THERE ARE few country singers who haven’t tried to imitate George Jones, but there was only one, an authentic, legendary country singer.
“Not everybody needs to sound like a George Jones record, but that’s what I’ve always done, and I’m going to keep it that way – or try to.” – Alan Jackson
Mr. Jones, who was nicknamed Possum for his close-set eyes and pointed nose, and later No-Show Jones for the concerts he missed during drinking and drug binges, was a legendary figure in country music. His singing, which was universally respected and just as widely imitated, found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk. With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.
In his most memorable songs, all the pleasures of a down-home Saturday night couldn’t free him from private pain. His up-tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude, and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation. “When you’re onstage or recording, you put yourself in those stories,” he once said.
As Mr. Jones sang about heartbreak and hard drinking, fans heard the echoes of a life in which success and excess battled for decades. [...]