Country Music People October 2017 - Page 61

WALT TROTT LOOKS BACK ON THE CAREER OF THE MAN KNOWN AS THE GENTLE GIANT. RESPONSIBLE FOR CLASSICS SUCH AS YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND, AMANDA, TULSA TIME & LORD, HAVE MERCY ON A COUNTRY BOY. DON WILLIAMS WAS ADORED BY MANY. C ountry Music Hall of Famer Don Williams, 78, died Sept. 8 at his home near Nashville. Hailed for 45 Top 10 singles, 17 of which went #1, two he wrote: Till The Rivers All Run Dry (1976) and Love Me Over Again (1980). Donald Ray Williams was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas, but raised mainly in the Texas coastal city of Portland. At age 3, he won an alarm clock finishing first in a local talent contest. As a teen at Gregory- Portland High, he began learning to play guitar, primarily pickin’ songs heard on the radio. Among those artists who helped inspire him were Johnny Horton, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. At 14, Don wrote his first song, Walk It Off, and his first musical payday was $25, performing for the 1957 grand opening of a gas station in Taft, Texas. Don worked a variety of jobs to support his musical efforts, including laboring in the oil fields, driving a bread truck, working in a smelting plant and also as a bill collector. He also served a stint in the Army, and later worked with his father-in-law in a furniture building business. Meeting fellow musician Lofton Kline, the two hooked up as as a country-folk duo The Strangers Two. After years of struggling, in 1964 Don formed the Pozo-Seco Singers with Kline and Susan Taylor. The folk-pop trio, with Don its lead singer, finally hit the charts with I Can Make It With You (#32, 1966) and Look What You’ve Done (#32, 1967). Later, Don would return to the pop chart via his MCA crossover hit I Believe In You (#24, 1980). In 1981, he charted his sole duet hit, If I Needed You, with Emmylou Harris (Billboard #3), and a few years down the road, produced another artist, Barbara Fairchild, in the studio. In a later chat with Don, we inquired what had become of his former pop music partners: “I haven’t seen or spoken with them for some years now. I really don’t know what Lofton does in Texas. Seems I heard he was performing around some, and that he was also a coach at one of the high schools there, but really I don’t have any idea what they’re doing now.” It was in 1967 that Williams made the move to Nashville. He did studio session work and signed as a staff writer with Cowboy Jack Clement for publishing. Don guested in pal Burt Reynold’s movies “W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings” (1975) as Leroy, and “Smokey & The Bandit II” (1980), as himself singing his #1 Tulsa Time. During filming at 20th Century Fox, he was “gifted” with a battered cavalry hat, which Don donned for years. In fact, he was wearing it when we did our first interview in Wiesbaden, Germany, during his maiden 1970s’ European tour. Over the years, he’d played all the major concert venues from Carnegie Hall in New Yor k to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Williams maintained a special appreciation for UK audiences, noting, “Those people over there, as far as how they’ve been to me, it’s really unbelievable!” Little wonder, he was named Country Music Star of the Decade in England (1980) by Country Music People magazine. Among his best-selling LPs are: #1 Harmony (1976); Expressions (#2, 1978), which charted 61 weeks; and The Best Of Don Williams, Vol. II (#7, 1979), charting an astounding 115 weeks. A lot of times in the studio he would call on members from his touring group, called the Scratch Band. When asked decades later if he still wore that cavalry cap, Don chuckled, replying, “Now the one that I’ve worn the last twenty-some years, Stetson fashioned for me as near as possible to the original, and you know the original when I got it, was really old.” It was in 1976 that Don joined WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. While he does write some of his songs, including his breakthrough song The Shelter Of Your Eyes (#14, 1972), Atta Way To Go, Till The Rivers All Run Dry, I’ve Got a Winner In You, Lay Down Beside Me and Love Me Over Again, he was always on the lookout for good songs from writers like Wayland Holyfield and Roger Cook. Bob McDill, however, proved a truly good luck charm, writing such classic Williams’ singles as Come Early Morning, Amanda (both in 1973), Love Me Tonight, Say It Again, She Never Knew Me, Rake and Ramblin’ Man, It Must Be Love, Good Ol’ Boys Like Me, Falling Again, If Hollywood Don’t Need You, Another Time, Another Place, I’ve Been Loved By the Best and his final Billboard Top 10 Lord, Have Mercy On a Country Boy (#7, 1991). As Don told a No Depression reporter, “When Bob writes one that really hits me, it really hits me. He has a different way of saying things that appeal to me and the way he put shorts together was real different for country music at that time. I dare say I would not have had very much of a career without Bob McDill.” The rangy, six-footer’s smooth baritone and easy-going manner earned him the sobriquet Gentle Giant, and made him something of a songwriter’s singer. In 1978, Don’s Tulsa Time was voted best single by the Academy of Country Music, while the Country Music Association named him best vocalist of that year, and in 1981 honored his Platinum- selling I Believe In You as best album (which charted 86 weeks). He’s received eight more ACM nominations and several more CMA nominations, as well. In 2010, Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He retired from the road several seasons back, sticking close to Ashland City, site of some 90 acres he called home, to spend more time with wife Joy Bucher, whom he wed April 10, 1960. They have two sons: Gary and Tim. OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 61