Personalities | George Jones | Nashville & Beyond | Country
Born on 12 September 1931, near Saratoga, Texas, in a remote region of East Texas known as The Big Thicket, George Glenn Jones is widely considered to be country music’s quintessential honky-tonk singer and probably the most influential artist to come along since Hank Williams’ death in 1953.
Like Williams, for much of his career Jones had a strong penchant for honky-tonk style hard living and wild times – something that has merely enhanced his cachet and mystique with fans. Three marriages and divorces, alcoholism and drug addiction were just some of the wages exacted by the near-lethal combination of the stresses and pressures of fame and a tempestuous, volatile personality.
As a youth, Jones grew up in near-poverty in a household fraught by the tension between a hard-drinking, wayward father and a teetotal, churchgoing mother. His father had a mean streak that was often unleashed by alcohol. Sometimes he would come home drunk in the middle of the night, rouse his young son out of bed and command him to sing. Jones has often intimated that this is the source of the stage fright and painful, love-hate ambivalence he has often felt about performing.
When he was young, Jones sang for tips on the streets of Beaumont, Texas, where his father worked in the shipyards during the Second World War and the family lived in a government housing project. After a brief first marriage and a stint in the US Marines in the early 1950s, he began recording for Starday Records – a fledgling, Dallas-based label – as well as appearing on the Big D Jamboree, a local country-music radio show. His earliest hits for Starday (which later linked a brief deal with Mercury Records) included ‘Why, Baby Why’ (1955), ‘Color Of The Blues’ and ‘White Lightning’ (1958).
By the early 1960s, Jones was recording in Nashville, where he began to perfect the intense honky-tonk balladry style that became his hallmark. His early flair for this style can be heard on hits like ‘The Window Up Above’ (1960), ‘Tender Years’ (1961) and ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ (1962). In 1969, Jones married his third wife, country singer Tammy Wynette, and joined the Grand Ole Opry. For a few years, Jones and Wynette were something akin to the Sonny And Cher of country music. They appeared together regularly on the Opry and recorded a string of best-selling duets, including ‘Take Me’ (1971), ‘The Ceremony’ (1972) and ‘We’re Gonna Hold On’ (1973).
By the time Jones and Wynette divorced in 1975, Jones was already on a downward spiral of alcoholism and drug abuse, from which he would not emerge for nearly a decade. Yet even during these lost years, he managed to record some extremely moving music. In 1980, he released a mournful, fatalistic...
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