It will be a special Tuesday Night Opry this week as the Opry will honor the music of former Grand Ole Opry member, and Country Music Hall of Fame member, Don Williams. The show will feature performances by Alison Krauss, John Prine, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, all of whom appear on the tribute album, "Gentle Giant: The Songs of Don Williams." While the show will feature songs by Don Williams, he is not expected to participate in the show as he is now retired.
Don joined the Grand Ole Opry on April 23, 1976, leaving in 1981. I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what the Opry printed regarding Don in the 1976 "Grand Ole Opry WSM Picture-History Book," the year her joined.
Country music composers in Nashville refer to Don Williams as "the song doctor." He has a knack for helping with the construction of a melody line, or lyric when the writer is stuck or the end product doesn't seem to be working. And that's some compliment from your peers. Don Williams is thought of as songwriter to some, singer to others, a mellow, sure a atypical country entertainer to most. The lanky, laid-back performer says of himself, "Family and music make up my life. I love the music because it lets me really express myself. I could never walk up to all those people in the audience and say what I can say in song." An East coast writer says of Don's style, "The sound is quite out of place with the main current of the times. It's almost as if, in some unlikely circumstance, Jim Reeves had been raised again today, given a Texas accent and sent downtown in blue jeans to cut sweet country songs without the violins. The voice is slow and easy, a comfortable baritone devoid of flash or stress or edges. The sound is rare indeed. It features a complete lack of cuteness and a considerable portion of good taste. It is anything but commonplace." But among his talents, Don leans toward writing. "It's the most fulfilling for me," he says, "I understand what is a good song and that's just what I try to write. Finding the right combination and putting it all together is satisfying. It's a projection, while performing, the song reinforces the initial idea; it's almost an after-the-fact type thing." Charley Pride was the first established country music artist to record a Don Williams song. Others to have followed suit include Sonny James, Jeanne Pruett, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, and Lobo. Don figures he's written close to 500 songs.
Born in the small Texas town of Floydada, Don's family moved often, to Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa and Missouri. While living in a small Missouri town Don latched onto the guitar and learned to play from his sole teacher, his mother. He was 12 at the time, but had a craving for an entertainment career already. Don's first paid job in country music came during his sophomore year in high school in Gregory, Texas, when a band he headed played for the grand opening of a local service station. It was a start. He also played and sang with a group during Army basic training, and while he was in military school, then later when he was stationed in Japan. Following his discharge from the Army, Don took jobs here and there, until he decided to return to music. In 1964, while in Corpus Christi, Texas, Don formed the Pozo Seco Singers, a three member vocal group who sang a variety of popular music; folk, pop and country. Their first recorded single, "Time," climbed to the top 10 on national music charts. The name Pozo Seco literally translates as "dry hole" from a colloquial term used by geologists in that part of the country, but Don had finally hit and the hole was anything but dry. The group clicked time and again with their records and personal appearances, and stayed together until 1970, during which time Don wrote several of their songs.
In April 1976, Don joined the Grand Ole Opry. He keeps his public appearances down to a comfortable amount per month, and divides the rest of his time between recording, songwriting, and tending his farm in Ashland City, Tennessee. Don also had a prominent role with Burt Reynolds in the 20th Century Fox movie, "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings." Don now records for ABC/DOT Records. Some of his hits include: "Shelter of Your Eyes," "Come Early Morning," "Amanda," "The Ties That Bind," "You're My Best Friend," "Love Me Tonight," and "Til The Rivers All Run Dry." Don produces his own records because, "I want to do music the way it feels most honest to me." And honest is a good description of the kind of music this Texan makes. His songs don't rage with gimmicks but are quiet songs in an intimate dignified style all his own. And that style has established Don as one of the most appreciated country singers in the world.
As I wrote, that was written in 1976 and Don's career continued to expand. By the time he was finished, he had released over 25 albums and 62 singles, 21 of which went to No. 1.
Here is the line-up for the Tuesday Night Opry May 30:
7:00: Bill Anderson; Carly Pearce
7:30: Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers; Darius Rucker
8:15: Amanda Shires; Jason Isbell
8:45: John Prine; Alison Krauss