"Wrenching Ballads of Disintegrating Love": George Jones

George Jones (centre) with Roy Acuff, 1950s
"His recordings that will endure are about
the permutations of sorrow"
George Jones, seen by many as the greatest male country singer since Hank Williams, died on April 26, 2013, aged 81.

 "George Jones was twenty-four, had been singing in gutbucket bars in Texas for years and was already a twice-married former housepainter, shoe-shiner and soda-truck driver when the up-tempo "Why Baby Why" became his first top-five country hit, in 1955.

However, it is the slow songs, wrenching ballads of disintegrating love, like "A Good Year for the Roses" and "She Thinks I Still Care" that serve him best. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a camp dirge to unrequited love that, in Jones' hands, becomes the song that many consider country music's greatest (see below). It's the way he lingers on a word, kneading it for a sadness you didn't know was there, which transforms ordinary, even trite lyrics into something intensely moving. Couple such phrasing with the sprawling registers and pellucid sound of a voice that lost none of its nasal timbre as it deepened with age, and you have a formidable instrument for expressing despair.

 . . . The same morose impulses that imbued his music with lush, sorrowful feeling, could plunge Jones into real despondency that he found difficult to shake. His description of what it was like for him to sing a Hank Williams song applies to most of his repertoire: "It makes you sad because you're singin' all those sad words, about how a man can hurt a woman and a woman can hurt a man, until you're just like the people in the song, and you're living it and and their problems become your problems, until you're lost in the songs and it just takes everything out of you." 

. . . The great passion of Jones' life was his third wife and duet partner, Tammy Wynette, who described him as "one of those people who can't tolerate happiness" . . . His recordings that will endure are about the permutations of sorrow: the ways people adjust their hopes as time grows shorter, how you get through a life you never planned on, the way abiding misfortune feels and how you get used to it, what it's like to be left behind. And what he means when he says of record companies "They've taken the heart and soul out of country music" is that they've removed the pain."

(from In The Country of Country by Nicholas Dawidoff, 1997)

"He Stopped Loving Her Today" (live performance, 1993):

In his earlier, less varnished style, "Please Take The Devil Out of Me", 1958: