June 12, 2013 12:00 PM

Wife Nancy Jones “We met in New York in 1981. A friend introduced us. I didn’t want to meet him; I didn’t even like country music. But he was kind and so well-mannered. We talked and talked. The next day I flew back commercial and he flew charter, and by the time I got home, he was sitting in my driveway waiting on me. We were together ever since. I knew there was a good guy in there. We just had to reach in and get rid of those demons. He wanted that too. I went through some really hard times with him. But it was well worth it. He learned what happiness and peace could be.”

Vince Gill: “We were great friends. I don’t know why, but he called me Sweet Pea, and the nickname stuck. Anyone who calls me Sweet Pea, I know they’re George Jones nuts. After I had a hit, he and Conway [Twitty] asked me to go on the road with them. George insisted on opening because he wanted to finish as fast as he could and go watch Matlock. That’s the truth. He loved Matlock. I had to follow him, and then Conway closed it. Two of the biggest legends in the business and sandwiched in between was a knucklehead kid with one hit. The concessions did very well during my set. He was always welcoming to young artists, whether it was me and Alan [Jackson] and that crew back then, or the ones making records now. He may not have been crazy about all the records that all the young artists made, but he never let that be a part of how he was. George was a cut above everybody else. There are quarter-backs who throw a football better than anyone, and baseball players who hit a ball better than anyone. George Jones sang country music better than anyone else ever. He is the blueprint for a country singer.”

Joe Bonsall, the Oak Ridge Boys: “We met him when we were opening shows for him and other big acts in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Once when we were working together at the Illinois State Fair, he came on the bus with his guitar and he says, ‘Boys, I just cut a song here. I think it might be a good ‘un.’ He played ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ and we were all just stunned. George never held back anything. He sang it for the four of us like he was singing for 10,000 people. His voice filled the front of that bus, and none of us will ever forget it. In our career we’ve gotten to meet lots of legends, but that moment of George Jones sitting on our bus singing just to us meant more than anything.”

Patty Loveless: “Around 1987 I was opening for Randy Travis, and Randy opened for George. Whenever I talked to him or was around him, I was in awe, but he treated me like I was his kid, like a daughter. He always gave me praise and encouragement. In 1997 I was doing ‘You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,’ and I had already recorded it, but we asked George if he would sing on it. He said yes right away. When he came into the studio to do his part, he started singing and I just wanted to bawl. George Jones was standing right there singing on my record!”

Producer Billy Sherrill: “Johnny Cash said it best. Someone asked him who he thought the world’s greatest country singer was. He thought about it and said, ‘You mean besides George Jones?’ That hit the nail on the head pretty good.”

Kenny Chesney: “When I was starting out, I was picked to open the George Jones/Tammy Wynette Reunion Tour, and I thought I’d made it. One night George asked me if I was heading home, because he and Nancy had a plane and they’d take me. I remember sitting on that jet, thinking, ‘This can’t be happening,’ because he was George Jones and I was some kid from nowhere. He was generous to kids chasing the dream, and I never forgot it. He even showed up two years ago to surprise me onstage for my birthday and sing ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ with me, which will be one of the greatest memories of my life.”

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