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Deep in the timbre of a George Jones song, you can hear the soul of country music. The absolute purity of Jones's vocals assures that his style will never go out of fashion. George Jones

Jones is a Country Music Association male vocalist of the year representing a range of two decades---he won in 1962 and 1963, when the award was still voted on by country disc jockeys, and in 1980 and 1981. He sings from the most cobwebbed corners of his heart. His textured voice reveals tension, with authoritative range running like a railroad train between honky-tonk and sorrow.

Jones's trademark is his playful country flutter. he downcasts vocal lines for drama before immediately climbing the scale. This is what emphasizes tension in his 1986 classic, "Wine-colored Roses."

Jones was born on September 12, 1931, in rural Saratoga, Texas. "I never played guitar until church, although when I was very young, I sung around the house," Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times in a rare 1988 interview. "My Sunday school teacher taught me my first chords on a guitar. I would go with Sister Annie and Brother Berle Stevens into this little town called Kuntz, Texas. Every Saturday afternoon, we'd sit inside the car with loud speakers on the outside. Sister Annie would play guitar and I'd sing harmony with her or she'd sing harmony with me."

His mother, Clare Jones, was very religious and played organ and piano in church. His father, George Washington Jones, was a hard-living truck driver and pipe fitter. On the side, he played a little "square dancin' guitar," as Jones puts it. Clara was a Pentecostal who often shielded young George and his six brothers from the fallout of their father's drinking binges.

As a youngster, Jones listened to the Grand Old Opry on KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. Hank Williams, Sr., came to town in 1949 to play live on KRIC. Williams sang "Wedding Bells" with Eddie and Pearl, the husband-and-wife house band that featured an excitable 19-year-old George Jones on electric guitar. Jones was so hyper about playing behind Williams that her never hit a note.

"Hank sat and talked with us like he knew us his whole life," Jones told the Sun-Times. "I worshipped him. His style was all in the feeling. He could sing anything and it would make you sad, but an up-tempo thing could make you happy."

And Jones's early recordings were happy. In 1953, the year Jones was discharged from the U.S. Marines, he signed with the Houston-based Starday lable, for whom her recorded hits such as "Why Baby Why" and "Uh Uh No." But what followed were raw rockabilly singles, such as "Rock It" and his own version of "Heartbreak Hotel" (recorded under the pseudonym Thumper Jones to avoid upsetting traditional country fans). In fact, Jones's first number one record , "White Lightning" (on Mercury Records), was written by rockabilly star J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959.

"I feel bad about it nowadays," Jones said in 1988. "I feel bad because I love country music so much. I tried to buy up all the old Starday masters so people couldn't hear them anymore. It was such a bad sound."

George Jones with Glenda Paradee
George Jones with Glenda Paradee of Thanks for the Music

After several years with Mercury, Jones moved to United Artists Records and had Top 10 hits like 1962's "She Thinks I Still Care," 1963's "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" ( a duet with Melba Montgomery), and a 1964 pop crossover with "The Race Is On." In the 1970s Jones sang with artists as diverse as Johnny Paycheck, James Taylor, Ray Charles, and of course his ex-wife, Tammy Wynette.

One can chronicle the turbulent Jones-Wynette marriage through the high-strung hit singles they had as a duet: 1972's "Take Me," 1973's "Let's Build a World Together," and 1980's "Two Story House." Jones and Wynette became the parents of a daughter, Georgette. In 1975 Wynette divorced Jones after seven years of marriage.

Unfortunately, Jones acquired his father's taste for alcohol. After missing 54 concerts, he earned the nickname of "No-Show Jones." He filed for bankruptcy in 1979 and checked himself into a hospital. He attempted to dry out again in 1982, but in 1983 he was arrested in Mississippi for cocaine possession and public intoxication. The next day he flipped his car and nearly killed himself. His weight had dropped from 160 to 105 pounds. Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard tried to sing some sense into Jones by writing the song, "George, Put Down That Drink."

The terminally shy Jones credits much of his survival to his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulveda Jones, whom he married in 1983. The Louisiana native met Jones in 1980 at a Jones concert in upstate New York. Jones has been sober since 1986.

In March 1983 Nancy and George Jones left Nashville to open "Jones Country Music Park" near Beaumont. "It saved my life and everything else," Jones said in a 1991 biography for MCA Records. In 1988 Jones was ready to put his full effort back into recording and he sold the park and moved back to Nashville.

"You've done this for so many years, you just enjoy being out there in front of those people," he said in his record company biography. "As long as they like me, I'll do it 'til I die."

STATS

Born: September 12, 1931; Saratoga, Texas

First hit: "Why Baby Why" (1955)

Other notable hits: "White Lightning" (1959), "She Thinks I Still Care" (1962), "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" (with Melba Montgomery, 1963), "The Race Is On" (1964), "Take Me" (with Tammy Wynette, 1972), "Bartender's Blues" (1978), "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (1980), "I Don't Need No Rockin Chair".

Awards and achievements: Country Music Association (CMA) Male Vocalist of the Year (1962, 1963, 1980, 1981); Grammy, Best Country vocal Performance, Male (1980); CMA Single of the Year (1980); CMA Music Video of the Year (1986), plus more.

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