George Jones biography
George Jones was born on September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas, into a very poor family. So poor, in fact, that he sang on the streets as a child. Jones began recording country music in the 1950s. His first hit was "Why Baby Why," which he recorded in 1955. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, and continued to write hit songs into the 1980s. He died on April 26, 2013, at age 81.
Remembered as one of country music's all-time greatest stars, George Glenn Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas, on September 12, 1931, and grew up poor in East Texas. He was one of eight children, though his older sister, Ethel, died before he was born. His father was an alcoholic who would sometimes get violent. "We were our daddy's loved ones when he was sober, his prisoners when he was drunk," Jones later wrote in his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All.
Jones and his family shared a love of music, often singing hymns together. They also enjoyed listening to the radio, tuning into programs from the Grand Ole Opry. A music lover from the start, Jones taught himself to play guitar. He began performing in the streets and dive bars of Beaumont, Texas, in his early teens.
George Jones started out singing on the radio with a friend, working at a station in Jasper, Texas, and then headed back to Beaumont. In 1950, he got married to Dorothy Bonvillion. The couple had a daughter, Susan, before splitting up a year later. The break-up, according to some reports, was caused by Jones's explosive temper and excessive drinking. After the divorce, Jones joined the U.S. Marines and served during the Korean War, but never went overseas.
In 1953, Jones landed a deal with Starday Records. The label's co-owner, Pappy Daily, became his producer and his manager—a partnership that would last for years. Jones also tried his hand at another type of partnership around that time. In 1954, he married Shirley Ann Corley. The couple had two sons, Jeffrey and Brian. After a few failed singles, Jones made the country charts with the up-tempo number on heartbreak, "Why Baby Why," in 1955. More hits soon followed with "What Am I Worth," "You Gotta Be My Baby" and "Just One More." In 1959, Jones had his first No. 1 hit with the comical song "White Lightning."
In the early 1960s, Jones established himself as one of country music's top crooners. He sang many songs of heartbreak, including 1960's "Window Up Above" and 1961's "Tender Years." The balladeer reached the top of the charts in 1962 with "She Thinks I Still Care," one of his trademark tunes. A year later, he teamed up with Melba Montgomery for the first of several recordings. Their biggest hit together was "We Must Have Been Out of Minds." Showing his lighter side, Jones recorded "The Race Is On."
Jones worked with Gene Pitney on another duet project in the mid-1960s, but his greatest collaborative work came together toward the end of the decade, when he met and fell in love with fellow country star Tammy Wynette. Following his divorce from his second wife, Shirley, in 1968, Jones and Wynette wed in 1969. Not long after, they began making music together.
Breaking ties with Pappy Daily, Jones began working with Billy Sherrill, one of Wynette's producers. Sherrill added a certain polish to Jones's sound.
Behind the scenes, Jones battled with drug and alcohol abuse. He and Wynette had a tense, combative relationship, but they projected an image of being country music's reigning king and queen. They scored several hits with their duets, notably "The Ceremony" and "We Can Make It," the latter of which proved to be a bit of misnomer, as Wynette filed for divorce shortly after the song's release. The couple tried to reconcile, recording "We're Gonna Hold On," but while the song made it to the top of the country charts, Jones and Wynette continued to struggle. They had a daughter, Tamala Georgette, in 1970, but their relationship continued to spiral downward thereafter.
Jones's heartache seemed to seep out of his 1974 solo hit, "The Grand Tour," a gut-wrenching ballad about the end of a marriage. He and Wynette divorced the following year. Oddly enough, Jones and Wynette continued to work together, recording hits like 1976's "Golden Ring."
By the mid-1970s, Jones was falling apart both physically and emotionally, as the years of drinking and abusing cocaine had begun to take its toll. He became unreliable and unpredictable, disappearing without any notice and failing to show up for recording sessions and concerts. With all of the cocaine use, Jones dropped a substantial amount of weight, becoming a mere shadow of his former self.
Despite these dark times, Jones managed to make some interesting music. He recorded a popular duet with James Taylor, "Bartender's Blues," in 1978. He then landed back on the top of the charts with 1980's "He Stopped Loving Her Today," from the album I Am What I Am, Jones's biggest seller to date. In 1982, Jones teamed up with another country legend, Merle Haggard, for A Taste of Yesterday's Wine.
In 1983, Jones began to abandon his self-destructive ways. He married Nancy Sepulvada that year, and later said that her love helped him want to straighten up his act. He had some successful duets around this time, among them "Hallelujah, I Love You So" with Brenda Lee and "Size Seven Round (Made of Gold)" with Lacy Dalton. As a solo artist, he enjoyed several popular singles from his 1985 album Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes, including its title track. His last solo Top 10 country hit came in 1989 with "I'm a One Woman Man."
While he remained a darling of country music critics, George Jones seemed to be pushed off the radio in the 1990s by a new generation of stars. This new wave of country artists, including Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain, produced a slicker, pop-influenced sound. Jones may not have been generating hit singles, but he continued to produce some strong-selling albums in the '90s. In 1995, he reunited with Wynette for One. Around this time, Jones gave readers an inside glimpse into all of his troubles and triumphs with his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, published in 1996.
In 1999, Jones broke into the country album chart's Top 10 list with The Cold Hard Truth. That same year, it appeared that he had relapsed after getting into a serious car accident while intoxicated. He later claimed that the incident straightened him out for good.
More recently, Jones reunited with Merle Haggard for 2006's Kickin' Out the Footlights...Again. He became the subject of a tribute album, God's Country: George Jones and Friends, that same year. Vince Gill, Tanya Tucker and Pam Tillis were among the artists covering some of Jones's biggest hits, and Jones himself contributed a track to the recording. In 2008, he put out Burn Your Playhouse Down, a collection of previously unreleased duets with Dolly Parton, Keith Richards and Marty Stuart, among others.
In his later years, Jones continued to maintain a rigorous tour schedule, playing numerous dates across the country. After winning induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, he received the National Medal of the Arts in 2002. A decade later, in 2012, he garnered one of the greatest honors of his career: a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Death and Legacy
George Jones died on April 26, 2013, at the age of 81, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, after reportedly being hospitalized with irregular blood pressure and a fever.
With a career spanning more than 50 years, Jones is regarded as a country music icon, one of the genre's all-time greatest stars. His clear, strong voice and his ability to convey so many emotions won over thousands of fans, as well as the envy of his peers. As fellow country star Waylon Jennings once said, "If we could sound the way we wanted, we'd all sound like George Jones."