RIP George Jones, USMC

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

George Jones, USMCThis world is full of singers – but few are chosen to tear your heart out when they sing. 

George Jones was one of the few, and not just because he was a U.S. Marine.

Legendary country singer, songwriter and U.S. Marine Corps veteran George Jones passed away on April 26th, 2013. He was 81. True to his form in the country smash hit, “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair,” he was still touring in his 80s, and was scheduled to play a show in Alabama the following night.

And he never did need your damned Geritol.

Jones, heralded by many musicians as the greatest country singer who ever lived, was survived by his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvado, whom he married in 1983. With her influence and support, Jones was able to remain (mostly) sober for the last 20 years or so of his life – a circumstance that was at once uncharacteristic and fortuitous, because it likely saved his life. 

Jones enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950s, when the Korean War was still raging. However, he did his entire enlistment in California, and never saw combat. Which was good for us, because we got the benefit of hearing perhaps the greatest country singer the world has ever seen.

“Every note he ever sang you could carve in granite,” said Mark O’Connor, a legendary fiddler who played on several of Jones’s songs as a Nashville studio musician.

“I think some people were just born to do certain things,” said Garth Brooks. “George was born to sing country music.” 

Frank Sinatra called him “the second best white singer in America.”

“Of course, he will always be the greatest singer and interpreter of real country music—there’ll never be another,” said Alan Jackson, upon learning of Jones’s death. 

This writer, a lifelong musician, agrees. No one ever got more inside a song than George Jones did.

Jones’s first number one hit came in 1959 with White Lightning’. He also had three number one hits, We’re Gonne Hold On (1973), Golden Ring (1976) and Near You (1977) with Tammy Wynette, who was his wife from 1969 to 1975. His final studio album was with Dolly Parton.

He is, perhaps, best known for his legendary 1980 hit, He Stopped Loving Her Today, a heartbreaker of a song that has dropped more tears into more beers in more smoke-filled honkey-tonks than any other song in the history of mankind and I will bet no one will challenge me on that.

As an experiment, I played a live version of George Jones singing it to a 33-year-old who had never heard of George Jones before I mentioned he died. She burst into tears in the 2nd verse. That’s how good he was.

RIP, Possum. Thanks for your service to this great country, and thanks to your contributions to our great musical tradition.

It’s going to be tough to fill your shoes.


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