George Jones Biography

George Glenn Jones, 12 September 1931, Saratoga, Texas, USA. Jones is the greatest of honky tonk singers but he has also been a victim of its lifestyle. He learned guitar in his youth, and in 1947, was hired by the husband-and-wife duo Eddie And Pearl. This developed into his own radio programme and a fellow disc jockey, noting his close-set eyes and upturned nose, nicknamed him ‘The Possum’. He married at 18 but the couple separated within a year. Jones joined the marines in 1950 and, after being demobbed in November 1953, was signed by Pappy Daily to the new Starday label. He had his first country hit in 1955 with ‘Why Baby Why’, a pop hit for Pat Boone. He recorded some rockabilly tracks including ‘Rock It’, which Daily released under the name of Thumper Jones. Jones has so strongly disassociated himself from these recordings that he is apt to destroy any copies that he sees. Daily also leased cover versions of well-known songs by Jones and other performers, including Sleepy La Beef, to others for budget recordings. Jones’ work, for example, was issued under the pseudonyms of Johnny Williams, Hank Davis and Glen Patterson, but collectors should bear in mind that these names were also used for other performers.

In 1959 Jones had his first country number 1 with ‘White Lightning’, written by his friend the Big Bopper. The single made number 73 on the US Top 100 and, despite numerous country hits, it remains his biggest pop hit, perhaps because his voice is too country for pop listeners. (Jones has never reached the UK charts, although he and the Big Bopper supplied the backing vocals for Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’.) Jones’ second US country number 1 was with the sensitive ‘Tender Years’, which held the top spot for seven weeks. He demonstrated his writing skills on ‘The Window Up Above’, which was subsequently a hit for Mickey Gilley, and ‘Seasons Of My Heart’, recorded by both Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. His flat-top hairstyle and gaudy clothes may look dated to us now, but he recorded incredibly poignant country music with ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ and ‘You Comb Her Hair’, as well as the up-tempo fun of ‘Who Shot Sam?’. The American public kept up with the Joneses for ‘The Race Is On’, but Jack Jones was the winner in the charts. George Jones recorded prolifically for the Musicor label, although most of his numerous albums are less than 30 minutes long. He recorded successful duets with other performers; Gene Pitney (‘I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night’) and Melba Montgomery (‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’). In 1970 he recorded the original version of ‘A Good Year For The Roses’, later a hit for Elvis Costello, and ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’, a concert favourite for Dr. Hook.

Jones’ stormy marriage to Tammy Wynette (1969-75) included duet albums of lovey-dovey songs and bitter recriminations. A solo success, ‘The Grand Tour’, is a room-by-room account of what went wrong. His appalling behaviour (beating Wynette, shooting at friends, missing concerts) is largely attributable to his drinking. An album of superstar duets was hampered when he missed the sessions and had to add his voice later. His partners included Elvis Costello (‘Stranger In The House’), James Taylor (‘Bartender’s Blues’) and Willie Nelson (‘I Gotta Get Drunk’). His album with Johnny Paycheck is a collection of rock ‘n’ roll classics.

By the late 70s, Jones’ drinking and cocaine addiction had made him so unreliable that he was known as ‘No Show Jones’, although a song he recorded about it suggested he was proud of the name. When he did appear, he sometimes used Donald Duck’s voice instead of his own. In 1979 he received medical treatment, and, with support from the music industry, staged a significant comeback with I Am What I Am, which included his greatest single, ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, and a further duet album with Wynette. Further trouble ensued when he beat up another fiancée, but a divorcee, Nancy Sepulveda, tolerated his mistreatment and married him in 1983. Jones’ behaviour has improved in recent years, although, as he would have it, ‘If you’re going to sing a country song, you’ve got to have lived it yourself.’ In short, George Jones’ major asset is his remarkable voice which can make a drama out of the most mundane lyrics (James O’Gwynn recorded a tribute ‘If I Could Sing A Country Song (Exactly Like George Jones)’). Jones has had more records (almost 150) in the US country charts than any other performer, although his comparatively low tally of 13 number 1s is surprising. Undoubtedly, he would have had another with a duet with Dolly Parton, ‘Rockin’ Years’, but following an announcement that he was to move to MCA, his voice was replaced by Ricky Van Shelton’s.

Being a George Jones completist is an exhausting task because he has had over 500 albums released in the USA and UK alone. The listing concentrates only on albums of new recordings, collections of singles on albums for the first time, and notable compilations. In addition, in the early 70s, RCA Records in America reissued 15 compilations from his Musicor albums, usually with additional tracks, but they are not included below. Jones has recorded such key tracks as ‘Ragged But Right’ several times. Surprisingly, however, he is poorly represented by live albums.

Jones’ first MCA album, 1991’s And Along Came Jones, included a tribute to his deceased mother. In 1995 he renewed his artistic partnership with ex-wife Wynette for One. It was as good as anything they had made together, and included an affectionate nod to new country artists: ‘I’ve even heard a few/that sound like me and you’. Jones may no longer sell records in the quantities he used to, but his albums now show more consistency. He is still regarded by many as the world’s leading honky-tonk singer. In April 1996 he released his autobiography, I Lived To Tell It All, which was soon followed by a new album of the same title. Two years later he released It Don’t Get Any Better Than This, one of his most assured and satisfying albums. His career was interrupted yet again, this time by a near fatal car crash in March 1999, but the same year this remarkable survivor released Cold Hard Truth, another excellent collection, and for many his finest ever.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.