Born George Glenn Jones, 12 September 1931, Saratoga, Texas
Died 26 April 2013, Nashville, Tennessee

During the last twenty years of his life, George Jones was often referred to as the greatest living country singer. Over a 50-year time span he had 166 singles on the country charts, more than any other artist. But unlike many other country singers, pop success largely eluded him, with only five entries into the Billboard Hot 100 and a highest peak position of # 73 (for "White Lightning").

Born in East Texas in 1931, Jones came from a poor but musical family. His mother played piano at a local church and his father played harmonica and guitar. George got his first guitar at the age of nine. As a child he sang for tips in the streets of Beaumont, where the Jones family had relocated in 1942. Roy Acuff and Hank Williams were his heroes and main influences, later also Lefty Frizzell. At the age of 15 he left home, escaping the parental authority of his alcoholic and sometimes violent father. In the late 1940s Jones made his radio debut, singing on KTXJ in Jasper, Texas. In 1950 he was married for the first of four times, but the marriage lasted slightly more than a year. Jailed for non-support, Jones took the escape route of joining the US Marine Corps, in November 1951. Returning to Beaumont after his discharge in November 1953, he was soon approached by Jack Starnes, founder and co-owner (with Harold 'Pappy' Daily) of the fledgling Starday label. On January 19, 1954 Jones cut his first record, a prophetically titled original called "No Money in This Deal". Pappy Daily assumed the roles of Jones's producer and manager, roles he would continue to play until 1970.

George had five Starday singles released in 1954, none registering nationally. A deejay job at KTRM at least provided steady income, especially after he married for the second time. But in the autumn of 1955 his fortunes changed when "Why Baby Why" gave him his first chart entry (# 4), followed by three more Top 10 hits in 1956. In that year Elvis Presley was exploding nationwide, polarizing the country music market in the process. Daily saw dollar signs in the new music and insisted Jones take a stab at rockabilly. Reluctantly, George wrote and recorded "Rock It" and "How Come It", two exuberant rockabilly songs. They were coupled on a 45 credited to Thumper Jones, in an attempt to avoid alienating his country fans. Later Jones would characterize "Rock It" as "a bunch of shit", but the single now has legendary status among rockabilly fans. During the rest of the 1950s, George recorded a lot of semi-rock n roll material, often with such enthusiasm that it's hard to fathom why the Thumper Jones material bothered him at all. At the same session Jones also covered "Heartbreak Hotel", which was released under the pseudonym Hank Smith, on an EP on the budget label Tops.

Late in 1956, Starday was approached by Mercury bosses Irving Green and Art Talmadge about combining forces in the country music field. George's 1957 releases appeared on Mercury-Starday, but the partnership dissolved in February 1958, after which Jones became a Mercury recording artist. The year 1959 was a good one for Jones. "White Lightning" (written by J.P. Richardson aka The Big Bopper) gave him his first country number one and also his first and biggest pop hit. This success led to a number of spinoffs in the same style like "Who Shot Sam" (# 7), "Revenooer Man" and "Slave Lover". Great lyrics, whooping vocals, first-rate accompaniment, powerful stuff indeed. In the same class are "I Wouldn't Know About That" and "You Better Treat Your Man Right", recorded in 1960 as album tracks, coupled for single release in 1964, after Jones had left Mercury for United Artists. Then his style (up until then mainly honky tonk, with occasional excursions into rockabilly) began to mellow and he started to develop the famous ballad style that would inspire so many imitators. "Tender Years" was his second # 1 (1961), soon followed by what is perhaps his best known song, "She Thinks I Still Care". This was George's first single for United Artists, but Mercury continued to flood the market with George Jones product for several years. In 1965 Jones moved to the Musicor label (a very productive period, with some 300 recordings). There he would stay until 1971, followed by a long tenure at Epic, with Billy Sherrill as his producer. The hits just kept on coming, but many years of alcoholism deteriorated his health severely and led to him missing many performances, thus earning the nickname No Show Jones. His fourth marriage (with Nancy Sepulvado) in 1983 marked the beginning of his gradual rehabilitation. Eventually he shook off his demons, except for a 1999 relapse that ended with a near-fatal car crush. Jones recorded with several duet partners, male and female, among them Margie Singleton, Melba Montgomery, Gene Pitney, Brenda Lee, Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, Ray Charles and, the best known, Tammy Wynette, to whom he was married from 1969 until 1975.

Jones's only million seller is "He Stopped Loving Her Today", a # 1 single from 1980 that won the Country Music Association Award for both Song of the Year and Single of the Year. Altogether he had 13 number one hits on the country charts, duets included. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. In 2012 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

He continued to perform almost until the end of his life, announcing his farewell tour in August 2012. George Jones died on April 26, 2013, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, from hypoxic respiratory failure. One of his nicknames was "The Rolls-Royce of Country Singers" and deservedly so. He was a GREAT singer.

More info :

Official website :

Autobiography : George Jones with Tom Carter, I Lived To Tell It All. New York : Villard, 1996. 430 pages. Paperback : New York : Dell, 1997.

Sessionography / discography :

CD's :
The real fan will need the three Bear Family box-sets with the complete United Artists and Musicor recordings, but if you are primarily interested in his early career (like me), then the best choice is :
- Heartbreak Hotel (Bear Family BCD 16858, 2011), in the Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series. 35 tracks from 1954-1960. Liner notes by Rich Kienzle.
- A forthcoming release from APM (UK) looks very promising : "101 White Lightning : The Best Of George Jones" (November 2014). 101 tracks from 1954-1963.
- Sony Legacy recently issued a 4-CD box-set of the Epic material (1971-1989).

Acknowledgements : Rich Kienzle, Bob Allen, Howard Cockburn.

YouTube :
Rock It :
How Come It :
Why Baby Why :
Maybe Little Baby :
White Lightning :
Who Shot Sam (live) :
Revenooer Man :
I Wouldn't Know About That :
She Thinks I Still Care (live) :

Dik, October 2014

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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