The George Jones Memorial (And Those Of His Friends)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013 06:38 AM Written by 

George Memorial-11-18-13Photo Mark Humphrey, AP

The George Jones biography I'm writing obviously has an ending, but the coda to his life came into focus this week.  I knew the simple gravestone there after he died April 26 would be replaced by something more elaborate, but just how elaborate became clear Monday, when his widow Nancy unveiled the George Jones gravesite at Nashville's Woodlawn Cemetery.  The Associated Press photo above, taken at the ceremony, shows her seated at the memorial.

To call the new memorial elaborate is…putting it mildly.  It includes an arch with the title of his best-known hit, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," an American standard beyond the country idiom, and includes his nickname, "The Possum," picked up during a brief time in the 50's when he was just starting to make records, and worked as a DJ at KTRM in Beaumont. It's a shortened version of the full name bestowed on him by musician and DJ Slim Watts: "George P. Willicker Picklepuss Possum Jones."

Friday, an all-star tribute to Jones will take place at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena (with a big screen outside for those unable to get in). Nancy, his fourth wife and the force who brought him out of the booze and cocaine-fueled tailspin that nearly killed him from the late 70's into the early 80's, also announced a college scholarship in his name at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfeesboro. It's aimed at young people needing financial help.   George dropped out of school as an adolescent in Beaumont, Texas and initially sang in the streets for tips. It's worth noting that MTSU is also home to the highly-regarded Center For American Music.

Country singers' gravesites are as varied as the singers themselves, and their level of success.  Some country stars, Chet Atkins and Lefty Frizzell among them, have the austere bronze plaques flush to the ground, so common in many cemeteries. Others have had more elaborate monuments to their memory. A few are listed below, linked to the Find A Grave website.

Roy Acuff  a Grand Ole Opry stalwart and one of George's boyhood vocal heroes, has a large monument in Spring Hill Cemetery.

Johnny Cash's at Hendersonville Memory Gardens, is sizable but more understated.

The grave of singer Jim Reeves, who died in a 1964 plane crash near Nashville, is located in a classy park in near Carthage, Texas, under a statue of the singer.

Patsy Cline's grave in Shenandoah Memorial Park outside Winchester is a simple bronze plaque. A memorial bell tower was later erected nearby.

Buck Owens who readily admitted George's vocal influence on him, has a family mausoleum in Bakersfield, proclaiming "The Buck Owens Family" with the less formal "Buck's Place" below it

The resting place of Bluegrass creator Bill Monroe (another of George's lifelong heroes) is located in the small cemetery near his Rosine, Kentucky birthplace, is an obelisk design out of another time. The graves of his parents and fiddler "Uncle Pen" Vandiver, Monroe's maternal uncle who became a musical mentor, are nearby.

Marty Robbins and Webb Pierce have elaborate bronze plaques over their gravesites with information.

Waylon Jennings, interred in Phoenix, rests under a smaller, black granite stone.

The closest thing to George's memorial has to be the Hank Williams gravesite in Montgomery, Alabama, where both Hank and his ex-wife "Miss Audrey" (Hank Jr.'s mother) are buried side by side, as if there'd never been a problem.   Hank remained George's # 1 vocal influence. The two actually met in 1949.

So far as size and presentation, George's monument is up there with Hank's, Cash's, Monroe's and Buck's.  Not far away is the simpler grave of George's old friend, former bass player and country star Johnny PayCheck. of "Take This Job And Shove It Fame." Paycheck died broke in 2003. George bought his burial plot.

As a hero and musical role model and touchstone to generations of singers, acknowledged as the Greatest Living Country Singer when he was in his 30's, George Jones merits something of this magnitude. Look forward to seeing it up close soon.

It's a hell of a story. Gotta get back to work…

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