Born in Texas, Jones first heard country music when he was seven and was given a guitar at the age of nine. He married his first wife, Dorothy Bonvillion, in 1950, and was divorced in 1951. He served in the United States Marine Corps and was discharged in 1953. He married Shirley Ann Corley in 1954. In 1959, Jones recorded "White Lightning," written by J. P. Richardson, which launched his career as a singer. His second marriage ended in divorce in 1968; he married fellow country music singer Tammy Wynette a year later. Many years of alcoholism caused his health to deteriorate severely and led to his missing many performances, earning him the nickname "No Show Jones." After his divorce from Wynette in 1975, Jones married his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvado, in 1983 and became sober for good in 1999. Jones died in 2013, aged 81, from hypoxic respiratory failure. During his career, Jones had more than 150 hits, both as a solo artist and in duets with other artists.
George Glenn Jones was born on September 12, 1931 in Saratoga, Texas, and was raised in Colmesneil, Texas, with his brother and five sisters. His father, George Washington Jones, worked in a shipyard and played harmonica and guitar while his mother, Clara, played piano in the Pentecostal Church on Sundays. During his delivery, one of the doctors dropped Jones and broke his arm. When he was seven, his parents bought a radio and he heard country music for the first time. Jones recalled to Billboard in 2006 that he would lie in bed with his parents on Saturday nights listening to the Grand Ole Opry and insist that his mother wake him if he fell asleep so he could hear Roy Acuff or Bill Monroe. In his autobiography I Lived To Tell It All, Jones explains that the early death of his sister Ethel spurred on his father's drinking problem and, by all accounts, George Washington Jones could be physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children when he drank. In the book George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend, Bob Allen recounts how George Washington Jones would return home in the middle of the night with his cronies roaring drunk, wake up a terrified George Glenn Jones and demand that he sing for them or face a beating. In a CMT episode of Inside Fame dedicated to Jones' life, country music historian Robert K. Oermann marveled, "You would think that it would make him not a singer, because it was so abusively thrust on him. But the opposite happened; he became a chronic singer. He became someone who had to sing." In the same program, Jones admitted that he remained ambivalent and resentful towards his father up until the day he died and observed in his autobiography "The Jones family makeup doesn't sit well with liquor...Daddy was an unusual drinker. He drank to excess but never while working, and he probably was the hardest working man I've ever known." His father bought him his first guitar at age nine and he learned his first chords and songs at church and there are several photographs of a young George busking on the streets of Beaumont.
He left home at 16 and went to Jasper, Texas, where he sang and played on the KTXJ radio station with fellow musician Dalton Henderson. From there, he worked at the KRIC radio station. During one such afternoon show, Jones met his idol, Hank Williams ("I just stared," he later wrote). In the 1989 video documentary Same Ole Me, Jones admitted, "I couldn't think or eat nothin' unless it was Hank Williams, and I couldn't wait for his next record to come out. He had to be, really, the greatest." He married his first wife Dorothy Bonvillion in 1950, but they divorced in 1951. He was enlisted in the United States Marines until his discharge in 1953. He was stationed in San Jose, California for his entire service.
Jones married Shirley Ann Corley in 1954. His first record, the self-penned "No Money in This Deal", was recorded on January 19, and appeared in February on Starday Records, beginning the singer's association with producer and mentor H.W. "Pappy" Daily. The song was actually cut in Starday Records' co-founder Jack Starnes' living room and produced by Starnes. Jones also worked at KTRM (now KZZB) in Beaumont around this time. Deejay Gordon Baxter told Nick Tosches that Jones acquired the nickname "possum" while working there: "One of the deejays there, Slim Watts, took to calling him George P. Willicker Picklepuss Possum Jones. For one thing, he cut his hair short, like a possum's belly. He had a possum's nose and stupid eyes, like a possum." During his early recording sessions, Daily admonished Jones for attempting to sound too much like his heroes Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell. In later years, Jones would have little good to say about the music production at Starday, recalling to NPR in 1996 that "it was a terrible sound. We recorded in a small living room of a house on a highway near Beaumont. You could hear the trucks. We had to stop a lot of times because it wasn't soundproof, it was just egg crates nailed on the wall and the big old semi trucks would go by and make a lot of noise and we'd have to start over again." Jones' first hit came with "Why Baby Why" in 1955. That same year, while touring as a cast member of the Louisiana Hayride, Jones met and played shows with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. "I didn't get to know him that well," Jones said of Presley to Nick Tosches in 1994. "He stayed pretty much with his friends around him in his dressing room. Nobody seemed to get around him much any length of time to talk to him." Jones would, however, remain a lifelong friend of Johnny Cash. Jones was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.
With Presley's explosion in popularity in 1956, pressure was put on Jones to cut a few rockabilly sides and he reluctantly agreed. His heart was never in it, however, and he quickly regretted the decision; in his autobiography he joked, "During the years, when I've encountered those records, I've used them for Frisbees." He explained to Billboard in 2006: "I was desperate. When you're hungry, a poor man with a house full of kids, you're gonna do some things you ordinarily wouldn't do. I said, 'Well, hell, I'll try anything once.' I tried 'Dadgum It How Come It' and 'Rock It', a bunch of shit. I didn't want my name on the rock and roll thing, so I told them to put Thumper Jones on it and if it did something, good, if it didn't, hell, I didn't want to be shamed with it." Jones went on to say he unsuccessfully attempted to buy all the masters to keep the cuts from surfacing later, which they did.