Country’s ‘Gentle Giant’ passes

Don Williams, May 27, 1939 – September 8, 2017

The world of country music will miss Don Williams. I know I will.

Don Williams. Photo: don-williams.com

His unique voice, both deep and mellow; his endearing smile and winning personality; even his ‘scrunched-up’ signature hat, so different from the pristine Stetsons worn by many of his contemporaries.

Don truly was the ‘Gentle Giant’ who gave us seventeen Number One country chart toppers, along with many other hits and numerous albums. His style was so distinctive because, in a way, his subtle, laid-back delivery differed from most of the sounds coming out of Music City back in the 70s.

Signed by ‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement

Although the Floydada, Texas, native had been singing and playing throughout his childhood and teenage years – allegedly winning an alarm clock in a talent contest at the age of three – his break came when he moved to Nashville and secured a songwriting deal with legendary music publisher and songwriter ‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement. Clement later signed Williams to a recording contract and the chart hits began with “The Shelter of Your Eyes.”

His first Number One was 1974’s “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” and from that date through 1991, every one of his singles would make the Billboard Country Top 40 chart. He became an international star: he was popular in England at a time when most radio listeners could only name Jim Reeves and Dolly Parton as country artists.  Hits such as “Tulsa Time,” “It Must Be Love” and “She Never Knew Me” established him as a consistent presence on stage and on the radio. However, Williams’ popularity also got him cast on the big screen in “W.W. and The Dixie Dancekings” and “Smokey and the Bandit II.”

“I Believe In You”

His most memorable – and most iconic – song was recorded in 1980: “I Believe in You.”  His eleventh Number One on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, it was also a crossover hit peaking at number 24 in Billboard’s pop charts. To this day, it has remained a well-loved romantic ballad, popular across succeeding generations. The song was written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin.  Whenever I see Roger performing at Writers’ Nights around Nashville, he only has to sing: “I don’t believe in…” for the crowd to start cheering, whistling and applauding before he even finishes the first line.  (On a sidebar, Roger was a popular recording artist in his own right back in his native England. His voice has matured to become similar to Don’s and I’m guessing Roger sang the demo that Don and his A&R team recognized immediately as hit material for Don.)

Don continued to be a major crowd-pleaser, touring and performing for sell-out crowds, even after radio programmers had decided to no longer put his songs in the ‘add’ column. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.  His final performance was in 2016. He said, “It’s time to hang up my hat and enjoy some quiet time at home.”  Don passed away September 8, 2017 in Mobile, Alabama.

More about Don at his official website.

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