Recently Jim Lauderdale recounted to me a scenario he read from a book by author/entrepreneur/groupie Pamela Des Barres. This scene featured Gram Parsons allegedly sititng in room surrounded by LA. party people as he played George Jones records and cried. When someone asked who he was listening to he is reported to have answered “The king of Broken Hearts.” This story led Lauderdale to write , and George Strait to latter cover, “The King of Broken Hearts”
Here’s a verse:
The king of broken hearts is so sad and wise
He can smile while he’s crying inside
We know he’ll be brave tonight
Cause he’s the king of broken hearts
Is the story factually true? I don’t know, but it’s essence is dead-on. Lauderdale and Parsons had it right. Regarded by many to be one of the greatest voices in country music Jones defined and lived country music as authentically as anyone. He spoke from a place where he lived and struggled and showed us all he, and we, are fallible. He had lived and breathed empathy into every word.
Not far from Jones’ birthplace of Saratoga Texas, thirty-eight miles northwest of Beaumont, producer and co-owner of Starday Records, Pappy Daily, signed Jones to his first label in 1954. Four singles were released soon after that went nowhere..
Jones then released “Why, Baby, Why” , produced by Daily, in the summer of 1955 resulting in his first hit. it peaked at #4 on the Billboard country charts that year before being eclipsed by Webb Pierce and Red Sovine doing a version of the very same song (things were done differently back then.)
Then came the 14 number one country hits, multiple Male Vocalist of the Year and Duo of the year awards with Tammy Wynette, 4 Grammys, a tumultuous marriage with Wynette, hundreds of bottles of bourbon and enough controlled substances that would make Keith Richards flinch. Many missed performances (branding him “No Show Jones” by promoters) and one infamous arrested for DUI while riding on a John Deere lawn tractor and a legacy was established.
in the 80’s Jones and many of his contemporaries found themselves ostracized from Music City in the wake of the Urban Cowboy phenomenon, which led the country music industry to pursue the contemporary pop elements of the day. Sound familiar? Through most of the 80’s and 90’s his career had stalled by the new economics of Nashville big labels. Though playing in smaller venues people that knew of his place in history continued to attend how shows. Many of these people brought their kids along. A few of those kids probably make up the Americana performers I now cover.
Jones was nearly through half of his farewell “The Grand Tour,” when, on April 18, he was admitted to Nashville’s. Vanderbilt University Hospital with fever and irregular blood pressure. This morning, April 26, 2013, I received an email from TMZ that Jones had died. Wikipedia had not been updated with his news and his tour dates were still listed on Ticketmaster, so I was skeptical. But almost one minute later the news was confirmed by an email from Jones publicist. The man Frank Sinatra once said was the “second best singer in this country…” was dead.
Jone’s final concert was to be held on November 22, 2013, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The show sold out far in advance and Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Shelby Lynne, the Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Jamey Johnson, Lorrie Morgan, Randy Travis and Gene Watson. Tanya Tucker and many others were to join jones for the for the event. Whether the show carries on in his absence is yet unknown.
Personally I was fortunate to see Jones perform in 2007. Visibly weakened and unable to play guitar dut to recent surgery, he performed on with those majestic standards
in front of an rapt Carnagie hall audience. We knew we were in the presence of history. As opener Kris Kristofferson stated during his lone acoustic set, ‘George Jones is the only person alive I’d open for.”
i met Jones briefly last year after he shared the stage with the Allman Brothers, Glenn Campbell and Diana Ross for the lifetime Achievement Grammy awards. i was kind and smiled as I gushed and he posed for what must have been his millionth fan pic. What a gentleman. It made me happy to know he was still part of the world I was part of. I am sadder today.
Americana artists like Kelly Willis and Caitlin Rose and Holly Williams, Country music legends like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Charlie Daniels, and contemporary country artists Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton flooded twitter with their sentiments and memories. As I write this #GeorgeJones is still trending on Twitter. Fitting for a man that once released an album entitled “High-Tech Redneck.”
Here’s my small tip-of-the-hat to a man who, along with Hank Williams, defined not only country music’s style, but it’s moral complexities mirrored in the best of it’s narratives.
UPDATE: George Jones’ funeral will took place on Thursday, May 2nd at The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, it was open to the public. People lined up 24 hours beforehand to get in.
“George would have wanted his fans and friends everywhere to be able to come and pay their respects along with his family,” said publicist Kirt Webster.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to the Grand Ole Opry trust fund:
Opry Trust Fund
2804 Opryland Drive
Nashville, Tennessee 37214
or to the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum at http://store.countrymusichalloffame.com/categories/Donate/
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME® AND MUSEUM
222 FIFTH AVENUE SOUTH
NASHVILLE, TN 37203
George Jones’ funeral will take place on Thursday, May 2nd at The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, starting at 10 am (Central) and will be open to the public. Doors will open at 9 am.
In addition, national television networks CMT, GAC, RFD, and FamilyNet, as well as local Nashville stations WKRN 2, WSMV 4, WTVF 5, WZTV 17 will broadcast the funeral service “LIVE”, with radio partners WSM 650AM and SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse (Ch. 56) broadcasting the service. Fans around the world can listen online at wsmonline.com or watch online at opry.com.
“George Jones, Admired and Copied Country Singer, Dies at 81” – New York Times
“George Jones Dead at 81” – Rolling Stone