They came to call Don Williams “the Gentle Giant” in the decades he was a dominating country hit maker 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. If those personal and musical qualities stood out strongly across the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, they are all the more distinctive in 2012, when so many country and pop records seem to work as check off lists of somebody’s idea of how to be a man, or hard-sell attempts to indicate affection for a woman. Don Williams has never sounded like he felt the need to sell somebody something, or to prove anything.
The hundreds of memorable songs in that repertoire—over fifty of them major hits—whether contemplative ballads, affecting love songs or change-up rhythm numbers, have always been a core Don Williams strength and focus.
Riding and crossing the line between country and pop, and all the more distinctive for doing it, Don brought a sound and sensibility to the country charts that proved a smash—a development that was initially a surprise even to him.
“When I was just a wee lad,” he recalls, “I really appreciated people like Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves; all of those guys back then meant a lot to me, but at the same time, I really loved Brook Benton, and the Platters and all of those people. But even when I was ‘in pop’ myself, with everything that I wrote, the only people who really seemed to appreciate it were country fans. That has to tell you a little bit about where your heart’s at, whether your head agrees with it or not!”
Born in Floydada, Texas in 1939 and growing up near Corpus Christi, Texas, Don was playing guitar by age twelve, taught by his mother, and performed in folk, country and rock bands as a teenager. He 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, then was signed as a songwriter by Nashville’s Cowboy Jack Clement in 1971—the sort of songwriter whose demos demanded attention. Between 1974 and 1991, Don 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.” Don was the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978; his “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. He was still surprised: “I never really thought that I was viewed in that manner by the powers that be. It’s an incredible honor, to be added to the caliber of people that are on that roster. It’s pretty overwhelming, actually.”
Don Williams 1939 - 2017