“It’s a sad day for me,” Strait said Friday morning (April 26) in an interview with CMT Radio. “It’s a sad day for everybody in the music world to lose George. It was unexpected. I had no idea George was sick, but our prayers go out to [Jones' wife] Nancy and the family. He was such an influence and my hero and friend. It’s just a sad, sad day. I’m gonna miss George so much.”
As tributes and accolades came from country stars following Jones’ death on Friday, it became clear that one of his most important contributions was mentoring and encouraging younger country singers.
Kenny Chesney said Jones was something of a father figure to aspiring artists.
“We were great friends, but it was really more like a father/son relationship,” he said. “He even showed up in Lexington, Ky., two years ago to surprise me onstage for my birthday — all the way from Nashville to surprise me and sing ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ with me, which will be one of the greatest memories of my life.”
“When I was just staring out, and I was picked to open the George Jones/Tammy Wynette reunion tour, I thought I’d made it. Then 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 there on that jet, thinking, ‘This can’t be happening,’ because he was George Jones and I was some kid from nowhere. I’m sure he knew, but he was generous to kids chasing the dream, and I never forgot it.”
Mark Chesnutt said Jones was the reason he wanted to become a country singer.
“He was my mentor and my teacher,” he said. “He paved the way for so many, and I was one of the lucky ones to have enjoyed the opportunity to not only sing beside him, but just sit and visit with him. When I was just starting out, we toured together. He was the headliner. After a few shows, he told me that I was going to close the shows because he wanted to watch Andy Griffith.”
Billy Dean also recalled the generosity Jones provided to newcomers.
“George Jones was a mentor and a giant to my generation of country singers,” he said. “He was there for my first Ralph Emery Show appearance. Backstage, I was so nervous and expressed concern to George that if Ralph Emery didn’t like me, my career may never get off the ground. The first thing George said to Ralph when they went on air was how nice of guy he thought I was. George Jones was our country music soul singer, no doubt.”
Lorrie Morgan said Jones was also a teacher.
“With tear-filled eyes, I’m reminiscing this morning about all that I learned from and loved about George Jones,” she said. “He was part of my country music education. He made country music history and, in my opinion, George Jones is a song’s best friend. No one will leave an imprint on my life like George did.”
From the outset of his career, Sammy Kershaw always credited Jones as his primary influence.
“I have been inspired by his music for the last 50 years, and for 42 of those, I had the pleasure of knowing him personally and professionally,” Kershaw said. “He was it to me. George was and will always be my guy. I am luckier than a lot of people on this Earth because God let me be a part of George’s life and him a part of mine.”