Born Donald Eugene Gibson in 1928 (some sources say 1932), in Shelby, NC; died on November 17, 2003; married Bobbi Patterson, 1967.
Don Gibson's reputation as one of the top-notch performers of country music's Golden Age of the late 1950s to mid-1960s is surpassed by his reputation as a songwriter. In the latter capacity he penned such songs as "Sweet Dreams," "Oh Lonesome Me," and "I Can't Stop Loving You." The last two songs became smash hits in the hands of Patsy Cline and Ray Charles, respectively. Other artists who had hits with Gibson compositions have included Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Emmylou Harris, Tompall and the Glazer Brothers, and Ronnie Milsap. Gibson also recorded several hits written by other songwriters, including his 1972 single "Woman (Sensuous Woman)," which was written by Gary S. Paxton. His contributions to the genre landed him an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Born Donald Eugene Gibson in North Carolina, Gibson developed an early love of music. He was playing guitar while still in grade school and singing at public events while in middle school. By the time he was 14, Gibson was a professional full-time entertainer. Too young to enlist in the armed forces during World War II, he performed on radio stations and at outdoor fairs. Following the war he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he became a featured performer on two WNOX radio programs, Tennessee Barn Dance and Mid-day Merry-Go-Round, as a member of a group calling themselves Sons of the Soil after cowboy crooners the Sons of the Pioneers. The exposure made his group one of the most popular acts in the Knoxville area. In 1949 Mercury Records signed the Sons of the Soil to record four songs, one of which, "Why am I So Lonely," was written by Gibson.
The Sons of the Soil disbanded, and Gibson set out to establish himself as a solo act. He recorded a series of songs for several labels, but failed to achieve any lasting degree of success. He became a staff songwriter for the famed Acuff-Rose publishing company, which was operated by Nashville stalwarts Roy Acuff and Fred Rose, who had helped catapult Hank Williams to success in the late 1940s. Following the country style of the time, Gibson wrote honky tonk songs that relied heavily on fiddles and steel guitar. Gibson's voice, possessing a distinct twang from his North Carolina upbringing, fit in perfectly with the burgeoning Nashville Sound, which featured such accomplished vocalists as Lefty Frizzell, Patsy Cline, and George Jones, all vocalists who combined urban polish with their country leanings.
The year 1955 was a pivotal one for Gibson. He wrote and recorded the song "Sweet Dreams," which became a top ten hit. In the hands of established country superstar Faron Young, however, the song became a major hit. In 1957, unable to match the success of "Sweet Dreams," Gibson signed with RCA Victor. The house producer was famed guitarist Chet Atkins. Atkins wisely chose to record Gibson's voice in front of instrumentation that abandoned fiddles and downplayed steel guitars. Three singles recorded at the time, "Blue Blue Day," "Tell It Like It Is," and "Sweet Sweet Girl" were moderately successful, but served more as signposts for the hits that would come.
Rumor has it that Gibson wrote his two signature songs in one afternoon in 1957. Released as a double-sided single, "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Sop Loving You" became huge hits. The first song had a devil-may-care delivery that soon became more closely associated with Roger Miller. The second song was more plaintive, and went on to be covered by more than 700 recording artists, the most famous being Ray Charles. Charles gave the song a distinct gospel inflection, and the song was included on his groundbreaking 1962 release Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
The remainder of the 1950s and early 1960s were a whirlwind of success for Gibson. He wrote and performed such hits as "Look Who's Blue," "Lonesome Old House," " Big Hearted Me," "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles," and "Just One Time." He also scored hits with songs by Mickey Newbury, Hank Snow, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. His prolific recorded output and touring were cut short by a addiction to drugs in the early 1960s, leading him to anger concert promoters and alienate him from RCA executives, and forcing the Grand Ole Opry to revoke his membership in 1963.
Gibson continued to write and record throughout the mid-1960s with decreasing returns on the investment of his time and talent. He charted only one single each in 1965 and 1966, and was absent for the remainder of the decade. In 1967 he married Bobbi Patterson. He eventually moved from his home base in Knoxville to Nashville, and signed with Hickory Records to begin a long career resurgence in the 1970s.
