'Possum' leaves behind unique legacy

Apr 26, 2013

The drinking made the headlines, but George Jones will be remembered most for his voice.

Audio transcript

George Jones, the Texas country music performer often described as having the best-ever voice for country music, died this morning in Nashville at the age of 81.

A native of Southeast Texas, Jones was born in Saratoga, grew up in Vidor and began recording in Jasper when he was still a teenager.

Jones scored his first of what would be 14 number-one country hits in 1959, with “White Lightning,” a song about moonshine. Throughout his career, Jones struggled with alcoholism. In the 1970s, he was often called "No-Show Jones" for his frequent failure to appear in scheduled concerts. Jones famously drove a riding mower to buy alcohol when his wife had hidden all the car keys. And while Jones’ drinking was a frequent topic of jokes, his personal and professional life did suffer as a result.

From 1969 to 1975 Jones was married to fellow country artist Tammy Wynette. Their passionate but conflict-plagued partnership was a reliable source for music-news headlines until the couple finally split up.

Jones’ music was characterized by his distinctive intonation and phrasing, which stayed the same even as country music styles changed. His first hits in the 1960s, like "Tender Years" and "She Thinks I Still Care" were straight-up honky-tonk tunes. In the 1970s, Jones followed the slickly produced "countrypolitan" sound in fashion at the time. He topped the charts in 1980 with what might be his most famous song, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

The man whose less-than-dashing looks earned him the nickname "The Possum" left behind a legacy  of tear-jerkers and good-time songs rivaled only by other giants in the field, such as fellow Texan Waylon Jennings, who once said “If we could all sound like we wanted to, we’d sound like George Jones." For KETR News, I’m Mark Haslett.