Singer idol­ized for golden voice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Chris Tal­bott

NASHVILLE — Ge­orge Jones, the peer­less, hard-liv­ing coun­try singer who recorded dozens of hits about good times and re­grets and peaked with the heart­break­ing clas­sic He Stopped Loving Her To­day, has died. He was 81.

Jones died Fri­day at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Nashville, ac­cord­ing to his publi­cist Kirt Web­ster. He was hos­pi­tal­ized with fever and ir­reg­u­lar blood pres­sure, forc­ing him to post­pone two shows.

With one of the most golden voices of any genre, a clenched, pre­cise, pro­foundly ex­pres­sive bari­tone, Jones had No. 1 songs in five sep­a­rate decades, 1950s to 1990s. He was idol­ized not just by fel­low coun­try artists, but by Frank Si­na­tra, Pete Town­shend, Elvis Costello, James Tay­lor and count­less oth­ers. “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like Ge­orge Jones,” Way­lon Jen­nings once sang.

In a ca­reer that lasted more than 50 years, “Pos­sum” evolved from young honky-tonker to el­der states­man as he recorded more than 150 al­bums and be­came the cham­pion and sym­bol of tra­di­tional coun­try mu­sic, a well-lined link to his hero, Hank Wil­liams. Jones sur­vived long bat­tles with al­co­holism and drug ad­dic­tion, brawls, ac­ci­dents and close en­coun­ters with death, in­clud­ing by­pass surgery and a tour bus crash that he only avoided by de­cid­ing at the last mo­ment to take a plane.

His fail­ure to ap­pear for con­certs left him with the nick­name “No Show Jones,” and he later recorded a song by that name and of­ten opened his shows by singing it. His wild life was re­vealed in song and in his hand­some, trou­bled face, with its dark, deep-set eyes and dim­pled chin.

In song, he was rowdy and re­gret­ful, ten­der and tragic. His hits in­cluded the sen­ti­men­tal Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, the foot-tap­ping The Race is On, the foot-stomp­ing I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair, the melan­choly She Thinks I Still Care, the rockin’ White Light­ning, and the barfly lament Still Do­ing Time. Jones also recorded sev­eral duets with Tammy Wynette, his wife for six years, in­clud­ing Golden Ring, Near You, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and We’re Gonna Hold On. He also sang with such peers as Wil­lie Nel­son and Merle Hag­gard and with Costello and other rock per­form­ers.

But his sig­na­ture song was He Stopped Loving Her To­day, a weeper among weep­ers about a man who car­ries his love for a woman to his grave. The 1980 bal­lad, which Jones was sure would never be a hit, of­ten ap­pears on sur­veys as the most pop­u­lar coun­try song of all time.

Jones won Grammy awards in 1981 for He Stopped Loving Her To­day and in 1999 for Choices. He was elected to the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2008 was among the artists hon­oured in Wash­ing­ton at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

In 1983, Jones mar­ried his fourth and fi­nal wife, Nancy Sepul­veda, whom he cred­ited with sta­bliz­ing his pri­vate life. He had four chil­dren, one with first wife Dorothy Bonvil­lion, two with sec­ond wife Shirley Ann Corley and one with Wynette.

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