RIP George Jones: The Story of How He Learned to Sing
The King is dead. Country singer George Jones, who entered Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center on April 18 with a fever and irregular blood pressure, checked out for good early this morning. Cause of death has yet to be made public, but it's amazing that the hard living honky tonk singer made it to age 81 at all.
Born September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, he endured a miserable, poverty stricken childhood but early on found significant spiritual refuge in the country music he heard on the radio. By age 11, Jones could be found singing on the streets of Beaumont, where he was surprised that people offered him money. As he said years later, "I would've done if for free."
Apart from a 1950-53 stint in the Marines, stationed for a time down in Oceanside, California, he never did anything else but sing country music. By 1954, he was recording for Starday Records. The disks all had a rough, rowdy and ready-for-action feel, and once Jones scored his first hit, 1955's manic lament "Why, Baby, Why," his career went, and he was successful for the better part of the next three decades.
His infamous 1969 marriage to First Lady of country music Tammy Wynette produced some of the most perfectly realized boy-girl duets in the idiom's history. It also made for some of the most spectacular battles and bouts of marital malfeasance ever charted. Jones would go on a bender, smash furniture, shoot the house up; she'd hide all the car keys, resulting in that fabled lawnmower ride to the liquor store. It got so bad the boys in white jackets were once summoned to slap a straitjacket on him.
Following their 1975 divorce, Jones missed numerous dates, using so much speed and cocaine that his weight slipped below 100 pounds. Still, in 1980 he released his masterpiece I Am What I Am. Even at his very worst, Jones' rich interpretive prowess and knack for an excruciatingly well-manicured brand of honey-coated psychic agony was riveting.
His 1983 marriage to Nancy Ford Sepulvado brought a degree of stability and a loudly trumpeted climb onto the wagon. But when investigators at his near-fatal 1999 car wreck -- which tore up his liver and nearly silenced him -- found a bottle of vodka under the front seat, it was clear the Jones was still the same old reliable hell raiser. The incident resulted in the stunning single "Choices," one of the best performances in his already incomparable career, but country radio would barely play it.