NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Country Music world mourns the loss of one of its most distinctive song stylists with the passing of Don Williams after a short illness. He was 78.
A native of Floydada, Texas, Williams was born May 27, 1939. He grew up in Portland, TX, graduating there in 1958. Music had always been a part of his upbringing, entering – and winning – a talent contest when he was just three years old. For his efforts, Williams received an alarm clock. He began playing guitar during his teen-age years, learning the songs that he heard on the radio during that period. He and his friends played in local bands around the area, and he wed wife Joy Bucher on April 10, 1960.
To support his family – which would grow to include two sons, Gary and Timmy – Williams worked at a number of odd jobs, including oil field work, and also as a bill collector. While living in Corpus Christi in 1964, he formed the folk-styled trio The Pozo Seco Singers with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor. They stayed together for seven years, with their biggest hit being “Time.”
After the group disbanded in 1969, Williams soon found his way to Nashville. By 1971, he had a songwriting contract with the publishing company owned by Jack Clement. The next year would see Williams ink a recording deal with Clement’s JMI Records. He made his chart debut with “The Shelter of Your Eyes” in 1973, and was soon hitting the charts time and again with a much more laid-back sound than a lot of the music coming out of Nashville at the time. 1974 would see Williams top the charts for the first time with “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me.” From that point all the way through 1991, each Williams single would hit the Top-40 on the Billboard Country charts. His 1970s hits included such chart toppers as “Tulsa Time,” “She Never Knew Me,” and “It Must Be Love.” His career grew steadily through label shifts to ABC / Dot, MCA, Capitol, and finally RCA. Williams also gained a devoted following overseas in such unlikely spots as England, Ireland, and New Zealand , and even South Africa and Kenya – where he reached superstar status. He was named the Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1978. Though known for being very low-key and soft spoken, Williams did make two movie appearances – 1974’s W.W. and The Dixie Dancekings, and 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II.
The 1980s saw no slow down in Williams’ recorded output, with the singer notching his biggest hit with 1981’s “I Believe In You,” which not only topped the Country charts, but crossed over to No. 24 on the Hot 100. By this time, he had earned the nickname “The Gentle Giant” for his trademark mellow sound, and the hits continued to pile up throughout the rest of the decade – “Stay Young,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” and “One Good Well” being three of his biggest of the 1980s. His final top ten came in 1991, with “Lord Have Mercy On A Country Boy,” a song that Josh Turner – a Williams fan – would record in 2006.
Though the changing of the guard at radio slowed down Williams’ chart success, he continued to perform for sold-out crowds in America and abroad, playing a final tour in 2006. However, retirement was not in the cards for the singer, who returned to the road in 2010 – the same year that he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Williams’ return to the spotlight also included a pair of albums on Sugar Hill, 2012’s And So It Goes, and 2014’s Reflections, which included contributions from Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Keith Urban. It was a sign of his enduring appeal that both albums hit the Top-20 on the Billboard Country Albums charts – his biggest rank there in three decades.
In 2016, Williams decided that the time was right for his final performance, calling it a career after one of the most successful careers in the history of the Country Music business. “It’s time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support,” the 76-year-old Williams said in a statement at the time. Last year also saw the final release of Williams’ career, a live CD and DVD recorded in Ireland. In 2017, the singer was the subject of a tribute album, Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams, that included performances of his hits by artists such as Lady Antebellum and Garth Brooks.
Arrangements are pending.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Country Music Hall of Famer and CMA/ACM award winner Don Williams, who became one of the biggest country stars known as the “Gentle Giant” with his relaxed songs and 6-foot-1-inch frame, is retiring after six decades of making music and entertaining crowds.
“It’s time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support,” Williams said.
They came to call Williams the “Gentle Giant” in the decades he was a dominating country hitmaker because of his unique blend of commanding presence and that laid-back, easy style that has appealed to adult men and women alike—cutting across national and genre boundaries.
The hundreds of memorable songs in his repertoire—over fifty of them major hits—whether contemplative ballads, affecting love songs or change-up rhythm numbers, have always been a core Williams strength.
He brought a sound and sensibility to the country charts that proved a smash. Williams first gained musical attention as a member of the pop folk trio The Pozo Seco Singers, which had six pop chart hits in 1966-’67. Between 1974 and 1991, Williams had at least one major hit every year, including such country standards to be as “ Good Ole Boys Like Me,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry,” “It Must Be Love,” “I’m Just a Country Boy,” “Amanda” and “I Believe in You.” He also had a hit duet with Emmylou Harris on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”
Williams captivated crowds in his live shows with the mellow tone of his smooth baritone in “Tulsa Time,” “Back in my Younger Days,” “Louisiana Saturday Night” and identifiable sincerity in the timelessness of tunes like “You’re My Best Friend,” “Come Early Morning,” “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” and many more everlasting hits.
Williams was the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978 and “Tulsa Time” was the ACM Record of the Year for 1979. In 2010, Don received country music’s highest honor, with his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
On Saturday night, October 17, 2015, I was privileged to see Don at Country Tonite Theatre in Pigeon Forge, TN. I sat front row at one of the best concerts I have ever been fortunate to attend.
I am happy with everything I purchased at the concert (I purchased two of everything that was sold). I just want to be able to wear them and let people know I attended a concert of one of the greatest singers EVER!
Thank you kindly. Tell Don that my family and I have loved him for many years and may God Bless you all.
A new video from Colin Chisholm, who was the opening artist on Don’s UK and Ireland tour last year.
We are delighted to announce that Don’s recently illness is now behind him and he is working to get his full strength back, and looks forward to seeing all his fans later in the year, starting with his September tour.