The man who has been heralded as the greatest country singer of all time, George Glenn Jones, 81, died today, April 26, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville after being hospitalized with fever and irregular blood pressure a week ago.
Born Sept. 12, 1931, Jones is commonly regarded among the most important and influential singers in American popular music history. Prior to his April 18 hospitalization, Jones had embarked on his farewell tour, which was to conclude with a sold-out, star-packed show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on November 22, 2013, where Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Sam Moore, The Oak Ridge Boys and many others were set to perform at his Bridgestone show.
A Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member and Kennedy Center honoree, Jones enduring hits include “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Grand Tour,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “Tender Years” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the latter of which is often at the top of industry lists of the greatest country music singles of all time.
Bob Allen, in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s “Encyclopedia of Country Music,” described Jones as “a singer who can soar from a deep growl to dizzying heights, he is the undisputed successor of earlier natural geniuses such as Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.”
According to an April 26 correspondence from his PR representative, Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas, and played on the streets of Beaumont for tips as a teenager. He went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning to Texas and recording for the Starday label in Houston, Texas.
In 1955, his “Why Baby Why” became his first top-10 country single, peaking at No. 4 and beginning a remarkable commercial string. In all, Jones ultimately recorded more than 160 charting singles -- more than any other artist in any format in the history of popular music.
His first No. 1 came in 1959 with “White Lightning,” a Mercury Records single that topped the Billboard country charts for five weeks. He moved on to United Artists and then to Musicor, notching hits such as “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Race Is On,” “A Good Year for the Roses” and “Walk Through This World With Me.”
In '71, Jones signed with Epic Records and worked with producer Billy Sherrill to craft a sound that was described as "once elegant and rooted," and scored with “The Grand Tour,” “Bartenders Blues” and many more. Sherrill also produced duets between Jones and his then-wife, the legendary Tammy Wynette, and in the 1970s they scored top-charting hits including “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and “Near You.”
By the time “Golden Ring” and “Near You” hit in 1976, Jones and Wynette were divorced, and Jones was battling personal demons. His solo career cooled until 1980, when he recorded “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a ballad penned by Curly Putman and Bobby Braddock that helped Jones win Country Music Association prizes for best male vocal and top single. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” revived a flagging career, and Jones won the CMA’s top male vocalist award in 1980 and 1981. He also earned a Grammy for best male country vocal performance.
In 1983, Jones married the former Nancy Ford Sepulvado. The union, he has repeatedly said, began his rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol and prolonged his life. He signed with MCA Records in 1990 and began a successful run, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. His guest vocal on Patty Loveless’ “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me” won a CMA trophy for top vocal event in 1998, and it became his final top-20 country single.
In 1999, Jones nearly died in a car wreck, but he recovered and resumed touring and recording. He remained a force in music until his death, playing hundreds of shows in the new century and collecting the nation’s highest arts award, the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement, in 2008. In late 2012, Jones announced his farewell tour.
Jones is survived by his loving wife of 30 years Nancy Jones, his sister Helen Scroggins, and by his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. No funeral arrangements had been announced at this writing.