Born on September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, TX; son of George Washington (a pipe fitter) and Clara Jones (a church pianist); married first wife Dorothy, c. 1949; divorced; married second wife Shirley, 1954; divorced, 1968; married Tammy Wynette (a singer), September 1968; divorced, 1975; married Nancy Sepulvado (a telephone company worker), March 4, 1983; children: (first marriage) Susan; (second marriage) Jeffrey, Brian; (third marriage) Tamala Georgette; stepchildren: (fourth marriage) Adina, Sherry; served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1950-53. Addresses: Record company--BNA/Bandit Records, 24 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203. Website--George Jones Official Website: http://www.georgejones.com.

George Jones is often called the best honky-tonk performer of all time. An artist whose own life mirrors the defeat and despair of his song lyrics, Jones was one of the most popular male country singers of the 1960s. He has remained a Nashville favorite to this day despite numerous bouts with drug abuse, repeated legal entanglements, and even an arrest for assault. Jones has recorded so many albums and singles that even he has lost count, but since the 1980s he has exerted more control over the direction of his music and the substance of his sound. This new control has meant that Jones's material has returned to the unembellished, hard-hitting honky-tonk style that first brought him fame.

In her book Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, Alanna Nash calls Jones ``the greatest country singer of all time,'' a man ``who understands, who can offer sympathy for the price of a quarter.'' Nash adds: ``The quarter drops, and out comes the voice of Despair, anxious at first, then desperate, with Jones sliding up a wail meant to caress and exorcise his demons at the same time. He holds the cry as he might the last bottle on earth, and then plunges to the low notes in a moan that leaves no doubt--when you talk about pain and suffering, George Jones has been there.''

Jones's miseries began literally at birth--the doctor who delivered him dropped him and broke his arm. Jones was raised in a succession of small Texas towns, his family finally settling in Beaumont, where his father took work in the shipyards. Life was hard for young George, who took what little consolation he could find from the guitar he learned to play at the age of nine. When his sister died of a fever, his grieving father turned to drink, often rousing George and the other children late at night to sing for him. George ran away from home at 14 and began to support himself playing backup guitar for radio programs. By 18 he had married--and deserted--the mother of his first child.

Had First Country Hits

Jones spent 1950-53 in the United States Marine Corps and then returned to Texas to work as a house painter. Within months he was moonlighting as a radio performer, imitating his heroes Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Lefty Frizzell. Gradually his reputation spread, and he became acquainted with H. W. ``Pappy'' Daily, a producer for the Houston-based Starday label. Starday signed Jones and encouraged him to discover his own distinctive sound. In 1955 he had his first country hits, ``Why Baby Why'' and ``You Gotta Be My Baby.'' The following year he realized a dream that he had held since childhood--he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. He switched to the more prestigious Mercury label in 1958, where according to Nash he recorded his first ``honky-tonk classics''--"White Lightning" and ``The Race Is On''--and developed ``the emotional wail-and-moan delivery that would become his trademark.''

Between 1958 and 1971 Jones placed at least one song in the country top ten each year. Only Merle Haggard rivals Jones for the most number-one country hits in the history of the business. Jones's number one singles include ``Window Up Above,'' which he wrote himself, ``She Thinks I Still Care,'' ``We Must Have Been out of Our Minds,'' ``Take Me,'' ``Things Have Gone to Pieces,'' ``Love Bug,'' ``I'm a People,'' and ``You Can't Get There from Here.'' Record companies bid for Jones's services, and he switched several times, working at United Artists, Musicor, and finally Epic. For more than a decade he turned out albums at a staggering rate and toured almost without a break.

The relentless pace Jones set inevitably began to take its toll. By the mid-1960s the singer began to drink heavily and behave erratically, missing concert dates entirely or playing only abbreviated programs. His reputation received a reprieve in 1967, when he began to tour with Tammy Wynette. Both Jones and Wynette were at the peak of their careers at the time, and they proved a winning duo. They were married in 1968. For a time the marriage seemed to steady Jones--he and Wynette even ended their concerts with a song version of their wedding vows--but turbulence developed and Jones began drinking heavily again. Jones and Wynette divorced in 1975 and quarrelled openly for some years thereafter. The two managed to reconcile and record the album One in 1995, their first in 15 years. Wynette had appeared on Jones's acoustic album in 1994, called The Bradley Barn Sessions, which helped ease tensions between the two and made the recording of One possible. "We rediscovered our loyalty, and I think our patience and endurance speak well of both of us, after what we've been through," Wynette told Nash in an article for Entertainment Weekly in 1995. Wynette died of a blood clot on May 14, 1998.

