Don Gibson / Rockin' Country Style

Don Gibson

Donald Eugene Gibson April 3, 1928 – November 17, 2003) was an American songwriter and country musician. A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Gibson wrote such country standards as "Sweet Dreams" and "I Can't Stop Loving You", and enjoyed a string of country hits ("Oh Lonesome Me") from 1957 into the mid-1970s.

One of the most gifted composers of the ‘Nashville Sound’ era, Don Gibson’s imaginative contributions rank as the most important in helping country music to crossover to the pop charts during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Such Gibson songs as I Can’t Stop Loving You, Oh Lonesome Me, Sweet Dreams and Blue, Blue Day, all played their major roles in bringing to the world at large the message about the freshness, the skill and the talent of the Nashville songwriting community. A purveyor of classic songs dealing with heartbreak and loneliness, Gibson was a tortured soul who poured his heart out in such sorrowful songs as Too Soon To Know, (I’d Be) A Legend In My Time and A Stranger To Me.

His influence runs deep, far and wide, as a performer and songwriter. His songs have been recorded by legends such as Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Kitty Wells, Emmylou Harris and Roy Orbison. Even Neil Young, an artist rarely associated with cover versions, made Gibson’s Oh Lonesome Me sound like one of his own on the AFTER THE GOLD RUSH album. His music touched on both traditional country and highly-produced country-pop, which is part of the reason he had such a broad audience.

Born in Shelby, North Carolina on April 3, 1928, he was a shy kid from a poor sharecropping family, who dropped out of school in second grade. He began playing guitar in his early teens and when a friend came home from Paris after World War II with records by the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, Gibson was captivated, and was experimenting with different styles by his mid-teens.

He began playing local radio stations and dances and in 1946, he became a regular with the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville, but things weren’t what Gibson expected. The fans wanted old-time country, not Gibson’s brand of crooning. He hung on to the radio job but struggled on $30 a week earned playing beer joints. He helped form the Sons of the Soil, performing mainly songs popularised by the Sons of the Pioneers. They built up a regional following via live gigs and radio broadcasts and in 1949 were recording for Mercury.

In 1950, he assumed control of the band, renaming them Don Gibson & His King Cotton Kinfolks and switching their musical direction to honky-tonk. Although their sound was more focused, they remained unsuccessful. Gibson continued to perform on the radio, as well as at Esslinger’s Club in Tennessee. At the nightclub, Acuff-Rose’s Wesley Rose saw Gibson perform and offered him a writing contract. Gibson would only accept the deal if he was allowed to record. Rose managed to get Gibson a contract with Columbia, which proved unsuccessful.

Rose then moved his protégé over to MGM, and in 1956 Don Gibson scored his first hit with Sweet Dreams. The success was again short-lived, but recognising Gibson’s songwriting talent, Rose persisted. Faron Young covered Sweet Dreams, Kitty Wells recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You, resulting in Don being signed to RCA in 1957 by Chet Atkins, who would become his producer for the next seven years.

Working in the studio with Chet Atkins, they produced Oh Lonesome Me, his first pop-country smash of 1958 that became a worldwide success and now a country standard. A year before that big hit Gibson was living in an East Tennessee trailer park when, according to legend, he wrote Oh Lonesome Me and I Can’t Stop Loving You in one afternoon. A repo man had just picked up his vacuum cleaner and television when Don started strumming, exploring a swirl of words and melodies.
Gibson was nicknamed "The Sad Poet" because he frequently wrote songs that told of loneliness and lost love.

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