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George Jones, RIP

by Cyndi Hoelzle

George Jones, RIP

About this playlist

George Jones, one of music's greatest treasures, died at a Nashville hospital his morning. He was 81.

Jones was the epitome of country singers. It wasn't just the technical abilities of his voice -- it was the way he could bend it, clenched and anguished, conveying emotion like no other.

In his 60-year-career, he recorded more than 150 albums, and had no. 1 hits in five decades. His admirers included Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello, Pete Townshend and every living country singer.

Jones started his career in the mid-'50s as a brash honky-tonker, with rollicking songs like "The Race Is On" and "White Lightning." But his talent was never fully realized until he partnered with Billy Sherrill, who added lush arrangements to heart-wrenching songs like "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

Sherrill later said that the recitation in the song wasn't recorded until 18 months after the vocal, because Jones was always too messed up to do it. "I had been able to sing while drunk all of my life," wrote Jones in his 1996 memoir. "I'd fooled millions of people. But I could never speak without slurring when drunk. What we needed to complete that song was the narration, but Billy could never catch me sober enough to record four simple spoken lines." Even after it was done, he told Sherrill, "Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a bitch." "He Stopped Loving Her Today" turned out to be his most enduring song. Jones' exploits are legendary, even immortalized in song. Vince Gill sang about the infamous incident when Jones' then-wife, fellow country star and duet partner Tammy Wynette, took his car keys after a bender… so Jones fired up the riding mower to ride into town for a drink. There were drugs, drug busts, fights and missed shows (which earned him the nickname "No Show Jones," a moniker he wore proudly).

With the help of his fourth wife, Nancy, Jones cleaned up and settled down. Just now, he was in the middle of a yearlong farewell tour when he cancelled two shows last week, and was admitted to Vanderbilt hospital. He'd been hospitalized several times this year, and each time we held our breath. This time he was admitted for fever and high blood pressure. "Just a precaution," we all thought. His death was a shock, and the news spread hard and fast.

What was to be his final concert, scheduled for November 22 in Nashville, sold out weeks ago. Announced guest artists included Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley, Billy Ray Cyrus, Don McLean and Cyndi Lauper, along with more than 40 other acts. No official word yet, but my guess is that the show will go on. George would have wanted it that way.

Listen along with our extended playlist tribute to a country music legend.

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