George Jones

George Jones

George Glenn Jones was born Sept. 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas. Raised by an alcoholic father and a legendarily patient mother, he sang for tips on the streets of nearby Beaumont as a kid. He became good enough to earn himself spots on local radio in the late 1940s, beginning with KTXJ in Jasper and then moving on to KRIC in Beaumont. It was while singing at the latter station that he met, albeit briefly, one of his idols -- Hank Williams -- who was there to promote a show.

Jones married Dorothy Bonvillion in 1950, his first of four wives. They divorced about year later. After that, Jones joined the Marines and served in Korea. In 1954, he cut his first record, "No Money in This Deal," for Starday Records. That same year, he married Shirley Ann Corley. That union lasted until 1968, the year before he married Tammy Wynette. His marriage to Wynette ended in 1975. He married Nancy Sepulveda, who also became his manager, in 1983.

Still on Starday, Jones had his first chart hit in 1955 with "Why Baby Why," a song he co-wrote. It reached No. 4 in Billboard. In 1956, he scored a No. 3 on Starday with "Just One More." From Starday, Jones moved to Mercury, where he experimented with rockabilly under the name "Thumper Jones." He had his first country No. 1 on Mercury in 1959 with "White Lightning." In 1961, he hit No. 1 again with "Tender Years" and "She Thinks I Still Care." Later in the '60s, on the Musicor label, his singles consistently hit the Top 10. He returned to the top of the charts again in 1967 with "Walk Through This World With Me." During the 1960s, Jones recorded and charted a series of duet singles on Mercury, United Artists and Musicor with Margie Singleton, Gene Pitney, Brenda Carter and, most notably, Melba Montgomery.

Jones' marriage to Wynette led him to her label, Epic Records, and a 20-year association with producer Billy Sherrill. His first duet single with her, "Take Me," went to No. 9 in 1972. He had two No. 1 solo singles in 1974, "The Grand Tour" and "The Door." With Wynette, he scored No. 1 singles with "We're Gonna Hold On" (1973), "Golden Ring" (1976) and "Near You" (1977). Prized as a duet partner, he charted singles between 1978 and 2001 with James Taylor, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, Lacy J. Dalton, Shelby Lynne, Randy Travis, Sammy Kershaw, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. To date (including his duets), Jones has had 13 No. 1's and 30 Top 5s.

Despite his identification with somber songs, Jones has also shown a fondness throughout his career for lighthearted and novelty tunes, beginning with "White Lightning" and continuing through such frothy fare as "The Race Is On," "Love Bug," "Milwaukee, Here I Come," "(We're Not) The Jet Set," "God's Gonna Getcha (For That)," "Her Name Is," "Old King Kong," "When You're Ugly Like Us (You Just Naturally Got To Be Cool)," "C.C. Waterback," "We Didn't See a Thing," "The One I Loved Back Then (The Corvette Song)," "I'm a One Woman Man," "The King Is Gone (So Are You)," "A Few Ole Country Boys," "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair" and "High-Tech Redneck."

Jones kicked off the 1980s with one of the greatest country records of all time, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which won him single of the year honors from the CMA in 1980 and 1981. It also earned him a Grammy that same year for best male country vocal performance. The CMA named him male vocalist of the year in 1980 and 1981. In the years that followed, he also won CMA trophies for top music video ("Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," 1986) and vocal event of the year ("I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," 1993; "You Don't Seem To Miss Me," with Patty Loveless, 1998; and "Too Country," with Brad Paisley, Buck Owens and Bill Anderson, 2001).

In 1991, Jones signed with MCA Records, an event MCA Nashville president Tony Brown said was "like signing Elvis." In 1992, the CMA recognized Jones' monumental career by electing him to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, he asked country radio to keep its ears open to established country stars like himself. He proved his point shortly thereafter with a hit video "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair" and a new, cutting-edge album HighTech Redneck. (The title track won a CMA Award.) He followed with the highly acclaimed acoustic album, The Bradley Barn Sessions, and a reunion album with Wynette, One.

Famed for excessive drinking throughout most of his career, Jones set something of a record in 1979 when he missed more than 50 concerts and picked up the nickname "No Show Jones." He battled his addiction with varying degrees of success throughout the 1980s and appeared to have conquered his drinking problem in the 1990s. Then, in 1999, he was seriously injured when he wrecked his car near his Nashville-area home. Police called to the scene found a partly empty bottle of vodka in the car. He was convicted of impaired driving, fined and sentenced to undergo treatment. There have been no such incidents since.

In the wake of that final car crash, Jones released a powerful ballad called "Choices," which climbed to the middle of the singles chart. It received a CMA nomination for single of the year in 1999, but the awards show producers refused to let Jones to sing the entire song on the broadcast, citing time constraints. In an all-or-nothing move, Jones declined the invitation, though Alan Jackson surprised the audience by tacking on a chorus of "Choices" at the end of his own performance that night, earning a standing ovation. Jones' performance of the song won a Grammy.

While his chart presence was diminishing in the '90s, Jones had been writing his autobiography with celebrity chronicler Tom Carter. "I really enjoyed working on it," he said. "I didn't think I would. I put it off for five, six, seven years, but even though I wouldn't do it, Tom kept gathering material hoping I would change my mind. I finally got tired of hearing things that I'd done blown out of proportion. I wanted to set the record straight." The book I Lived to Tell It All, published in 1996, quickly became one of Jones' greatest hits, reaching No. 6 on The New York Times bestseller list.

As a guest vocalist, Jones cracked country radio's Top 30 twice in the 2000s -- first on the Garth Brooks duet, "Beer Run" (2001), and on Shooter Jennings' "4th of July."Jones released The Rock: Stone Cold Country in 2001 and The Gospel Collection in 2003. Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't from 2005 found Jones looking back over the years and picking songs that he originally declined to record, but were hits for the other artists (with the exception of a new recording of "He Stopped Loving Her Today"). In 2006, he released a duets album with Merle Haggard titled Kickin' Out the Footlights ... Again.