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It was late at night near the tail end of his latest bender, and a middle-aged George Jones was, naturally, looking to keep the party going. Unfortunately, his wife, looking to prevent the man considered country music’s greatest singer from another drunken debacle, had hid all the keys to all their cars. So in true country fashion, Jones drove the couple’s one remaining vehicle, a 10 horse power tractor, to the town’s liquor store eight miles down the road and later wrote about it in a song.
The tractor story was one of many that shaped the legend of the country music icon. Jones, famous for singing fourteen No. 1 hits, passed away Friday night in Nashville. Much of the music you (should) listen to this week was either sung, influenced or directly inspired by the man they called “The Greatest Living Country Music Singer.”
Born in Texas in 1931, son of George Washington Jones (yes, that really was his father’s name), the younger Jones was getting advice from Hank Williams as a 16-year-old. He didn’t attend college (he was involved in a little skirmish called the Korean War), but shortly after his return to the states in the mid-1950s he had established himself as a popular country singer.
During his success, Jones became as famous for his off-stage performances as for what he did on stage. While recording “White Lightning,” his famous ode to moonshine, Jones showed up to the studio so hammered that it took him 80-minutes just to record his vocal part for the three-minute song. The song’s bassist hands became so blistered trying to play behind Jones that he threatened to beat him up if he didn’t get the song right.
During the height of his popularity, he once accepted $2,500 in advance for a concert. He used the money to throw a massive party beforehand, got too shitfaced to perform and then literally flushed the rest of the money down a toilet. Because of crazy shit like that, he earned the clever nickname “No Show Jones,” a moniker he embraced so much he put it on his license plate.
His clever use of vehicles to fulfill his drinking habits may be his most famous characteristic. It also continued for much of his life. While the tractor story became country music lore during his second marriage, his third wife said she would also sometimes wake up at 1:00am to find Jones gone. She would then drive to the local bar and find a John Deere tractor parked out front.
In the meantime, Jones managed to top the country music charts for over three decades and influence countless other artists. Later, country icons like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Vince Gill all expressed admiration for Jones during their careers and also teamed up with him for a song in 1992. Jackson honored Jones during his concert on April 26 in Atlanta. Brantley Gilbert mentioned Jones in “Dirt Road Anthem,” which later became a smash hit on Jason Aldean’s cover version. Johnny Cash called him his favorite singer.
As you enjoy this week, take a sip for George Jones, the man who perfected the lifestyle many try to achieve and who gave the world the perfect music to do it.
Image via Stereogum