The country legend they called ‘Possum’ was born on 12 September 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, and is still seen by many as the greatest singer in the genre’s history. We must be talking about George Jones.
Jones was an incredible presence on the country scene for nearly half a century, from his first hit ‘Why Baby Why’ in 1955 to his last entry to date, ‘50,000 Names,’ in 2002. Along the way, George scored 13 No. 1 singles, including such indelible classics as ‘She Thinks I Still Care,’ ‘We’re Gonna Hold On’ and ‘Near You’ (with his wife Tammy Wynette) and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’
Many of them, especially once he had become a beloved favourite of the country fraternity, were only enhanced and made that much more real by his well-publicised issues with substance abuse, problems in his marriage to Wynette and other challenges.
Possum’s influence on his peers was as deep and as lasting as that on his faithful audience. “George Jones is still my favourite singer,” said Waylon Jennings in 1971. “I think he’s the greatest singer that’s ever been, man. I don’t think anybody can outsing George Jones.”
Nor was his presence felt only within country. Rock giants sang his praises far and wide, from Bob Dylan to Keith Richards to Elvis Costello to Linda Ronstadt, who said in 1974: “My favourite artist is George Jones. That guy’s so good, almost as good as Ray Charles.”
Costello recorded with ‘Possum,’ as did Richards, who had become a particular fan during his friendship with another devotee, the late Gram Parsons. Keith writes about the later duet, ‘Say It’s Not You,’ in his autobiography, Life. “George was a great guy to work with, especially when he had the hairdo going.” he said. “Incredible singer.”