100 Greatest Men: #50. Don Williams

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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.

Essential Singles:

  • You’re My Best Friend, 1975
  • Till the Rivers All Run Dry, 1976
  • Tulsa Time, 1978
  • It Must Be Love, 1979
  • I Believe in You, 1980
  • Lord, I Hope This Day is Good, 1981
  • Heartbeat in the Darkness, 1986

Essential Albums:

  • Volume One, 1973
  • Harmony, 1976
  • Expressions, 1978
  • Portrait, 1979
  • I Believe in You, 1980

Next: #49. Toby Keith

Previous: #51. Sonny James

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I’m not as familiar with Williams’ catalog as I would like to be, but I’ve definitely found myself becoming a big fan lately. I absolutely love his new album And So It Goes. There’s definitely much to be said for the unassuming, soft-spoken sincerity he brings to his performances, which is something many of today’s artists could stand to learn from.

  2. Don’s first two albums were released on Jack Clement’s JMI label and carried the prosaic titles VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO. Thge third album was issued on Dot (later reissued on MCA) and was titled VOLUME III (it may be a JMI production that was bought up by Dot, I’m simply not sure). For my money VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO were the best albums Don Williams ever made. After that, the song selection was a little more erratic although all of Don’s albums are at least good. His most recent album, released a few moths ago) is excellent

    I think you have Don properly placed, but there is no way be belongs in front of Hank Thompson, Red Foley, Carl Smith, Don Gibson or Sonny James

  3. “Lord I Hope this Day is Good” is probably one of my favorite songs because I can completely relate to it, since it’s probably one of the first thoughts that enters my mind just about every morning. Then again, “Good Ole Boys Like Me” is one fantastic song too.

  4. I’ve long been a big fan of Don Williams, even though he stopped having radio hits before I started listening to country. I own quite a bit of his music and one thing really surprises me: naturally some of his songs are better than others, but he makes even the weaker ones very pleasurable to listen to. He has long been one of my favorites.

  5. His voice and music is the stuff of my childhood, being born in the mid 70s and listening to country almost exclusively as a kid in the 80s. I’ve recently compared his voice as the male equivalent of Anne Murray for me. I hear it and it takes me home and makes me feel wrapped up in a blanket, warm and safe.

  6. Although I think he should be higher, I’m so glad Don made the top 50.

    My personal favorite song of his is ‘Turn Out the Lights and Love Me Tonight’, but I love so many. Another personal favorite is ‘Good Ole’ Boys Like Me’.

  7. sorry to comment on such and old post but I just have to say that as I am reading your top 100 I am amazed at how many singers had their last hits somewhere between 1989 and 1991. To me that seems to be when country really wanted to separate itself from the past. I try and like all styles of country but I am hoping that one day traditional country makes at least a bit of a comeback.

  8. You can comment on any post you wish, new or old :)

    And your observation is definitely true. The dawn of the nineties brought about a huge influx of new talent, spearheaded by the legendary Class of ’89, that washed away many of the stars who were popular in the eighties and before. It was certainly a very pivotal time for country music.

  9. I’ve followed Don williams’ music from childhood. At a point, i held unto his voice and that of Jim reeves as the voice of country. I’m happy he made first fifty, though i would have placed him at top ten. Secondly, no matter the creative change taking place in country music by the new talents, it is important that the very flavour of the genre is not lost. These days i hear some supposed country songs that sound more like R anb B or rock than country.

  10. The great sounds in heavy, luxury cars on my longer journeys. The solo-est of the single traveller. Don williams… a brand and a label on its on. I am a generation y but real fan and a follow of this gifted soloist.

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