Tony Brown on George Jones

Kennedy Center fetes country crooner

It was when I was working with Emmylou Harris in the 1970s that I got turned on to real country music. She said, “I’m going to play you the greatest country song I’ve ever heard,” and it was George Jones singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” When you hear the best, you know the bar has been set really high, and that’s what George represents in country music.

If rock ‘n’ roll is about attitude, country is about great singing. If you go back and listen to his earliest recordings, he didn’t sound like George Jones. He sounded more like Hank Williams Sr. Somewhere along the way, he found that George Jones sound. To me, he is the embodiment of mountain music. Some people confuse bluegrass with mountain music, but they’re completely different. Bluegrass has that high vocal sound, but mountain music is more baritone, like George.

When I worked with George, it was a shock to him that we weren’t making records the way he did with (producer) Billy Sherrill in the 1960s and 1970s. Billy cut records a certain way, with everybody there in the room at the same time — all the musicians, background singers, everyone. And George loved working that way. Now the way we cut records has changed, which threw George a little, but when you listen to those records they made, you realize how much we haven’t learned!

In a way, I wish George would just rest on his laurels, take life easy. But George is like Elvis in that he doesn’t know how good he is. He’s harder on himself than anyone else. It’s like he’s the only one who doesn’t know he’s George Jones. And George must love to keep working. Also, George does love to buy about five new American cars every year. You know, Nancy (Jones’ wife) saved George’s life. And maybe they just like to keep on enjoying it!

Tony Brown has produced more than 100 No. 1 hits. In 1995, he co-produced the album “One,” which features duets by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.