I had planned this week to write about Willie Nelson, as it is his 80th birthday on Tuesday, but I am afraid that Willie Nelson will have to wait. By now, most, if not all of you, will have heard of the death of one of our greatest country legends, George Jones.
It has come as a bit of a shock to the country world. Yes, he had been admitted to hospital, but he was touring, and I was saving (buying lottery tickets) for his last show in Nashville, and he was planning a final album with Dolly Parton. He wasn’t finished.
George Jones was not a saint, but he wasn’t supposed to be. He overcame addiction, yet the media have focused on this, and I feel as if I am in an emotional battle, predominantly with non country media, that this was not an addict who had died. This was one of the greatest singers of all time – in any genre. I can’t fail to mention He Stopped Loving Her Today. It is time and time again voted as the best country song of all time, and honestly, I don’t think you can fault it.
You can’t pin Jones’ career on just one song. His career spans several decades, from Why Baby Why in 1955, to The Grand Tour in 1974, even up to I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair in 1992. This is a man who has consistently had songs, good songs, in the country charts since the 1950s. It’s pretty impressive, and is entirely unheard of in any other genre.
The country community has risen to the occasion admirably. Messages of support and sympathy are all over the web, musical tributes, photos and personal memories from country artists and fans, and even those outside of the community. The Opry dedicated this weeks shows to Jones, and artists scheduled to perform at the final Nashville concert, have expressed that the show should continue, even as a tribute. I think it would be fitting to remember him in this way. Artists chosen by George, remembering George.
George Jones played a hugely important part in my life. He was one of the first older country artists that I really got into – thanks to being the eponymous character in my favourite song. And he was there, my first time in Nashville. I was touring the Ryman, watching the Trisha Yearwood video at the beginning of the tour, and there he was, on stage, having pictures taken in front of the WSM microphone. It was a surreal experience, being only thirteen at the time, and seeing a legend standing ten yards away.
George Jones was a pioneer of country music. Staying true to his roots, as he liked to say, he was never ‘phoney.’ People have quoted him as the best country singer of all time, Waylon once said that if everyone could sound like they wanted to, everyone would sing like George Jones. He even played with Hank Williams. There will definitely be something missing in Country Music without this legend. I just hope that his legacy and songs long outlive him, and that country music will find someone who just might be able to fill his shoes.