Country great George Jones died today. Jones was a living legend of country music, famous for his distinctive, wailing voice, memorable song lyrics, his marriage to Tammy Wynette, and those sideburns.
A Texas native, Jones encapsulated nearly every stereotype of a country star. He was married twice before the age of 24 and wasted no time in becoming notorious for his hard-living lifestyle. His well-known affinity for drugs and alcohol came through in his songs, as did a melancholy, desperado outlook on life.
The New York Times has branded Jones “the definitive country singer of the last half-century.” “His singing,” according to the Times, “was universally respected and just as widely imitated.”
Trying to imitate George Jones is akin to trying to reproduce Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley or replace John Wayne. There will never be another like him, and maybe that’s why contemporary country stars have given up altogether.
Modern country is good, but it’s a different animal. Gone are the days of Waylon, Willy, and the boys. What’s replaced the likes of Merle Haggard (still on tour) in the mainstream is still very country by modern standards. (Rihanna and Jay-Z don’t sing about “about mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.” Well, maybe the latter two.)
What plays on country stations today is more formulaic, more refined, and decidedly less raw. But there’s still loads of talent — “King George” Strait, obviously, and Randy Travis, for starters. And more recently, Kip Moore, Toby Keith, Chris Young, Tim McGraw, Eric Church, and Blake Shelton, to name a few, are all worthwhile.
Gritty country music, known as “outlaw country” may be a thing of the past, but impressions of traditional country can still be found in Texas country — a genre of music unique to the Lone Star state. Texas country takes its lyrical content seriously, and is beloved by its devotees for its traditional sound. Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band, and Josh Abbott Band are popular examples, and perfect for a summer playlist.