100 Greatest Men: #2. George Jones

George Jones100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Quite possibly country music’s most distinctive vocalist, George Jones wrapped his distinguished vocals around great songs for more than five decades.

Jones was born and raised in Texas, and his earliest musical tastes were shaped by the gospel he heard at church, and by the Carter Family songs he heard on the radio.   After his dad bought him a guitar, he would play on the streets of Beaumont for tips.   He was singing on the radio by his late teens, and after a brief stint in the military, he returned to Texas, where he was discovered by a local record producer named Pappy Daily.

Daily signed Jones to his Starday label, the first of many different record companies that Jones would record for over the years.  His early work with Starday was rooted in deep honky tonk.  While Jones would actually incorporate many pop elements into his work in later years, it was on Starday that he established the traditionalist reputation that would always be associated with him.  After scoring big chart hits with “Why Baby Why” and “Just One More”, Jones moved over to Mercury, where more classic country singles like “White Lightning”, “The Window Up Above”, and “Tender Years” furthered his fame.

By 1962, Jones was on his third label.  United Artists brought his classic collaborations with Melba Montgomery, and the massive hit, “She Thinks I Still Care.”  But his material for the label wasn’t as successful as his previous work.   So he followed his producer to the smaller Musicor label, and his six years with Musicor began the most artistically fruitful stretch of his career, with classics like “If My Heart Had Windows”, “Walk Through this World with Me” and “A Good Year for the Roses” laying the groundwork for his run on Epic Records, which began in 1971.

By this time, Jones was struggling with addiction to alcohol, but for much of the seventies, his work did not suffer.  He put out one excellent album after another for Epic, with solo classics like “The Grand Tour” pairing beautifully with his duets with wife and labelmate Tammy Wynette.  But Jones soon developed a reputation for missing shows, part of which was due to his alcohol struggles, and part due to poor management that was booking multiple concerts in different locations at the same time.  This earned him the nickname “No-Show Jones.”

Although Jones was still struggling personally, he reached his commercial peak in 1980 with the release of I am What I am, which was anchored by his signature hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”  Jones won several major industry awards for the song and the album, which became his first platinum set.  His fourth marriage in 1983 would last the rest of his life, and is widely credited for finally bringing him around to sobriety.

Jones continued to score radio hits until the late eighties, when a new generation of stars took hold at radio.  However, these stars were quick to note Jones as a major influence, and when he moved to MCA Records, some of his most successful records were collaborations. Even though radio largely ignored him, he had back-to-back gold albums at MCA in the early nineties, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992.

Yet another label switch to Asylum produced his final gold album, The Cold Hard Truth, in 1999.  Anchored by the hit single “Choices”, which was released after he was in a near-fatal car accident, the hit earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 2000.

Jones visited the top thirty twice in the new century, thanks to collaborations with Garth Brooks and Shooter Jennings.  He also released a well-received duet album with Merle Haggard.   In 2013, he was preparing for retirement when an illness resulted in a hospitalization from which he never returned home.  He passed away on April 26, 2013 at the age of 81.

Essential Singles:

  • Why Baby Why, 1955
  • White Lightning 1959
  • Tender Years, 1961
  • She Thinks I Still Care, 1962
  • The Race is On, 1964
  • A Good Year for the Roses, 1970
  • The Grand Tour, 1974
  • He Stopped Loving Her Today, 1980
  • Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, 1985
  • Choices, 1999

Essential Albums:

  • White Lightning and Other Favorites, 1959
  • Heartaches and Tears, 1965
  • Sings the Songs of Dallas Frazier, 1968
  • With Love, 1971
  • A Picture of Me (Without You), 1972
  • The Grand Tour, 1974
  • Golden Ring (with Tammy Wynette), 1976
  • I am What I am, 1980
  • The Cold Hard Truth, 1999

Next: #1. Merle Haggard

Previous: #3. Willie Nelson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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2 Comments

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2 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #2. George Jones

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Artistically, the 1960s were George’s peak and virtually all of my favorite songs come from that decade. Of course, since he was one of only three consistently marketable artists that Musicor had, he was horrendously over-recording and so most of his worst recordings also come from that decade.

    Funny thing is, his worst recordings are better than most artists’ best recordings, so even those bad recordings (“The Poor Chinee”, “4033” , “Love Bug” , “Unwanted Babies” , “I’m A People”) are fun to pull out and give the occasional listen

    Long live the music of the true King George !

  2. andythedrifterNo Gravatar

    George is my co-favorite artist, so I’m thrilled to see him so high – I was expecting him to clock in around #5. I don’t think his discography is quite as consistently great as Haggard and Nelson, but his plethora of all-time classic recordings simply can not be topped. Greatest voice ever in my opinion.

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