Chris Talbott and Hillel Italie
NASHVILLE, TENN.: When it comes to country music, George Jones was The Voice.
Other great singers have come and gone, but this fact remained inviolate until Jones passed away Friday at 81 in a Nashville hospital after a year of ill health.
“Today someone else has become the greatest living singer of traditional country music, but there will never be another George Jones,” said Bobby Braddock, the Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter who provided Jones with 29 songs over the decades.
Jones did it with that voice. Rich and deep, strong, but supple enough to bring tears. It was so powerful, it made Jones the first thoroughly modern country superstar, complete with the substance-abuse problems and rich-and-famous celebrity lifestyle that included mansions and multiple divorces.
Jones achieved No. 1 songs in four separate decades, 1950s to 1980s. Its qualities were admired by more than just his fellow country artists but by Frank Sinatra, Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello and others.
In song, like life, he was rowdy and regretful, tender and tragic. His hits included the sentimental Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, the foot-tapping The Race is On, the foot-stomping I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair, the melancholy She Thinks I Still Care, the rockin’ White Lightning, and the barfly lament Still Doing Time. Jones also recorded several duets with Tammy Wynette, his wife for six years, including Golden Ring and Near You. He also sang with such peers as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
But his signature song was He Stopped Loving Her Today. The 1980 ballad won the Country Music Association’s song of the year award an unprecedented two years in a row and a Grammy award in 1981. In 1999, he won a Grammy for Choices. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992.