Don Williams, Country Music Star, Dead at 78

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Don Williams

The country music world has lost a major star with the passing of Don Williams from emphysema on Sept. 8. The Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, nicknamed the “Gentle Giant,” was 78. His death occurred in Mobile. Ala.

In addition to placing more than 50 singles and 20 albums on the Billboard country charts beginning in the early ’70s, Williams was a founding member of pop’s Pozo-Seco Singers in the ’60s. His songs have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, and contemporary artists like Bon Iver, Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Charlie.

Born in Floydada, Tex., May 27, 1939, Williams grew up in Portland, Tex. He began playing guitar during his teen years and, while living in Corpus Christi in 1964, formed the folk-styled trio the Pozo Seco Singers with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor. They scored hits with “Time” (1966, #47), “I Can make It With You” (1966, #32) and “Look What You’ve Done” (1966, #32).

Related: Rough Mix was among several Pete Townshend albums reissued last year

After the group disbanded in 1969, Williams moved to Nashville and, by 1971, he had a songwriting contract with the publishing company owned by Jack Clement. The next year would see Williams ink a recording deal with Clement’s JMI Records. He made his chart debut with “The Shelter of Your Eyes” in 1973 and topped the country charts for the first time the following year with “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me.” From that point all the way through 1991, each Williams single would hit the Top 40 on the Billboard country chart. In all he placed 17 singles at #1 through 1991.

Williams also appeared in two movies, W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975) and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Watch Don Williams sing his hit “I Believe In You”

Williams’ career grew steadily through label shifts to ABC/Dot, MCA, Capitol and, finally, RCA. He was named the Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1978. His career slowed down beginning in the early ’90s but Williams returned to the spotlight with a pair of albums on Sugar Hill, 2012’s And So It Goes and 2014’s Reflections, which included contributions from Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Keith Urban. Both albums hit the Top 20 on the Billboard country albums charts, his biggest ranking there in three decades. Last year saw Williams’ final concert appearance and the final release of his career, a live CD and DVD recorded in Ireland. In 2017, the singer was the subject of a tribute album, Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams, that included performances of his hits by artists such as Lady Antebellum and Garth Brooks.

The Who’s Pete Townshend and Faces’ Ronnie Lane recorded Williams’ “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” on their 1977 Rough Mix duets album, while Eric Clapton cut “Tulsa Time,” a song written by Danny Flowers but made famous by Williams, in 1978.

Listen to Townshend and Lane’s version of “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”

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Watch Eric Clapton sing “Tulsa Time,” a song made famous by Don Williams

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