I’m a fan of what I call “real” country music: Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, and so on. When country is authentic, it is a reflection of the lives and stories of working class whites (although, like blues and jazz, that isn’t an exclusive distinction).
My absolute favourite country singer is George Jones, who died yesterday at the age of 81. While he can do the “high lonesome” twang in his upper ranges, primarily it is the rich baritone that thrills. He had a 40 year career of drinking and drug use, but it didn’t seem to affect his instrument – it may have even improved it.
He eventually quit the booze and drugs and managed to live to 81. I’m not sure his friends and fans would have predicted that. He didn’t die young like Hank Williams and that kind of proves the point that an early death isn’t all that is necessary to become a legend.
I’d suggest two songs as an introduction to his music. If you listen once to The Race is On, you will never get the chorus out of your mind for the rest of your life. Listen carefully to the lyric – it’s really quite clever. You’ll also be amazed at the number of syllables he can articulate clearly at speed.
The Grand Tour is my favourite ballad. It’s a story song that you might think is hokey. Yet, the lyrics are apt and Jones’ voice gives the tragedy a special quality. You might even shed a tear.
BTW, the best baritone and I think the best male singer of the 20th Century is Sinatra.