Appreciating The Gentle Giant – Don Williams

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

Sometimes simpler is better. I’ve enjoyed listening to a lot of country music singers through the years, and at times my tastes have veered off in strange directions, but when it comes to just kicking back and enjoying the sound of a country crooner, it’s tough to beat the smooth baritone of Don Williams.

Even though his name is not the first that comes to mind for many listeners, he’s one of the best-selling country balladeers of all time, with over forty top-ten hits — seventeen of them reaching number one. Not bad for a guy many critics dismissed as not edgy enough, and who seemed a little undecided about his place in music during his early, formative years.

In the 1960’s, many aspiring musicians were trying to findtheir way through the various forms of music then around, and Don was no exception. He came out of Texas (as so many have) with some guitar and singing experience, and the desire to make a career in music. He found himself moving through everything from rockabilly to folk to early rock and roll, but it was country music that became his home.

After mixed success in performing and recording as part of a singing group, he moved to Nashville and worked on making his mark as a songwriter. By the early 1970’s he found himself in a studio again, but this time as a solo singer. His first couple of efforts were modest sellers, but encouraged him to keep singing and recording, and his numbers gradually moved up.

His first top ten hit, 1974’s “We Should Be Together”, led to a new and better recording contract, and he was on his way. He followed with hit after hit, including his first number one, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me”. Hit after hit followed, including “You’re My Best Friend”, “I’m Just A Country Boy”, and others. His blending of country music with a pop sound was irresistible to fans, and he became enormously popular in both the US and Europe. Known as the “Gentle Giant” for his large stature and easygoing manner, he made friends everywhere, and became a star.

His singing career peaked in 1978, when he won the CMA Male Vocalist Of The Year award, while his classic tune “Tulsa Time” was winning as Single Of The Year. Things were going so well that he even tried something a little different. He did some acting – primarily with his friend Burt Reynolds – but he didn’t quit his regular job, singing and recording and selling millions of records. He continued to spin out hits like “I Believe In You” and “Good Ole Boys Like Me”, with a regularity that many artists would envy.

Eventually, physical problems caused Don to cut back a little, and although he still appeared on the best-seller lists throughout the 1980’s and beyond, he was definitely ready for at least a partial retirement. For the past few years he’s been pretty inactive, but in 2006 did a final tour before retiring for good to his home in Tennessee.

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