Country Rewind: George Jones Performs Stunning Rendition of ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’

by Emily Morgan

The late, great George Jones always held a deep love for gospel music. Before he was a household name, he grew up singing gospel music as a kid. Hymns are the reason he first became interested in music. He first learned how to play the guitar in his local church by singing gospel songs.

Decades later, after he achieved musical greatness, he would still jump at the chance to return to his gospel roots. During his career, he released three gospel albums. 

In his 58th studio album, The Gospel Collection, Jones included his version of the centuries-old song “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” The 2003 album peaked at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country albums chart and claimed the third spot on the Billboard Christian albums chart.

Written in the 1800s, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is a traditional gospel song performed countless times by artists of all genres. While the exact writer of the song is unknown, historians believe that it dates back to before the Civil War. During the 1930s, the hymn grew in popularity when African-American churches held musical conventions.

In addition to Jones, numerous country artists have covered the historic song, including the late Charley Pride, Charlie Daniels, and Randy Travis. Additionally, other artists who’ve covered the traditional gospel song include the late Patsy Cline and Jimmie Rodgers in 1960, Ella Fitzgerald in 1967, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash in 1969.

George Jones Takes Listeners to Church

Even country outlaw and legend Merle Haggard created his own spin on the spiritual tune. Loretta Lynn also performed the song in 1971 and 1972, respectively. Decades later, the song still resonates. Today, modern versions of this song have also been recorded. Willie Nelson recorded his rendition of it in 1996 and Anne Murray in 1999. 

However, Jones’ rendition will stay with you long after listening. His passion in his performance makes anybody want to kneel at the alter of the legend that is George Jones. George Jones always had a deep fondness for the gospel genre. While his friends and family knew the Possum to be the rough and rowdy type in his younger years, it seems like as he got older, his faith put him back on the right path. 

“My whole life has been turned around,” Jones said during a 2003 interview. “I quit drinking and smoking, and I have a different outlook on life. That wreck put the fear of God in me. I just got a little closer to the good Lord, and I’m enjoying life. I felt like this was the right time to do the kind of songs I’ve really always wanted to do if I thought I could have made a living at it.”