No Show No More

Country music is almost extinct. Patsy Cline, the most dominant female voice in country music history has been gone since 1963, and now the most storied male voice has been silenced. George Jones died this morning in Nashville at the age of 81. If Hank Williams was the King of Country Music, then Jones, because of his sterling voice and reckless lifestyle, was an equally powerful titan. His death, preceded by those of Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens leaves Merle Haggard as the final voice of real country music left alive.

I last saw Jones sing in June of last year when he was fresh from a hospital stay and yet the man still had it. Gulping his breath, and instinctively choosing when and where to push his voice, he gave a performance that had the audience standing and weeping by the end. When he came to the hiccup gimmick in one of his signature songs, “White Lightnin,’ ” he hit it perfectly, just like he was 25 years old again and full of vigor. No one will ever have his idiosyncratic gift for dramatic phrasing or that high, yearning tone. Or for that matter his equally effective low, wounded moan. And no one, in any genre of music, will ever tell a story in song, particularly when it comes to the subject of heartbreak, like George Jones.

Fortunately, there is much to remember him by; the man’s recording catalog is vast and deep. His recordings with producer Billy Sherrill on Epic Records in the 1970s, headlined by the hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” are cited by many as his most successful and most commercial highlights. They are lushly produced, so much so that at the time of their release they were derided for being too slick. Today, up against the badly recorded, overdriven pop rock slush that masquerades as country music, they sound positively restrained. His earliest recordings on Starday are rougher, more traditional country music, all fiddles and pedal steel, yet even then that voice, although higher and more nasal, was astonishing. Early on he also co–wrote a number of country classics including "Tall, Tall Trees" and "Why Baby Why." Jones and his band The Jones Boys even made a live recording, Live at Dancetown USA, that is a rare glimpse into the post–war world of long neck beers, fistfights and all night dancing in a honky tonk that today, is a rich slice of long gone music history. Jones embraced that wilder side of life with the same gusto he put into his music. His bouts with the bottle and other drugs were long–lived and hard fought. His years with singer Tammy Wynette were more title fight than actual marriage. Unlike the rock ‘n’ roll universe where elders are celebrated (and continue to pack stadiums), in country music, the pioneers are not worshipped as they should be. In my estimation every year, at both country music award shows, CMA and ACM, Jones should have been asked to stroll out and take a bow— just because. Now that opportunity has passed. At his concerts, he was always introduced as, “The Living Legend” and until today he certainly was.

“I've always said that someday I was gonna leave you.
Some April when all the land is wet.
Some spring, summer, fall, lord, or maybe winter.
I'll leave someday but I'm not ready yet.”

From “I’m Not Ready Yet” written by Tom T. Hall but most memorably sung by George Jones.

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COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

I never saw him live, but I was in Wheeling for a Tammy Wynette show, in the third row, and for Stand By Your Man she walked to our row and looked my direction. I looked away and she grabbed the man next to me for a little pseudo-dance while she sang the song. Before that song she talked about the disparity between her love for George and why she wasn't apparently Standing By Her Man. I doubt there were many men in the audence who didn't empathize with her.

Country music today is just the veneer without the content. Hank Williams was asked once about being a country singer and replied (quote approximate): "You has to have seen a lot of Alabama over the back side of a mule to be a good country singer". But country music has always suffered a self-conflict in Nashville, because even though some of the hosts and members of the Opry would indeed empathize with the redneck sensibilities of many of the old stars, the more upscale folks who managed the recordings and distribution were always pulling a slightly different direction.

I heard Haggard a couple of times in the late 70's, and he and his cohorts were phenominal musicians then. There were some great shows there in Wheeling, and a few bad ones. The sound system was painfully bad sometimes. When I arrived home from the military in late 1969, I visited Edfred's records in downtown Akron, and Edfred was spinning Okie From Muskogee for a young lady who was obviously a hippie and not appreciating the sentiments of that song. That was an unforgettabe moment. I was not a fan then, and wasn't until 5 years later.

The recorded sound of many of my favorite country songs is splendid with a great sense of space, songs like Girl On The Billboard or Colorado Coolaid or the original Okie From Muskogee - I wish all modern pop recordings were as good.

burnspbesq's picture

"leaves Merle Haggard as the final voice of real country music left alive"

Did Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell die without my hearing about it?

drjjpdc's picture

You're joking right, about RC and GC being anywhere near George's level.

Now if you were talking about Vince Gill's voice, I might be more agreeable. :)

John

Poor Audiophile's picture

especially "“He Stopped Loving Her Today” as well as some of the other older "Country", though I have a passion more for "Bluegrass" which is somewhat related. I'm surprised to see George written about here. "...badly recorded, overdriven pop rock slush that masquerades as country music..." Such a great description of modern "Country"! Yuck!

drjjpdc's picture

Robert,

I could not pick out  just one favorite by George. But this is one of my favorite duets!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHd7ZiL2-XE

John

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