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On April 26, 2013, American country music star George Jones passed away at the age of 81. During his lifetime he was known for his numerous hits and his distinctive voice. He had more than 150 solo and duet hits during his career, and was frequently referred to as the greatest living country singer during the last twenty years of his life. In writing about Jones, country music scholar Bill C. Malone wrote, “For the two or three minutes consumed by a song, Jones immerses himself so completely in its lyrics, and in the mood it conveys, that the listener can scarcely avoid becoming similarly involved.” In his song “It’s Alright,” Waylon Jennings sang: “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones.” Jones’ astounding career wasn’t without its countless personal and professional difficulties, but he overcame many of them towards the end of his life.
Born in Saratoga, Texas, and raised in Vidor, Texas, along with his brother and seven sisters, he heard country music for the first time at the age of seven after his parents purchased a radio. When he was nine he was given a guitar and he was hooked and soon playing on the streets of Beaumont with his father earning some spare change. When he was sixteen, he left home for Jasper, TX where he performed at a local radio station. In 1950, at the age of nineteen, he married his first wife Dorothy but within a year the couple divorced. In 1951, Jones enlisted in the Marines as the Korean War was underway, and never served overseas as he was stationed in California for his entire service. When he was discharged, Jones began performing again and this is when his music career took off.
Record producer and co-owner of a local Texas label Starday Records, Pappy Daily, discovered Jones and signed him to the label in 1953. Jones’ first single “No Money In This Deal” was released in early 1954 to little attention. Three more of Jones’ singles were released by the label that same year and all were ignored. Jones’ first hit came late in the summer of 1955. Titled “Why, Baby, Why,” it peaked at number four on the country charts, but never gained momentum, as it was halted by a cover version by Webb Pierce and Red Sovine which hit number one.
Despite these setbacks, Jones was on his way as he was secured a spot by Daily on the Louisiana Hayride where he co-billed with Elvis Presley. In 1956 Jones’ songs were regularly featured on the Top Ten. Among them were “What Am I Worth” and “Just One More.” In August, Jones joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry and his first album appeared by the end of the year.
Jones’ records began appearing under a new label in 1957 as Starday Records had signed a distribution deal with Mercury Records. He began recording in Nashville and his first single under the new label “Don’t Stop the Music” was a Top Ten hit. Throughout 1958, his songs were landing near the top of the charts, culminating with “White Lightning,” which spent five weeks at number one in the spring of 1959. Two years later, his next big hit “Tender Years” arrived and stayed for seven weeks at number one. This hit pointed the way toward Jones’ later success as a singer of ballads, since the song displayed a smoother production and larger arrangement than his previous hits.
Image credit: George Jones via Facebook