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Don Williams, country music legend, dead aged 78

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Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams has died, his publicist announced on Friday.

Williams died after a short illness. He was 78 years old.

Williams topped country charts with regularity through the ’70s, in songs characterized by an easygoing, Sunday-afternoon air and delivered with a smooth voice that walked the seam of a porch-front baritone and stage-ready tenor.

The sentiment that drove much of Williams’ country was a rakish positivity, best remembered in his biggest song, 1981’s “I Believe In You”:

“Well, I don’t believe that heaven waits / For only those who congregate / I’d like to think of God as love / He’s down below / He’s up above / He’s watchin’ people everywhere / He knows who does and doesn’t care / And I’m an ordinary man / Sometimes I wonder who I am / But I believe in love.”

Born in Texas in 1939, Williams began playing guitar as a teenager, and played in various groups around Portland, just across the bay from Corpus Christi.

After a move to Nashville around 1969, Williams began penning songs for another country legend, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and his newly formed JMI Records in 1971.

Three years later, Williams was a recording artist in his own right, topping the country chart with “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” properly kicking off his career and becoming a regular fixture on those charts from then on. (By 1980, his footprint had grown such that he played himself, and performed his own songs, in the Burt Reynolds vehicle Smokey and the Bandit II.)

In a time of volume and digital precision, his smooth, salt-of-the-earth recordings are a respite. In early 2016, Williams announced it was “time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support.” Not more than a year later Williams’ legacy spurred a tribute album, The Gentle Giant, featuring covers of his songs by Garth Brooks, Keb’ Mo’, Chris Stapleton and Trisha Yearwood, among others.

Williams is survived by his wife Joy, songs Gary and Timmy, three grandsons and one granddaughter.

Arrangements for his burial have not yet been announced.

 

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