In Memoriam: Don Williams (1939-2017)

Country Music Hall of Fame Member Don Williams, known lovingly as the “Gentle Giant,” has died at age 78.

Rolling Stone reports:

Don Williams, the Country Music Hall of Fame member whose imposing height and warm, reassuring voice earned him the nickname “Gentle Giant,” died Friday, September 8th, after a short illness. An internationally popular country star, Williams recorded dozens of hit songs, including “Tulsa Time,” “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” and “It Must Be Love.” He was 78.

“In giving voice to songs like ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me,’ ‘Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good’ and ‘Amanda,’ Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days,” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young said in a statement Friday. “His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times. Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”

Don Williams was featured among Country Universe’s 100 Greatest Men in 2012:

As soft-spoken off the record as on, Don Williams became known as the Gentle Giant, as he quietly racked up dozens of hits over the course of two decades.

The native Texan played guitar from a young age, and dabbled in many different genres while searching for his own definitive style.  His first professional break was as a member of the pop group the Pozo-Seco Singers in the mid-sixties.   The group had a handful of minor hits before disbanding in 1971.

Williams moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting, but eventually emerged as a solo artist.   He first recorded for JMI Records,  but broke through on ABC/Dot, scoring several top ten hits, including many #1 singles.   His most notable hits in the seventies included “Tulsa Time” and “It Must Be Love.”  He switched to the MCA roster when it acquired ABC/Dot as its own.

Despite his humble nature, the industry took notice of his talents, awarding him the CMA Male Vocalist trophy in 1979.   By that time, he was an international star, becoming a major presence in the European market while also racking up hits at home.   Recording for MCA in the eighties, the big hits continued, with his signature song, “I Believe in You”, pushing the album of the same name to platinum sales and another CMA trophy, this time for Album of the Year.

Williams continued to record for major labels after leaving MCA in 1986.  He scored his final #1 single for Capitol the same year, “Heartbeat in the Darkness.”  A stint with RCA brought him critical acclaim.  His 1991 album, True Love, produced a trio of top ten hits, but its follow-up, Currents,  received no support at radio and failed to crack the album chart, in spite of excellent reviews.

His recording and touring both slowed down after he left the major label world, but he continued to put out albums sporadically.   He even did a farewell tour in 2006, which was intended to mark his retirement.  Thankfully for fans, 2012 has brought an artistic resurgence for Williams, as his new album for Sugar Hill Records, And So it Goes, features appearances from Alison Krauss and Vince Gill.  An international tour is underway in support of the record.

His humble nature was clearly on display when he accepted his CMA Male Vocalist award in 1978:

Williams had 45 top ten hits during his long career, including 17 #1 singles.  Here are some of the highlights of his deep catalog:

“I Wouldn’t Want to Live if You Didn’t Love Me”

“You’re My Best Friend”

“‘Till the Rivers All Run Dry”

“Tulsa Time”

“It Must Be Love”

“I Believe in You”

“Lord, I Hope This Day is Good”

“If I Needed You” (with Emmylou Harris)

“I Just Come Here For the Music” (with Alison Krauss)

10 Comments

  1. “You’re My Best Friend” will always be my favorite DW song.

    This one hurts more than I thought it would. Almost as bad as losing George Jones.

  2. This really is sad news to me. :( I simply love his music. Even as a little girl, I remember always enjoying Don Williams’ songs whenever they came on the radio, and I always loved his voice and unmistakable mellow style. To me, this is a huge loss for country music. I don’t think there will ever be another like him. :(

    As for my favorite songs, many of them are his hits from the late 80’s and early 90’s, since those were the ones being played the most when I was little. Songs like “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” “True Love,” “Just As Long As I Have You,” and “I’ll Never Be In Love Again” bring back great memories for me. One of his more obscure cuts I love is “I Keep Putting Off Getting Over You” from the I Believe In You album. One of our stations actually played that one around late 1991 (I recorded it on to a cassette tape back then).

  3. One of my childhood favorites. Such an amazing artist.

    My favorites are Good Ole Boys Like Me, Turn Out The Lights And Love Me Tonight, I Believe In You, Love Is On A Roll, and Till The Rivers All Run Dry.

    So sad to say goodbye to the Gentle Giant.

  4. While still more of a rock fan in the 70’s, I got into artists like Ronnie Milsap, Gene Watson, Crystal Gayle, Johnny Rodriguez, etc. Somehow I missed Don Williams. “I Believe in You” is the only song I recall hearing up until a few years ago when I bought the cd “Icon”. “I Just Come Here for the Music” with Alison Krauss is by far my most frequently played DW song. RIP Mr. Williams.

  5. It is a testimonial to the Gentle Giant’s popularity that a lot of people outside of the country music sphere were fans of his, including Eric Clapton (who covered “Tulsa Time” in 1980, as the B-side of his hit “Cocaine”). And for anyone who might not know or might have forgotten, Williams’ hit “I Believe In You” not only got to #1 on Billboard’s country singles chart (where it stayed for two weeks), but also reached a very respectable #24 on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1980.

    In many ways like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, the Gentle Giant’s appeal is very widespread, and it’s why guys like him will be irreplaceable (IMHO).

  6. Don Williams had so many timeless, easy-to-listen-to hits that it’s hard to name just one or two favorites. I like all of the songs mentioned in the comments above, as well as “I’m Just A Country Boy” and “The Shelter of Your Eyes” — to add a couple more of his memorable songs to the tributes.

    Having lived in South Africa for a time in the mid-2000’s and traveled extensively across the continent on business trips, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the “Gentle Giant” had large fan bases in South Africa and Ghana, who remained loyal listeners of his music even 20 years after his peak hit years. His passing saddens me deeply.

  7. I had to chance to listen to WSM’s tribute to him on Saturday night, and what I found amazing was that in three hours…they missed so many classics. That’s not a slight on WSM either…the man just had such a great ear for good material and was such a consistent artist when it came to quality, that there was only so much they could fit in. I definitely remember hearing his music as a young kid on the radio, and it just having a soothing, calming effect on me. It wasn’t until later, when I grew up, that I really grew to listen to his lyrics, and began to appreciate what the man had to offer. His style, and emphasis on the lyric is something sorely lacking today (Heck, a song like “I Believe in Love” probably would struggle to chart in the upper 30s, if at all, in today’s environment.) But, as sad a loss as this is… he led a long, good life, and his legacy will always be remembered by the people who truly enjoy good, quality music. And he’s got a lot of that in his catalog.

    Some of my favorites that haven’t been mentioned include: “I Recall A Gypsy Woman”, “She Never Knew Me”, “Maggie’s Dream” (covered well by Trisha Yearwood for his tribute album…but my heart still goes towards the original), “If Hollywood Don’t Need You”, “Heartbeat in the Darkness”, “Old Coyote Town”, “One Good Well”, “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy”, and “And So It Goes”.

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