While George Jones had considerable success throughout the period of 1955-1990, his greatest period of sustained success was with Epic where he recorded from roughly 1971 to 1989. During those 18+ years Jones charted 87 times (including 9 #1 hits). It was a period in which his voice deepened and he settled into the medium-slow tempo which allowed him the greatest latitude to use his voice. Billy Sherrill, one of the more notorious “Nashville Sound” schlockmeisters, seemed to understand the special talent that he had in Jones, and (usually) went light with the strings and background voices. There are several collections that focus on the Epic years, and all of them sound pretty good and are worth picking up (for the right price). Do beware of the “Super Hits” series which contain some re-makes of pre-Epic material, but don’t be afraid to purchase them either, as they will sound fine and Jones continually refined his craft and learned new tricks over the years.
Like Frank Sinatra, who recorded a lot of duets during his final years. George Jones recorded a lot of duets during his years on Epic. Cutting duets was nothing new for George , who with previous labels had cut duets (both singles and albums) with Jeannette Hicks, Margie Singleton, Gene Pitney, Melba Montgomery and Brenda Carter, and with Epic had cut duets with then-wife Tammy Wynette.
After separating from Wynette, Billy Sherrill had George record huge numbers of duets. If you want to pick up a good sample of Jones later work as a duets artist the best bet is the following album:
My Very Special Guests
This is a greatly expanded version of an LP that was issued in 1979. The original LP included ten tracks – duets with Waylon Jennings, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tammy Wynette, Elvis Costello, members of Dr Hook, and Pop & Mavis Staples. The CD reissue is a two disc set with an additional 27 tracks (all previously issued) taken from various sources that were recorded during the period 1980-1995 (there are a few non-Epic cuts).
The original album had some good cuts on it but this was recorded during the lowest point in George’s personal life, and all the guests were overdubs. The later cuts find Jones in better voice and the guests were there in the studio with him at the time of recording. Guests include (among others) Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Lacy J. Dalton, Buck Owens, Travis Tritt , Vern Gosdin, Patti Page, Loretta Lynn, Keith Richards and B.B.King. George seemingly can sing effectively with anyone, and this compilation proves it.
For the present, I am through with George Jones. As a word of general consumer guidance, I’d stay stick with the major label issues: Polygram/Mercury/EMI/Liberty/Epic/Legacy , etc and stay away from the cheapie labels like Hollywood, unless you find a song you just can’t find elsewhere. The sound isn’t always bad on the cheapie labels, but it often is bad and sometimes virtually unlistenable.