Then in 2010, after 28 years of quiet rehabilitation, he got up unannounced at the Sidmouth Folk Festival and sang a couple of his old songs.
Now for the past two years the 66-year-old has been taking tentative steps back on the road. He's frail yet: on Monday he walked on stage with a heavy limp, no guitar in hand (he never regained dexterity after the accident) and read his lyrics, sometimes falteringly, from a music stand. But the weathered voice was unmistakably, wonderfully his.
With fond support from son Joe on guitar and Belinda O'Hooley on piano and accordion, Jones sang a set of old favourites (Master Kilby, Ruins by the Shore, Barrack Street) and new covers (Radiohead, Randy Newman, Billl Worsfold).
Even if Joe's guitar touch isn't as sweet as his dad's once was and his singing voice doesn't come close, his finger-picking filigree bears a distinct Jones hallmark and it was deeply moving to hear father and son singing in harmony.
The audience was surprisingly small – clashing with the Michael Marra tribute can't have helped – but by the first of two encores, Ten Thousand Miles, there can't have been many dry eyes in the house. Earlier the singer/guitarist John Smith, whose grisly soft crooning and stunning guitar licks made for a superb opening set, summed up the lasting scale of Jones's influence: "My right hand simply wouldn't do what it does if it weren't for Nic Jones," he said, with a reverent bow.