Don Gibson along with a few others changed the sound of Nashville and country music. Even outside of country music circles several of his songs are instantly recognized by fans and musicians all across the globe, and across almost five decades of cultural change. Add the fact that Don was one of the most influential forces in the country music industry from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Few people around the English speaking world fail to remember Don’s two best known compositions, “Sweet Dreams” which became one of Patsy Cline’s most indelible hits, and the Ray Charles classic single “I Can’t Stop Loving You”. Both were chart-crossing smash hits, both shattered stereotypes, and you can bet serious money that in almost any nation on Earth, someone somewhere is singing one of those songs tonight.
And let’s not forget his third unforgettable country classic, “Oh, Lonesome Me”. Besides its later crossover to rock and rockabilly band playlists, Don’s original recording was a revolutionary single for its day, as Don and producer Chet Atkins dropped the traditional fiddle and steel guitar treatment for a new and more aggressive sound featuring multiple guitars, a piano, a drummer, upright bass and background singers. Though it doesn’t sound like a radical move today, it was then, and Don and Chet are given credit for having helped instigate what became known as the Nashville Sound. Don’s recording of “Oh Lonesome Me” hit number one on the national charts and stayed there for eight weeks, an almost unheard of feat in that era.
Don’s own recordings of these songs and over 510 others were enormously accomplished and successful, and he racked up quite a string of hits. He was also a strong draw at the box office on tours across the US and Europe. Today you can go to YouTube and find many vintage TV clips of Don’s appearances on every kind of music and variety show imaginable.
But Don once said “I consider myself a songwriter who sings rather than a singer who writes songs.” That perspective is affirmed by the staggering evidence of his cross genre appeal and relevance which continues to this very day.
Not only have Don’s songs been recorded by such stars as Elvis, Neil Young, Ronnie Milsap, Emmylou Harris and countless others, but “I Can’t Stop Loving You” has today been recorded more than 700 times and has been played on the radio over four million times. In all, Don continued to receive royalties throughout his life for over 150 of his compositions.
Don Gibson, the Sad Poet, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973, an honor he shares with the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffet and Johnny Cash. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Though Don passed away in 2003, he left behind a truly exceptional body of work, work that without the slightest exaggeration has touched the hearts of millions of us.