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"George might show up flyin' high, if George shows up at all
But he may be, unconsciously, the greatest of them all
From the Beatles and me in Nashville, to the 'billies and the Rolling Stones
If we all sounded like we wanted to, we'd all sound like George Jones."

 - Waylon Jennings, “It’s Alright”
George Jones, who passed away today in Nashville at the age of 81, will always be the undisputed master of country music. Jimmie Rodgers may have invented country music and Hank Williams brought it out of the honky-tonks into the American mainstream, but George Jones, for me and generations of others, was country music, a true American icon.

George Jones' life and musical career was a rocky road - epic battles with alcoholism, four marriages including a storybook marriage to fellow superstar Tammy Wynette that crashed and burned in the tabloids, drugs, bankruptcy, missed concerts, backslides, comebacks and more than one serious brush with death – but Jones not only survived, he put it all to the service of a smooth, melancholy voice of both awesome technical ability and an unparalleled emotional clench. George Jones was idolized not just by his fellow country artists but by singers from all genres from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Costello.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is Jones’ tragic masterpiece, but listen also to “A Good Year for the Roses”, “She Thinks I Still Care” or "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" to hear but a suggestion of Jones' artistry. Can a song about alcoholism and a broken heart also be funny? When George Jones sings “The King Is Gone (So Are You)”, it can - funny and defiant and heart-breakingly sad.

George Jones performed at the first Farm Aid benefit in 1985, was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and was the recipient of a Kennedy Center honor in 2008.

"I don't want to completely quit because I don't know what to do with myself," he said in 2005. "I'll be out there as long as the people want me to be out there."

And want him they did. George Jones was scheduled to perform tomorrow night in Huntsville, Alabama.

Rest in peace, George. Thanks for seven decades of great music.

Originally posted to Richard Riis on Fri Apr 26, 2013 at 09:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by An Ear for Music and DKOMA.

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