Don Williams Dead at 78

The country music community is in mourning today with the passing of Don Williams. Known as “The Gentle Giant,” the Texas native ranks as one of the most successful country balladeers of all time – eventually earning a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Williams was 78 years old.

Born in Floydada, Texas, Williams grew up being very much inspired by the music of the late 1940s and 50s. Playing in several bands around the Lone Star state, he eventually became a member of the Pop / Folk
group The Pozo Seco Singers. The group inked a deal with Columbia Records, and were soon on the pop and easy listening charts with such hits as “Time” and “Look What You’ve Done.” The group disbanded around the dawning of the next decade, and Williams soon found himself in Nashville.

Signing with a publishing company owned by Jack Clement at first only as a songwriter, he eventually landed a recording contract with Clement’s JMI Records. He began hitting the charts with songs such
as “Come Early Morning,” “Amanda,” and “We Should Be Together,” which earned him his first trip to the top ten, peaking at No. 5 in 1974.

Later that year, he signed with ABC / Dot (later absorbed by MCA), where he recorded some of the biggest hits of the decade – “She Never Knew Me,” “It Must Be Love,” “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,’ among them. In 1976, the singer was nominated for the first of six times as a finalist for the Male Vocalist of the Year prize from the CMA, winning the award in 1978. Upon winning the award, Williams – famous for his quiet nature – simply said the words “Thank You” in acceptance of his honor.

The 1980s saw no slowdown in Williams’ musical fortunes. He opened up the decade with Bob McDill’s “Good Old Boys Like Me,” which peaked at No. 2 on the charts, but “I Believe In You,” his biggest hit, and signature tune, was just around the corner.  Not only a number one hit, the song also proved to be his only crossover hit, making it to No. 24 on the pop charts.

As the 1980s progressed, Williams added more hits to his list – “Love Is On A Roll,” “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” and “That’s The Thing About Love.” After a decade run with MCA, Williams switched labels in 1986 to Capitol, staying at the label for three years, and adding hits such as the number one “Heartbeat In The Darkness” and “Desperately” to his chart history. He also recorded for RCA from 1989 until 1992.

Though his radio days ended in the early 1990s, Williams remained a crowd favorite in the United States, but also overseas. His easy-going style, which earned him the moniker “The Gentle Giant,” helped him make fans all over the world, from Ireland to England to Africa. Williams retired from touring in 2006, but was back on the road by 2010, the year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He recorded two final albums for Sugar Hill – 2012’s And So It Goes and 2014’s Reflections – both of which hit the Top-20 on the country album charts, featuring cameos from artists such as Alison Krauss and Keith Urban, who has long cited Williams as an influence.

Earlier this year, Williams was the subject of Gentle Giants, a tribute album that featured his hits performed by acts such as Lady Antebellum, Garth Brooks, and Trisha Yearwood. Upon the release of the set, Garth Fundis, his longtime producer, praised Williams’ uncanny acumen to pick hit songs, telling Billboard that Williams “never let himself stray from what he felt about music. I think that’s where the consistency comes from. It had to work for him in a simple way. Sometimes, we do orchestrations and get a lot of instruments going, but it was usually pretty simple. He always was the rudder that kept the bowel pointed in the right direction, to use a sailing term. It was wonderful how he could always take different kinds of songs, and by the time he was done with them, they all kind of fit together in a really wonderful way.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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