I was still in high school when I first heard the name George Jones. At the time he was an up-and-coming songwriter, but it didn't take long before the powers that be in Nashville took notice of that one of a kind voice and vocal style and took him in a recording studio to begin one of the most legendary careers in the history of the music business.
George was probably the most imitated country singer of all time and you can hear a little of the Possum in the vocal styles of scores of young singers who have come along in the last fifty years or so, but nobody ever came close to doing it like the man himself.
With young singers who tried to emulate George Jones, it was an affectation, while with George it was a God given natural talent that affected his phrasing, his pronunciation and the melancholy timbre of a voice that had a quality that touched the solemn emotions hidden deep inside all of us.
George did things with his voice that nobody else would ever even think about, he'd hold on to a word, teasing it, turning it and make you wonder where he could possibly be going with it, but just at the right second it he'd turn it loose and just make you smile and admire.
Billy Sherrill, George's record producer, once told me that he was the only person he ever heard who could make a five-syllable word out of "church."
George Jones' voice was the rowdy Saturday night uproar at a backstreet beer joint, the heartbroken wail of one who wakes up and finds the other side of the bed empty, the far off lonesome whistle of a midnight train, the look in the eyes of a young bride as the ring is placed on her finger, the memories of a half asleep old man dreaming about the good old days, lost love, lost innocence, good and bad memories and experiences that are just too much for a human being to deal with.
He sang for us all: the non-stop partiers, the guy who is always alone, the girl done wrong, the puppy lovers, the extrovert, the introvert, the guy at the end of the bar who never seems to go home, the happy, the unhappy - and everyone in between. George had a song for everybody.
He had the quintessential blue-collar voice and his life was an open book. He had his problems through the years, but it seemed that every bump in the road only endeared him to his legions of fans and made him seem a little more like one of us with the same faults and weaknesses as ordinary folks.
He never strayed from his roots, never tried to go with trends or fads or sound like the next big thing coming off Music Row. He just kept on being George Jones, and in this modern day of follow-the-leader, cookie cutter, "whatever radio will play" sameness,
George stood head and shoulders above the fray, kept right on doing it his way and we all loved him for it.
Now he's gone home. He joins the ranks of the greatest of the great. Like Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe, as long as there's country music, he'll never be forgotten.
We're going to miss you, Mr. Jones.
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