Saturday, April 26, 2014

Who's gonna fill George's shoes?

“If we could all sing like we wanted to, 
we’d all sing like George Jones.” 
–Waylon Jennings

I'm not a fan of country music, especially the current manufactured sounding songs and artists that are popular (and that goes for any genre). I have a soft spot for the old country music, thanks in part to my awesome grandparents, with whom I've listened to George Jones and the likes all my life. On April 26, 2013, however, my love for George grew into something special. It was the day he passed away, and a radio station was playing nothing but George. I wondered why I had been missing out on listening to George all my adult life, on my own, not at my grandparents' house! He sang with heart. His love songs with Tammy tugged at the heart strings. It wasn't until I read up on George that I learned of his hard and troubled life, and, of course, that only made me love him more.

George Glenn Jones was born September 12, 1931 in a small Texas town. When George was seven, he heard country music for the first time when his parents bought a radio, and he was given a guitar when he was nine. He would stay awake late on Saturday nights just to hear Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff on the Grand Ole Opry. His father was a terrible alcoholic, and when he drank, he was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children. George said, "We were our daddy's loved ones when he was sober, his prisoners when he was drunk." George's father would come home late at night, drunk, and wake up the entire family and make young George sing for them. George left home at 16 to work for a radio station in another Texas town, and in 1950, he married his first wife, Dorothy, though they divorced a year later. Around this time, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and was stationed in San Jose, California until his discharge in 1953. 

Twelve year old George on the streets of Beaumont, Texas

The Possum in the Marines

In 1954, George married Shirley Ann Corley after only 2 weeks of dating and together they had 2 sons, Jeffrey and Brian. When it came down to it, neither one knew what they were getting into with the other. George had his heart set on becoming a country star, and Shirley was set against it. George cut his first record, No Money In This Deal for Starday Records also in '54. George was also working at another radio station in Beaumont, Texas at this time, where he acquired the nickname The Possum, simply because of his looks, his long turned up nose and his small eyes. He was affectionately called Possum all his life. George's first hit came in 1955, Why Baby Why, and he began performing on the Louisiana Hayride with the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. When Elvis became popular with his rockabilly sound, George was pressured into taking on the style as well. Rockabilly wasn't George's style, though. He recorded a couple of rockabilly songs under the assumed name Thumper Jones, because he didn't want his real name on anything that wasn't good. 

George, left, with James O'Gwynne in 1956 
on the Louisiana Hayride

George, right, with friend Johnny Paycheck on stage

His first Billboard number one came in 1959, White Lightnin', which George admitted in his autobiography he recorded drunk, taking 80 takes to do. In the 1960s, he recorded hits like She Thinks I Still Care and a duet with Melba Montgomery, We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds. During this period, he was already becoming well known for either not showing up to his scheduled concerts or showing up under the influence of a great deal of alcohol. This alcoholic behavior would continue throughout the 1970s and gain him another nickname, No Show Jones. After 13 rocky years of marriage, and after George was coming unglued, he and Shirley divorced in 1968.

George married his third wife, fellow country singer Tammy Wynette, in 1969. They recorded an abundance of songs together, and although George was more sober at times than in previous years, he still was an alcoholic. It eventually led to the demise of his marriage to Tammy in 1976. 

George with wife and duet partner, Tammy Wynette

Tammy and George chat with Merle Haggard and wife Bonnie Owens

Audrey Winters, Little Richard, Tammy and George

George and Tammy with their daughter, Tamala Georgette.
Georgette was born in 1970.

George and Georgette in the 1980s

After the divorce, George ran rampant. To add to his constant drinking, a manager introduced him to cocaine. George, broke and homeless, filed for bankruptcy in 1978. A year later, he entered a psychiatric hospital. Although he was still drinking upon his release, he managed a comeback in 1980. The song He Stopped Loving Her Today came out in April and shocked the world with its huge success. Soon after, he met and married Nancy Sepulvado who he credits with turning his life around for good. She took care of his financial situation, she kept him away from anyone providing him with drugs, and she helped him stop drinking for the most part. They had a love that lasted the rest of his life.

"It wasn't love at first sight or anything like that. But I saw what a good person he was,
 deep down, and I couldn't help caring about him."

The beautiful Nancy at George's memorial/gravesite
in Nashville.

George has been hailed as one of, if not THE greatest country singer who ever lived, by Garth Brooks, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. There will never be another one like him. 

"He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today."

Rest easy, Possum.

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