In many ways George Jones was just like any other country singer: He drove too fast, he drank too much, he chased women, he led a reckless life.
But in the important ways he was unlike any other country singer, ever: He took risks, he charted new paths, he tried to learn from his mistakes, he worked hard to clean up his act and he humbled himself before God.
Beyond all that, George Jones developed the most distinctive sound in country music. He was blessed with a unique voice -- a voice of surprising range which made you feel a man's struggle and heartache. Beyond whatever manly bravado he may have had, George Jones wasn't afraid to be vulnerable.
When Jones sang "I Stopped Lovin Her Today" you felt a true sense of loss and the heavy weight of a broken heart. Through his phrasing, his timing, the cadence of his words and the depth of his voice, George Jones conveyed the tearful, weary burden of a hardscrabble life.
But he was able to sing upbeat and honky tonk tunes as well. Instinctively, he was a great musician and a superb artist -- so much so that the public (led by his ardent fans) forgave him a multitude of sins and transgressions not the least of which was showing up late for concerts or not showing up at all.
Quite a few years ago we had a chance to see George Jones perform at the Grand 'Ole Opry. We did not have the best seats in the house but any seats were coveted seats when George Jones was on the bill. Jones did two songs by himself (including "I Stopped Loving Her . . . ) and one with the great gospel singer Vestal Goodman. He thanked Vestal for helping him through a difficult time in his life and for leading him to Christ. Then, together they sang "Mansion Over the Hilltop" (above) and it brought tears to our eyes.
A middle-aged man still dressed in his work clothes sat in front of us with his young son. When Jones' set was over the applause was loud and sustained. Finally, when it quieted down, I leaned over and said to the father: "I hope this boy knows he saw history here tonight."
"Oh, yes sir, he does," the father answered. "He certainly does."
George Jones was historic because he was transcendent.
He was bigger than country music.
He was an entertainer of legendary proportions -- an artist who touched your heart.
But he never forgot his roots.
George Glenn Jones was born Sept. 12, 1931, in a log cabin near Saratoga, Texas, in the heart of the oil-drilling country of Southeast Texas' heavily-wooded Big Thicket.
It was Jones' own co-written "Why Baby Why" in 1955 that put him on the country music map.