Don Wil­liams

‘Gen­tle Gi­ant’ singer, song­writer who topped the US coun­try sin­gles charts 17 times and toured widely

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Deaths and Obiituaries -

DON WIL­LIAMS, who has died aged 78, was known as the “gen­tle gi­ant of coun­try mu­sic”, and be­came an in­stant favourite in the US and Bri­tain in the 1970s with easy lis­ten­ing num­bers such as Gypsy Woman, You’re My Best Friend and I Be­lieve In You.

Like his fel­low Texan, Jim Reeves, to whom he was of­ten com­pared, the la­conic Wil­liams had one of the most in­stantly recog­nis­able voices in coun­try mu­sic — a deep, rich South­ern drawl that he de­liv­ered with min­i­mum ef­fort, over gen­tle acous­tics, to max­i­mum, sooth­ing ef­fect. One critic likened his per­for­mance to a “sonorous bed­time drink”.

Other clas­sics from his reper­toire in­cluded She’s In Love With A Rodeo Man; Love Me Over Again, I’m Just A Coun­try Boy; Some Bro­ken Hearts Never Mend; Till the Rivers All Run Dry and Tulsa Time. He also recorded a pop­u­lar duet with Em­my­lou Harris, If I Needed You, in 1981.

But suc­cess had been slow in com­ing. Be­fore mak­ing his name as a solo artist, Wil­liams worked as a debt col­lec­tor, truck driver and also in the oil­fields and smelt­ing plants of his na­tive Texas.

In 1966 he had the first of two US Top 40 hits with a Texan pop-folk group called Pozo-Seco Singers, but the group broke up and by 1970 he was work­ing for his fa­ther-in­law in the fur­ni­ture busi­ness.

In 1973, how­ever, he headed for Nashville and set out on a solo ca­reer that yielded 17 num­ber-one sin­gles in the US Bill­board coun­try charts and a clutch of awards, in­clud­ing the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion’s awards for best male vo­cal­ist and best sin­gle for Tulsa Time in 1978, and the as­so­ci­a­tion’s Al­bum of the Year for I Be­lieve in You (1981).

He went on to fill venues the size of the Al­bert Hall around the world (he was one of the few coun­try stars to tour in Africa) and be­came a favourite with Bri­tish fans af­ter a tri­umphant de­but at the 1976 Wem­b­ley Coun­try Mu­sic Fes­ti­val. He amassed nine hits in the UK al­bum charts and had mi­nor suc­cess with sev­eral sin­gles, keep­ing his fans loyal with reg­u­lar vis­its. In 1980, the read­ers of the Bri­tish mag­a­zine Coun­try Mu­sic Peo­ple voted him artist of the decade.

Pete Town­shend cov­ered his Till the Rivers All Run Dry, while Eric Clap­ton, who recorded his We’re More Than Friends and Tulsa Time, was so in­flu­enced by Wil­liams’s laid-back style that he was said to have soft­ened his own ac­cord­ingly, and the two men ap­peared reg­u­larly to­gether on stage.

Wil­liams steered clear of what he called “love tri­an­gle or boozer songs”, in­stead cel­e­brat­ing the joys of home and hearth, chil­dren, happy mar­riages and old folks. His sig­na­ture tune, I Be­lieve In You, fea­tured a sin­ga­long cho­rus with the words: “But I be­lieve in love/ I be­lieve in ba­bies/ I be­lieve in Mom and Dad/ And I be­lieve in you.

“My songs are about love and re­la­tion­ships,” he told an in­ter­viewer. “We’re all made of the same stuff and there is a uni­ver­sal­ity to what I sing and what other peo­ple feel.” Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, ob­served one Bri­tish re­viewer of Wil­liams’s mid­dle-of-the-road bal­lads, “there are in fact three things in life that are cer­tain. Along with death and taxes is the in­escapable fact that your mum loves Don Wil­liams.”

The son of a me­chanic, Don­ald Ray Wil­liams was born on May 27, 1939 at Floy­dada, a ru­ral com­mu­nity in north Texas. The fam­ily even­tu­ally set­tled in Port­land, near Cor­pus Christi on the state’s Gulf Coast.

He made his first public ap­pear­ance, aged three, in a tal­ent con­test when he won an alarm clock, and at high school, in 1957, he joined a band that played for the open­ing of a lo­cal ser­vice sta­tion.

In 1964, af­ter army ser­vice, he formed the Pozo-Seco Singers, with Su­san Tay­lor and Lofton Cline, record­ing sev­eral al­bums for Columbia Records, and mak­ing the US Top Ten with Time. The group split up in 1969.

Wil­liams’s solo ca­reer took off af­ter he moved to Nashville and signed a con­tract with Jack Mu­sic, the pub­lish­ing com­pany founded by “Cow­boy” Jack Cle­ment.

He had his first No.1 coun­try hit with I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me in 1974.

He re­leased more than 40 al­bums and ap­peared in two films, WW and the Dixie Dancek­ings (1975) and (with Burt Reynolds) in Smokey and the Ban­dit II (1980). He was elected to the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in 2010.

Wil­liams never seemed en­tirely com­fort­able in the lime­light and his rare in­ter­views tended to­wards the un­in­for­ma­tive.

Fame, he opined in a 1994 in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press, “is one of those bless­ings and curses kind of things. If you have the tal­ent, it’s a bless­ing. But there’s times that … a lot of the prices that you have to pay to be a part of it is a curse.” He re­tired in 2016.

Away from his mu­sic, Wil­liams spent much of his time pot­ter­ing around his 100-acre ranch near Nashville, which he and Joy, his wife of 57 years, shared with a few cats, dogs and chick­ens, and where he en­joyed fish­ing, tin­ker­ing with his prized ‘56 Chevy and watch­ing the His­tory Chan­nel.

She sur­vives him with two sons.

SONGS: Don Wil­liams had hits with ‘Gypsy Woman’, ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and ‘I Be­lieve In You’

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