Country Star George Jones Dies : The Two-Way Starting in 1959 and for decades after, he recorded some of country's greatest songs, including "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Jones was 81.
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Country Star George Jones Dies

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Country Star George Jones Dies

Country Star George Jones Dies

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.


GEORGE JONES: (Singing) Tell me why, baby, why, baby, why, baby, why you make me cry, baby, cry, baby, cry, baby, cry.

CORNISH: A defining voice of country music is gone. George Jones died today in Nashville at age 81. He had hit songs going back to the 1950s, a voice that conveyed heartbreak better than anyone and an influence felt well beyond the boundaries of country music. Our co-host Melissa Block visited with George Jones a few years back and has this remembrance.


JONES: (Singing) Walk through this world with me, go where I go.


We visited at his estate south of Nashville and after our interview, sat for some pictures in white rocking chairs on his front porch. George Jones was impeccably turned out, with ostrich leather shoes and that famous perfectly coiffed swoop of silver hair. But here's what I remember best. All of a sudden, he made a goofy face, poking a piece of gum out of his mouth and cracking us all up.

His nickname was the possum.

JONES: I guess I look like a possum a little bit. I didn't like it at first, but then I kept looking in the mirror every morning. I said, good god, you got them little beady eyes. It don't bother me no more, though. They still - I said, well, just go right and call me whatever you want to.

BLOCK: When I talked with him in 2010, George Jones was still performing about 90 concert dates a year. Retirement was unthinkable.

JONES: We don't want to lay down and give up just 'cause we're old. Young people think we're crazy. Oh, one morning you'll wake up and look in the mirror like I did and say, what in the devil happened? Woo, where did it go? Oh, Lordy.


JONES: (Singing) Mighty, mighty feeling, that's what's calling sweetly, Shh, white lightning.

BLOCK: George Jones was the youngest of eight kids born in a log house in the big thicket, East Texas, during the Depression. No electricity, but they did have a battery-powered radio. And if you want to figure out where George Jones' voice comes from, he'll tell you it all started there, drifting in over the static.

JONES: The only music we ever listened to out in the piney woods was Roy Acuff and the Grand Ole Opry. That was the only night of the week I was allowed to lay in the middle of the bed with mama and daddy, just long enough to hear Roy 'cause then I had to go back to bed.


ROY ACUFF: (Singing) What a beautiful thought I am thinking...

JONES: After that, along came Hank Williams.


HANK WILLIAMS: (Singing) I'm so lonesome I could cry.

JONES: And then, Lefty came along.

BLOCK: Lefty Frizzell.

JONES: And he was so different, you know.


LEFTY FRIZZELL: (Singing) Always late with your kisses.

JONES: My lord, he'd take a word and twist it around and the way he would do that phrasing, that just tore me up.

BLOCK: George Jones was 22 when he got his first record deal. It was 1954, Starday Records in Beaumont, Texas, with producer Pappy Daily.

JONES: Pappy Daily came in there and said, George, I've heard you sing like Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, let's see, Lefty Frizzell, I just want to know one thing. Can you sing like George Jones? I said, well, I thought you wanted to sell some records.


JONES: (Singing) Find myself another 'cause there ain't no money in this deal. I mean it, baby, there's no money in this deal.

BLOCK: Whatever it is, the alchemy of Roy, Hank and Lefty mixed with his own wrenching ache, George Jones can pull and bend notes till they make you hurt. Listen to him drape his voice here.


JONES: (Singing) Just because I hang her number by mistake today, she thinks I still care.

BLOCK: It often sounded like George Jones was singing through clenched teeth, as if holding back the pain. And there was plenty of that - decades of hard drinking, drug addiction, violent rages.


JONES: (Singing) He embarrasses his child and his wife. Lord, he leads a miserable life. But still he thinks the bottle is his right hand.

BLOCK: There was bankruptcy, rehab that failed, marriages that failed, most famously with his longtime singing partner, Tammy Wynette. All the hard stuff filtered into his songs.

JONES: I'm crazy over a ballad, you know, one that's got a story and it's different, you know, from something you've heard before.

BLOCK: Which brings us to this, a song about unrequited love taken to the grave.


JONES: (Singing) He said, I'll love you till I die. She told him, you'll forget in time. As the years went slowly by, she still preyed upon his mind.

BLOCK: After George Jones finished recording this song, he told producer Billy Sherrill it was too morbid.

JONES: I said, Billy, I love the song, but I said, it ain't going to sell. It's too sad. But anyhow, how wrong could one person be? That turned out to be the signature song of my whole entire career.


JONES: (Singing) He stopped loving her today. They placed a wreath upon his door. And soon they'll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.

BLOCK: When people think of George Jones songs, a lot of time as being songs about heartbreak, songs about pain.

JONES: Yeah, it's not that you're unhappy when you're doing a ballad, it's just that I try to live the song. During that three minutes or whatever it is, oh, lord, you know, you try to step in that person's shoes. It seems, for some reason, the words tell you right away that you know how they feel.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Jones, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for letting us come visit you.

JONES: Thank you all for being so nice. I do appreciate very much you all coming.

BLOCK: That's George Jones from our visit in 2010 at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. George Jones died today at age 81. I'm Melissa Block.


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