Country singer. Born September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas. Jones was the youngest of eight children born into a poverty-stricken family. He grew up in Beaumont, Texas, where he was exposed to gospel music at the local Pentecostal church. As a teenager, he began performing in taverns and dance halls (better known as honky-tonks), where he met the single greatest influence of his life—country legend Hank Williams. Jones often made $20 a day, and he soon realized that his love for music could be profitable as well.
In 1949, Jones married his childhood sweetheart, but the short-lived union ended before the birth of their first child in 1951. After the couple’s divorce, Jones was jailed for his failure to make child-support payments. Shortly after, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he spent two years stationed in California. In 1953, he returned to Beaumont, and recorded his first single. Initially his sound was criticized because it mimicked Hank Williams’ style. He eventually developed his own voice and released a succession of singles that fared well, but failed to make him a household name outside of Texas.
In 1955, Jones released the song “Why, Baby, Why,” the first of over 60 singles that he placed on the Country Top Ten charts over the next four decades. The following year, he released his first album titled George Jones Sings. On the strength of the album’s success, Jones was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1957, he became a member and subsequently moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1959, Jones released his first number one single “White Lightning,” which stayed at the top of the country charts for five consecutive months. The success of “White Lightning” certified Jones as a star.
By 1960, Jones continued to make huge professional strides with a number of hits, including “The Window Up Above,” “The Tender Years,” and “She Still Thinks I Care.” During this period, he also developed a heavy addiction to drugs and alcohol, which heightened his violent tendencies. He acquired a reputation as a maniacal drunk, often trashing hotel rooms and brawling with others.
Jones notoriously bad behavior only enhanced his songs. In 1969, he released “Walk Through This World,” which shot to number one. The song was about rising country star Tammy Wynette, whom Jones married later that same year. He adopted her three children and, with his three from a previous marriage, they became a large extended family.
Jones and Wynette made 10 albums together and many of their singles became chart toppers, including “We Go Together,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” and “We Loved It Away.” However, their songs represented a special blend that united them only on stage and in 1974 the duet ended their stormy marriage.
During the late ‘70s, the death of Jones’ beloved mother coupled with the breakup of his marriage sent him careening toward disaster. He began to drink heavily and a slew of lawsuits were filed against him for missed concert dates. Later on, Jones poked fun at his image by writing a song titled “No Show.” As the decade came to a close, Jones was hospitalized for severe alcoholism and addiction to cocaine. His extravagant lifestyle caused him to accumulate a large amount of debt and he was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Ironically Jones’ biggest hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980), came at his lowest point. The single was an instant success, winning every major award, including the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. The heart-wrenching ballad, which appealed to everyone, was deemed a quintessential country classic. The year 1980 also marked the release of the LP I Am What I Am, which further renewed interest in Jones’ career.
Eventually Jones kicked his drug habit with the unconditional support of his current wife Nancy Sepulvado. In 1992, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although drinking binges and drug addictions frequently interrupted his successful streaks of hit songs and gold records, Jones was still considered the “Rolls Royce” of country singers. His songs increasingly reflected the turbulence of his marriages and his struggles with alcohol and drugs. His skill at conveying heartbreak and headache established the standard against which modern country music is measured.
Jones’ most recent albums include High Tech Redneck and Bradley Barns Sessions, which featured duets with Trisha Yearwood and Travis Tritt. In 1996, he published a soul-bearing autobiography about his life, titled I Lived to Tell it All. Within the last few years, Jones has released many collections of his greatest hits, including 16 Biggest Hits (1998), and The Millennium Collection (1999).
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