Plagued by Personal Problems

The late 1970s proved a nadir for Jones. He had to declare bankruptcy after a number of show promoters sued him for missed dates. Alcohol abuse led to automobile accidents, fights with lovers, and one instance where he fired a gun at a male friend. By 1983 he had been hospitalized and arrested repeatedly for alcohol and cocaine use and sued by a legion of creditors and ex-wives. Nash notes, however, that his problems ``only made him more irresistible to his fans.'' Even as he wrestled with the shambles of his personal life, Jones made a momentous professional decision: he vowed to return to the traditional country sound that he had always loved, a sound that had too long been submerged in over-produced tracks.

Jones told High Fidelity that he allowed his producers--among them the celebrated Billy Sherrill--to orchestrate his material in such a way that it might appeal to the ``crossover'' audience. ``I went along with the record company against my better judgment,'' he said. ``I didn't wanna do it, but I let them put strings on my sessions just out of curiosity, more or less, just to see what they might do.... When you use strings and horns and all these things, you just don't have country music anymore ... you abuse it. To try to sell two or three hundred thousand more records ... hell, a man could always use the money, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have that big a production on my records, because I'm never gonna sell pop.''

Jones's return to his roots salvaged his career. Works such as He Stopped Loving Her Today, My Very Special Guests, and Shine On assured Jones a front-runner position in the resurgent honky-tonk format. High Fidelity contributor Nick Tosches concludes that Jones has remained so popular over the years because of his singular voice. ``Unlike most country singers,'' the critic wrote, "there is no cheap melodrama in his singing. He works his rough Texas voice with a noble gravity, wringing from every work its full color and power. He has a poet's sense of rhythm: the most pedestrian lyrics emerge from his mouth with teutonic dignity." In Stereo Review, Nash likewise suggests that Jones might prove to be "the last poor boy to give traditional country music everything he has in him."

Jones continued to record prolifically through the 1990s. Among his most notable releases were High-Tech Redneck in 1993, The Bradley Barn Sessions in 1994, It Don't Get Any Better Than This in 1998, and The Cold Hard Truth in 1999, on which Jones's Grammy Award-winning single "Choices" appeared. Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and he published his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, in 1996, with an album of the same name.

Kept Recording Despite Crash Trauma

On March 6, 1999, just prior to Jones's recording of The Cold Hard Truth, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident near Nashville. Jones drove his car into a bridge and suffered multiple internal injuries as a result of the crash. Jones pled guilty to driving while impaired, was fined $500, and was required to enter an alcohol treatment program. According to People magazine, Jones said at his sentencing in May of 1999 that "I did wrong that day, and I take full responsibility," though he later said that drinking had not played a part in the crash. "I was rewinding a tape," the People article quotes Jones. "I must have took my eye off the road for a second." Despite the crash and Jones's lengthy recuperation, The Cold Hard Truth was released on its scheduled date, June 22, 1999.

by Anne Janette Johnson

George Jones's Career

Professional singer/guitar player, c. 1945-; began performing on Texas radio stations and in honky-tonks, 1945; signed with Starday Records, 1953 (some sources say 1954), had first country hit, "Why Baby Why," 1955; signed with Mercury Records, 1958, moved to United Artists label, 1961, moved to Musicor label, 1965, and Epic Records, 1967; signed with MCA Records, 1991; published autobiography and released album called I Lived to Tell It All, 1996; moved to Elektra/Asylum following release of It Don't Get Any Better Than This, 1998; released The Rock: Stone Cold Country on the BNA/Bandit label, 2001.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

September 13, 2005: Jones' album, Hits I Missed ... and One I Didn't, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_7/index.jsp, September 14, 2005.

Further Reading

Sources

BooksPeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 9 years ago

I have just heard George sing at a festival, He was magnificent. His voice is what you'd expect from a man of his years - full of meaning, concerned with the message, and an ability to use his gifts to sell the song, more than himself. He has matured in the way Johnny Cash did and will gather many non-country fans because of that. He is doing for country what Sinatra did for his generation. A true living legend.