Saturday, 27 April 2013

So farewell, George Jones - you may have hated rockabilly, but you were bloody good at it!

I got to know George Jones's music through other performers. I must have heard his 1965 hit "The Race is On" many times, but I only became aware of it as a George Jones song when Dave Edmunds and the Stray Cats released a full-blown rockabilly version on the diminutive Welshman's 1981 Twangin' album.

Similarly, it was The Big Bopper's version of his self-penned "White Lightnin'" that led me to George Jones's 1959 No. 1 hit cover:

Jones hit the country music scene in the mid-1950s, just when it was being swamped by the emergence of Rockabilly. Like just about every other country crooner who preferred miserable ballads about wrecked marriages and hard drinking and dead dogs, he was forced to give the upstart musical genre a go. He produced some great singles along the way - but he was always ashamed of them, to such an extent that he used pseudonyms (Thumper Jones and Hank Smith) on some of the releases, and tried to physically destroy any of his records from that era when he happened across them in later years. Luckily he didn't manage to track them all down, because they now appear on endless rockabilly compilation albums. Here are the two sides of a belter of a Thumper Jones single from 1956:

But it was three years later with "White Lightnin'" that Jones located his rockabilly mojo. The following year - 1960 - saw the release of two classics: "Who Shot Sam?" and the sublime "Maybe Little Baby".

I couldn't be bothered with the whole drink-and-drug-fuelled "No Show Jones" circus that began in the late 1960s: I find the talent-destroying-itself routine annoying, especially when it drags on for four decades - just imagine if we'd had to suffer the sight and sound of Elvis abusing his genius for another forty years! But, like Elvis, George Jones had a God-given voice that defined a  musical genre, and while I'm not a huge fan of maudlin mainstream country, there's an emotional conviction to Jones's performances that cuts through the schmaltz, as he demonstrated with the ultimate break-up song, "Good Year for the Roses" (1971) - which I only got to know because Elvis Costello recorded a half-decent version in Nashville in 1981:

Back in those pre-You Tube and Spotify days, getting to hear a ten-year old country track wasn't that easy, so I wound up buying a George Jones Greatest Hits album, on which I also found "Where Grass Won't Grow", which is one of the very few songs that actually brings tears of anything other than laughter to my eyes:

How the hell Jones managed to reach his ninth decade is anyone's guess - one assumes his doctors will add the strapline "We got George to 81!" to their advertising in future. Jerry Lee Lewis - the possessor of another of Country's most heart-ripping voices and right up there with Jones on the Self-Destructometer - is 77: if his doctors manage to keep him alive for another four years, they should be awarded a Nobel Prize.


  1. I just love George Jones...from the Louisiana Hayride days on through to the end.

    Hate to see him go but, like you's a miracle he made it as long as he did.

  2. I read somewhere that after a more than usually hard drinking session, GJ's nearest and dearest removed his cars from his house in order to prevent him driving into town (Nashville?) to visit his favourite bar .

    George solved this logistic problem by commandeering a neighbour's golf cart and headed downtown to quench his prodigious thirst.