Throughout the 1970s Gibson led the Nashville country music community with songs that openly explored sexual themes, opening the doors for other performers such as George Jones, Tanya Tucker, and Charlie Rich to explore similar themes. "Woman (Sensuous Woman)" was the most notable of these forays, which also included "Touch Your Woman" and duets with Sue Thompson, "I Think They Call It Love" and "Oh How Love Changes."
After more than 30 years of hit-making endeavors, Gibson slowed down significantly after the 1970s. His extensive catalog of songs, however, continued to provide hits for a younger generation of stars. Industry wisdom in Nashville was that if a performer was looking for a hit single to record, they could find it by scouring any Gibson album. Such an approach certainly hit pay dirt for Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Milsap, the Kentucky HeadHunters, and Mark Chesnutt. Gibson's songwriting was recognized when he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973. He was nominated to the Country Music Hall of Fame for the first time in 1992 and was inducted in 2001. He passed away in 2003, leaving behind a legacy of 80 chart appearances and 19 top ten hits. Between 1944 and 1988 Gibson ranked 28th in a survey of best-selling country artists.
by Bruce Walker
Don Gibson's Career
Received first recording contract as member of Sons of the Soil, 1949; wrote and recorded "Sweet Dreams," 1955; recorded "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," 1957; released debut album, Oh Lonesome Me, on RCA, and joined Grand Ole Opry, 1958; kicked off Grand Ole Opry, 1963; recorded hit single "Woman (Sensuous Woman)," 1972; inducted into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1973; rejoined Grand Ole Opry, 1975; inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Oh Lonesome Me RCA, 1958; reissued with bonus tracks, BMG, 1997.
- Songs by Don Gibson Lion, 1958.
- No One Stands Alone RCA, 1959.
- That Gibson Boy RCA, 1959.
- Look Who's Blue RCA, 1960.
- Sweet Dreams RCA, 1960.
- Girls, Guitars and Gibson RCA, 1961.
- Some Favorites of Mine RCA, 1962.
- I Wrote a Song RCA, 1963.
- God Walks These Hills with Me RCA, 1964.
- A Blue Million Tears Camden, 1965.
- Don Gibson Metro, 1965.
- The Fabulous Don Gibson Harmony, 1965.
- Too Much Hurt RCA, 1965.
- Don Gibson with Spanish Guitars RCA, 1966.
- Great Country Songs RCA, 1966.
- Hurtin' Inside Camden, 1966.
- All My Love RCA, 1967.
- I Love You So Much It Hurts Camden, 1968.
- More Country Soul RCA, 1968.
- The King of Country Soul RCA, 1968.
- All Time Country Gold RCA, 1969.
- Don Gibson Sings All Time Country Gold RCA, 1969.
- Rings of Gold RCA, 1969.
- Great Gibson RCA, 1970.
- Hits, Hits the Don Gibson Way Hickory, 1970.
- Lovin' Lies Camden, 1970.
- Perfect Mountain Hickory, 1970.
- Hank Williams as Sung by Don Gibson Hickory, 1971.
- I Walk Alone Camden, 1971.
- Country Green Hickory, 1972.
- Woman (Sensuous Woman) Hickory, 1972.
- Am I That Easy to Forget Pickwick, 1973.
- Just Call Me Lonesome Camden, 1973.
- The 2 of Us Together Hickory, 1973.
- Touch the Morning/That's What I'll Do Hickory/MGM, 1973.
- Bring Back Your Love to Me Hickory/MGM, 1974.
- Just One Time Camden, 1974.
- Snap Your Fingers Hickory/MGM, 1974.
- I'm the Loneliest Man Hickory/MGM, 1975.
- Oh How Love Changes Hickory/MGM, 1975.
- I'm All Wrapped Up in You Hickory, 1977.
- If You Ever Get to Houston (Look Me Down) Hickory, 1977.
- Famous Country Music Makers RCA, 1978.
- Starting All Over Again Hickory, 1978.
- Country Number One Warwick, 1980.
- You Win Again Sundown, 1985.
- Don Gibson and Los Indios Tabajaras Bear Family, 1986.
- A Legend in My Time Bear Family, 1987.
- The Singer - The Songwriter Bear Family, 1991.
- Country Spotlight Dominion, 1992.
- Country Music: The Encyclopedia, St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.
- Country Music: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 2000.
- The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1998.
- "Don Gibson," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 19, 2006).