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers. and Rolling Stone named him number 43 in their 100 Greatest Singers of All Time issue. An album titled Hits I Missed And One I Didn’t, in which he covered hits he had passed on as well as a remake of his own “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, would be released as his final studio album. In 2012, Jones received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
On March 29, 2012, Jones was hospitalized with an upper respiratory infection. Months later, on May 21, Jones was hospitalized again for his infection and was released five days later. On August 14, 2012, Jones announced his farewell tour, the Grand Tour, with scheduled stops at 60 cities. His final concert was held in Knoxville at the Knoxville City Coliseum on April 6, 2013.
Jones was scheduled to perform his final concert at the Bridgestone Arena on November 22, 2013. However, on April 18, 2013, Jones was admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a slight fever and irregular blood pressure. His concerts in Alabama and Salem were postponed as a result. While there, Jones died in the early morning hours of April 26, 2013, aged 81, from hypoxic respiratory failure. Former first lady Laura Bush was among those eulogizing Jones at his funeral on May 2, 2013. Other speakers were Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, news personality Bob Schieffer, and country singers Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Chesney. Alan Jackson, Kid Rock, Ronnie Milsap, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, the Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Wynonna and Brad Paisley provided musical tributes The service was broadcast live on CMT, GAC, RFD-TV,The Nashville Network and Family Net as well as Nashville stations. SiriusXM and WSM 650AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast the event on the radio. The family has asked that contributions be made to the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund or to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Jones death made headlines all over the world; many country stations (as well as a few of other formats, such as oldies/classic hits) abandoned or modified their playlists and played his songs throughout the day. The week after Jones’s death, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” re-entered the hot country songs at number 21.
- September, 12, 1931
- Saratoga, Texas
- April, 26, 2013
- Nashville, Tennessee
Cause of Death
- hypoxic respiratory failure
- Woodlawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum
- Nashville, Tennessee