George Jones, considered by many to be the greatest country singer of all time, died Friday morning at the age of 81. Longtime fan and friend Garth Brooks, who recorded a duet with Jones in 2001 called “Beer Run (B Double E Double Are You In?)” in 2001, shared his memories of the singer with Billboard this afternoon.
“My dad first exposed me to George Jones. The great thing about the greatest singers is they touch you: It was the Beatles; it was Janis Joplin. There are certain people that just cut through formats, so it doesn’t matter whether you like country music or not. With Jones, it touches you and that puts him in the class of a handful of artists of all genres.
“The first George Jones songs I remember hearing were probably ‘Root Beer,’ ‘Running Bear’ or ‘White Lightning.’ Because I was a child those were the more upbeat things from him and the more fun things from him. Maybe that’s why I gravitated more towards them instead of things like ‘A Picture of Me Without You’ or ‘The Grand Tour.’
“My time with Jones in the studio was very hard for me, probably maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done [Brooks’ voice grows husky with emotion] I had to act like … it’s your guy, [but] I just was trying not to be a fan, I was just trying to be somebody that was in the music industry with him. And it was just tough, it was tough to just see that guy without a cape. But now I’ve got bragging rights forever. You don’t want to miss that opportunity, but just at the same time it was so hard because I look at Jones so differently than I do probably anybody else, other than Haggard. I think I can describe that day: it was the least I’ve ever been pissed off at getting out-sung. It was an honor to get my ass kicked that day.
“We were having some kind of mechanical problem in the studio so we’re standing by the microphone and I asked him, ‘While I’ve got this chance, I’m going to ask you: So, who was your hero? Who was your Jones?’ And I was stunned: Roy Acuff was his guy. Heard him on the radio, wanted to be him. Jones just worshipped him and looked up to him. I guess everyone has their idol and what he told me that day was Acuff was his.
“I think some people were born to do certain things. George Jones was born to sing country music.
“I would like to thank God and [Jones’ wife] Nancy Jones for Jones being around this long. I don’t think I would have gotten to sing with him if it wasn’t for Nancy. She’s an angel.”