If I ranked my favorite genres of music country would be near the bottom, but there are certain artists that transcend genre and exude greatness that has universal appeal. Country music legend George Jones was one such artist. I saw Jones live years ago at our local fair. He was an hour late (of course) but once he took the stage under the tent-lights all was forgiven.
Jones died earlier today at the age of 81. The tributes are coming in, including this one from Baptist minister Russell Moore: "George Jones: Troubador of the Christ-Haunted Bible Belt". Moore touches on the paradoxical genius of a musician with one foot in the honky-tonk and the other in the church-house.
Some may see hypocrisy in the fact that Jones sang gospel songs. The same emotion with which he sang of drunkenness and honky-tonking, he turned to sing of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus Makes Things Right.” He often in concerts led the crowd in old gospel favorites, such as “Amazing Grace” or “I’ll Fly Away.” But I don’t think this is hypocrisy. This is not a man branding himself with two different and contradictory impulses. This was a man who sang of the horrors of sin, with a longing for a gospel he had heard and, it seemed, he hoped could deliver him. In Jones’ songs, you hear the old Baptist and Pentecostal fear that maybe, horrifically, one has passed over into the stage of Esau who, as the Bible puts it, “could not find repentance though he sought it with tears.”
For me and for many others Jones' 1980 hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is the archetypical country music song, and arguably one of the great American songs of all time. It's representative of a kind of music that grew organically from the stories and soil of this great land, just as jazz and blues did. A song like this will never die. Sit back and enjoy.