George Jones died Friday. The country legend was 81, and leaves behind more than a half century of hits. If you're a fan, it might be tough to pick your favorite song.
He was known as the "Rolls Royce of country music." George Jones left his mark here in Tampa Bay as well.
Many people came to know and love him in Lakeland, where he and superstar wife Tammy Wynette lived in the early 1970s.
We sat down with a close friend of Jones, who set the record straight on an urban legend about Jones: riding a tractor to buy some liquor.
"Everybody loved George," said John Marlow, who is saddened by the loss of his longtime friend.
Marlow said Jones was the biggest thing that happened to Lakeland.
"He drove his Pontiac, it was a ‘65 Bonneville I believe, and he had plastic on the seats and he had silver dollars underneath the plastic," Marlow said.
Back in the day, Jones brought his cars to Marlow's service station, which today is a car detailing business on U.S.Highway 98. That's when Jones still had his driver's license, before troubles with drinking.
"Let's put the rumor to rest," we said. "Did George Jones ride his John Deere tractor to get some liquor?"
"Yes he did, yes he did," Marlow said. "And he and Alan Jackson I think wrote a song about it, and it shows him riding his John Deere tractor down the street. He didn't have a license yes and he'd ride his John Deere tractor down to Granny's I think it was and get him a bottle of whiskey and bring it back home."
Marlow chuckled about all the good times they had, and recalled being with Jones, in what was then Maas Brothers Department Store, looking for a new television.
"And we were watching some of the TVs because he wanted a new TV and that's when the Challenger blew up," said Marlow, recalling it as if it was just happened yesterday. He said they had a long talk about what they'd just witnessed over lunch.
The home Jones and then-wife Tammy Wynette shared together, the so-called "two-story house," was made famous in one of their many duets -- and it was in Lakeland. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says he remembers going to that home several times.
In high school, Judd worked as an EMT, and went on ambulance runs to the home
Jones would either "fight ya or want to sing to ya," in the ambulance after one of his knock-down-drag-outs with Wynette, Judd recalled.
"Yes, he and Tammy had a lot of fights there," laughed Marlow. "But he was just a great guy! Out in public they were always great, it was just at home they had a lot of problems, she didn't want to drink."
The backyard of their home was known for some incredible impromptu concerts.
"He had a little stage set up in the back and had seats all around," said Marlow. "I sold tickets for him at my Grove Park station and then we would go down and watch the concerts, Charley Pride, I can't name all of 'em."
Those good times are well-documented in Jones autobiography, "I Lived To Tell It All", which Jones signed a copy of for Marlow in Nashville.
"He was real soft-hearted and let on like he was tough, but he was a sweet man," said Marlow fondly.
Country artists are paying tribute. Garth Brooks said Jones had the greatest voice to ever grace country music, and Dolly Parton said her heart is broken.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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