For all of George Jones' so-called sinning, he surely earned a ticket to heaven for his contributions to the country canon. When his soul ascended on April 26, 2013, the world lost a voice that no one would deny was the greatest ever to grace country music. From the mid-1950s until his passing, he was the ultimate exemplar of the country croon and the honky-tonk holler; his keening tenor could cut through a wall of producer Billy Sherrill's strings on a lushly appointed '70s countrypolitan classic, or slip the subtlest shadings of emotion into a barroom ballad. His was a rare vocal gift matched only by a handful of other singers; besides fellow country legends like Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jones has the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday for company on the extremely short list of his peers.
When the New Traditionalist movement began to emerge in the '80s, championing the old-school country values that seemed to have become an endangered species at the time, the tried-and-true twang in the voices of its leading lights (Randy Travis, George Strait, Keith Whitley) was the aural embodiment of Jones' influence. And in the early '90s, when the honky-tonk-influenced sound of artists like Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn disproved the notion that Nashville was strictly for slick, poppy "hat acts," their fire was stoked by a lifetime of listening to Ol' Possum himself.
But Jones' impact was felt far beyond the confines of country music. Not only were the late '60s/early '70s pioneers of country rock (Gram Parsons, Michael Nesmith) schooled in his singular style, the same generation's most electrifying rockers (Neil Young, The Rolling Stones) were huge Jones fans as well, and the influence would manifest itself throughout their careers. Even when a new breed of rock 'n' roll rebels took the reigns in the wake of punk, their ranks included Jones disciples like Elvis Costello (who would eventually record with George) and cowpunk heroes Social Distortion.
While the pervasive pop and rock influences that have come to define a huge swath of 21st-century country might seem immune to the influence of Jones, there will always be true believers like Jamey Johnson and Joe Nichols to fly the hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, all-night roadhouse-rocking flag emblazoned with Ol' Possum's image. And as long as humans have ears, the hardcore honky-tonk roar of "White Lightning" and the mournful moan of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" will still inspire new artists to grab for the gusto that overflows in perpetuity from the George Jones discography. Here's a celebration of all the great music that came in his wake.