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George Jones: Country's living legend...

 Legends in today's America are set up only to be brought down again and again by cynics leading the charge toward a life of mediocrity. The people we think of as legends have come down a long and winding path fraught with a lot of trouble and pain. We like to think our heroes have learned from this stress. Many times, though, we see our heroes struggling to make things right in their own lives and failing at times. This has been the story of the life of one of country's living legends, George Jones.

Born in a log cabin in an East Texas town called Saratoga on September 12, 1931, George didn't come into the world grabbing at the fabled silver spoon. His family came through some very hard times during Jones' childhood. However, their musical tastes did introduce George to the music of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Lefty Frizzell. These guiding influences would show George the proper way to put his country talent to best use.

Jasper, Texas was the first place George's voice hit the airwaves via KTXJ-AM. George and a friend sang for one of the local shows. A year later he began to sing backup for the married duo Eddie and Pearl. Singing in Beaumont, Texas with this duo gave George the only opportunity he ever had of meeting his country idol, Hank Williams. Williams happened by KRIC-AM in Beaumont promoting one of his shows.

The '50s came, and so did George's first marriage. His first wife, Dorothy Bonvillion, divorced George a little more than one year later asserting an addiction to alcohol and a violent temper compelled her to end their relationship. Many legal and personal problems followed George after this time. This lack of focus for George made him look for guidance in the United States Marine Corps.

George's hitch with the Marines ended in 1954 with a return to Houston. It was here he recorded his first record entitled, 'No Money In This Deal', in the home of local label owner Jack Starnes. George's first top 5 hit, 'Why Baby Why', released in 1955 was recorded on this local label, called Starday. Right after this, George made the move to Nashville and Mercury Records. The move seemed to pay off, since hits like 'Color Of Blues', 'White Lightning' (1st #1, 1959), 'Who Shot Sam' and 'Tender Years' followed.

Nineteen fifty four also saw George marry once again to Shirley Ann Corley after a 2 week engagement. This marriage ended in 1968.

The 1960s saw George move to the United Artists and Musicor labels. This was the time such George Jones' classics like 'She Thinks I Still Care' and 'The Race Is On' were released.

The end of the Sixties gave George several wonderful things. One of them was the love of Tammy Wynette and her family. Another one was Tammy's talent which he collaborated with on the country classics 'We're Gonna Hold On', 'Golden Ring', 'Near You' and 'Two Story House'. Though Jones and Wynette divorced in 1975, they still collaborated on several musical projects.
Epic Records signed George to a deal in 1971, and this is where he started working with talented country producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill, who was also producing for Tammy Wynette at this time, put together most of the successful, Jones/Wynette duos. Hits like 'the Grand Tour', 'A Picture of Me Without You' and 'Bartender's Blues' were shining products of Sherrill's strong, gentle guidance.

The 1980s saw George make a slide down a slippery slope to potential destruction. Addiction to drugs and alcohol made George miss several performances, earning him the nickname 'No Show Jones. But more than that, George's addictions made many fear for his life. Strangely enough, George recorded one of his signature tunes during this time, 'He Stopped Loving Her Today', which hit number one in 1980. George also won CMA's Male Vocalist of the Year Award in 1980 and 1981. Still the worries of many in country's tight community hung tight around him.
George's recovery started to come about with his marriage to Nancy Sepulvado. He also signed a new deal with MCA Records. This has led to more than a few hits for George, like 'Rocking Chair' and the recent classic 'Choices'.

The song 'Choices' is a perfect illustration describing learning from the successes and mistakes almost every single person makes in life. George has made quite a few. Editorial: It is thought these choices deemed imperfect by the rest of the world in a made rush to be politically correct in all things has led to George's semi-banishment from radio. While there are some people that won't admit this (in public, at least), the specter still haunts George. The last bad choice George made was driving impaired, and doing some serious damage to a bridge in Williamson County, Tennessee, as well as a new Lexus SUV. While no one wants to appear to condone that kind of behavior, when George came clean he paid the dues he owed. The 1999 Country Music Association Awards show saw many of country's newest and finest gathered in the Ryman Auditorium to pat each other on the back for a great year of great music. But George wasn't in attendance. The problem came when George wanted to sing the song 'Choices' with all the verses. The event managers wanted George to limit the tune to one or two verses. He found this as unacceptable and chose not to attend the CMAs. During his performance, CMA Male Vocalist of the Year Nominee Alan Jackson segued from his song during the awards to the Jones' hit, 'Choices'. Alan followed this by walking offstage, guitar in hand, ignoring the rule of not walking offstage while the cameras are trained on the stage. After the awards Alan told those who asked why he walked the plain and simple truth that if George had died in his SUV accident, they would have done a 10 minute tribute to him. But this night they didn't even want to give a live George Jones 3 minutes.

The common theme of the CMA Awards communicated by all who received awards was a need to stick close to country's roots. George is part of that system of roots that goes down deep. His talent will last longer than any short sighted politically correct agenda.

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Photo by Beth Gwinn. More of her work here...