Credit: The Tennessean/AP

Oak Ridge Boys

To honor George Jones, EW asked the Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall to recall his fondest memories of the country legend, who died today at the age of 81. They include the time Jones told Bonsall he should’ve just kicked his ass — and hearing “He Stopped Loving Her Today” before its release.

By: Joe Bonsall

As fate might have it, last night at a show in Missouri someone yelled from the audience, “How is George Jones doing?”

Well, we had no answer. We were well aware that George was in the hospital again and had been there since the middle of the month, but for some reason we thought he was doing all right but we did not know for sure. We all looked at each other on stage after the question in wonder… Each man’s face registered concern at NOT knowing the answer.

Then we arrived home this morning and heard the sad news that the Possum has gone home. How very sad. What an incredible and devastating loss for all who knew him, respected him, admired him, and loved him.

So many memories come to mind. A young Joey Bonsall once driving from Philadelphia to Youngstown, Ohio in a ’59 Ford all alone… to see George Jones and Tammy Wynette. He was a bit on the edge that night (being kind), and I remember being mad at him. As a young man who was in total love with Tammy, I perceived him to be a bit disrespectful of her onstage and I considered waiting for him at the stage door to tell him so… but I just drove all night back home.

I told him that story years later, and he told me I should have just kicked his ass and we both laughed.

How could I have known that one day I would be singing with The Oak Ridge Boys and we would sing on a huge hit record with George Jones! I remember that session in 1982, like it was yesterday. So when you hear “Same Ole Me,” listen closely to those four voices on the chorus trying like mad to bend and weave like The Possum. We were so concerned that he might not like it. He DID, and we have performed it with him live many times over the passing years.

One more story… We were playing the Southern Illinois State Fair once when George hopped up on the bus with his guitar.

“Hey, boys,” he said. “I just recorded one that I really think is gonna be a big one… Wanna hear it?”

He proceeded to play and sing what would become the greatest country song of all time. An audience of four heard “He Stopped Loving Her Today” before most of the world had the chance. We were stunned into submission! There were actual tears flowing. A time capsule moment for certain, and as you can see, I have never forgotten it and NEVER will!

I think it is so very cool that over the last several years, we have seen George often and had a chance to sit with him and enjoy his friendship. There is a huge hole in the music world now. The Possum is gone! One has to wonder, Who Will Fill THOSE Shoes?!

Goodbye, Possum.

The Oak Ridge Boys are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary. Follow @JoeBonsall.

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