Recording artist, songwriter, humorist and record producer Kacey Jones, who waged a nearly three-year battle with cancer through an entirely holistic approach, succumbed to the illness Thursday afternoon while in hospice care in Nashville. She was 66.
Born Gail Zeiler in Gilroy, California, her music career began at an independent label in the San Francisco Bay area. She relocated to Nashville in 1986 after a song she co-wrote, “I’m the One Mama Warned You About,” became a Top 10 country hit for Mickey Gilley a year earlier. Also in 1986, Jones formed the comical country trio Ethel and the Shameless Hussies with friends Valerie Hunt and Becki Fogle. The trio recorded their sole album, Born to Burn in 1988 on the MCA label, with famed producer Jimmy Bowen. In addition to having her songs recorded by artists ranging from Cledus T. Judd to David Allan Coe, her successful solo career, which included releases on Curb Records, yielded nearly a dozen albums showcasing her singular gift for hilarity in song. From 1997’s Men Are Some of My Favorite People, to later releases on her own IGO Records, which included the 2009 comedy-chart-topping Donald Trump’s Hair, she remained a comic force, aiming her genius lyrics at numerous targets.
In 1999, Jones produced Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman, a tribute to the Texas musician-author which featured Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark and more. The album went to Number One on the Americana chart. In 2006, her Kacey Jones Sings Mickey Newbury was a poignant tribute to her influential songwriter friend, with an accompanying video for Newbury’s “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” featuring appearances from singer-actors Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Payne. As the founder of two music publishing firms, she earned platinum and gold records with cuts by Ray Stevens and John Michael Montgomery. In addition to IGO Records, she formed the Kinkajou label with Friedman.
Jones was a frequent guest on WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and A Prairie Home Companion, while she also contributed original songs to the stage and screen. She penned tracks for the 2000 comedy cult hit, Sordid Lives, and for Nipples to the Wind, a play for which she also served as music supervisor. She was designated as Official Songstress of the Sweet Potato Queens, a 75,000-member organization with its origins in the series of best-selling books by Mississippi author Jill Conner Browne.
In addition to touring solo, she frequently played shows with Friedman, and continued to perform even while undergoing cancer treatment. She was a member of two trios: Phillybilly, with Joe Collins and the late Rich Fagan, and A Cowgirl, A Diva and A Shameless Hussy with Becky Hobbs and Benita Hill. In 2015, she appeared as a contestant on the NBC singing competition, America’s Got Talent. Her final album, released in 2014, was titled Amen for Old Friends.
Jones is survived by her brother, Tom Zeiler, a niece and two nephews.