George Jones performs on stage at the Country Music Festival held at Wembley… (David Redfern / Redferns )
George Jones, who died Friday, worked magic with the hyper-melodramatic lyric of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the self-negating story line in “The Grand Tour,” and the romantic hopelessness in “The Race Is On.”
But there’s another George Jones track, one that originally wound up on the cutting-room floor, that I’ve gone back to time after time after time since it surfaced a decade ago. This recording represents to this longtime country fan the alpha and omega of male country singing.
It’s his duet with Johnny Cash on Cash’s early hit “I Still Miss Someone,” a song whose straight line to the heart has regularly attracted singers since Cash and his nephew, Roy Cash Jr., wrote it in the 1950s. Cash died in 2003.
Jones died in Nashville on Friday at 81. Cash passed away in 2003.
"I Still Miss Someone" was recorded in 1979 when Cash was working on his album “Silver,” the title a nod to it coming on his 25th anniversary in the music business. Why it wasn’t included on “Silver” when it was first released isn’t mentioned in the 2002 reissue of the album, which features the song as a bonus track.
But it’s a masterpiece that puts into high relief the qualities that made Jones and Cash two of the most influential, and imitated, country singers ever.
It opens with Cash applying his no-frills bass-baritone to the opening verse.
At my door the leaves are falling A cold wild wind will come Sweethearts walk by together And I still miss someone
The word “party” gets stretched and shaped; “fun” takes a glide down the scale telegraphing that the singer’s having anything but, and then he takes one of his signature melodic leaps up with the word “find” with the nasal pinch that communicates asense of loss and anguish.
Then the two singers each take a turn on the chorus:
Oh I never got over those blue eyes I see them everywhere I miss those arms that held me When all the love was there
Cash sounds downhearted and sad; Jones brings an otherworldly ache to the same words. Listen to this one-of-a-kind meeting of country greats here: