Born Donald Eugene Gibson, 3 April 1928, Shelby, North Carolina
"(I'd Be) A Legend In My Time" is the title of one of four songs by Don Gibson that have become classics of pop and country music. We don't know if he was thinking of himself when he wrote and recorded the song in 1960, but it is an apt description of his own career as a country singer / songwriter. The golden age of that career was the 1958-1962 period at RCA, when many of his countrry hits crossed over to the pop charts. Guided by producer Chet Atkins, he helped to define the sound of modern country music. "I consider myself a songwriter who sings, rather than a singer who writes songs", he has said.
Born into a poor working-class family, Gibson bought his first guitar when he was about fourteen. Ultimately he would become an excellent guitar player, influenced most of all by Django Reinhardt. Don saw going to school as a waste of time and never attended past the second grade. His first band was called Sons of the Soil, with whom he made his first recordings in October 1948, which appeared on two Mercury singles in 1949. At that time the smooth singing styles of Red Foley and Eddy Arnold were Don's biggest inspirations.
Around 1950 the Sons of the Soil disbanded and Gibson formed a new group called The King Cotton Kinfolks. In 1951 he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to work for radio station WNOX, where he was featured on the daily 'Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round' show and the Saturday night 'Tennessee Barn Dance'.
After recording for RCA (1950-51) and Columbia (1952-54), Don began to write songs in earnest and was signed as a writer to Acuff-Rose and as a singer to MGM in 1955. In 1956 he had his first chart entry with "Sweet Dreams" (# 9 country), but his version was outsold by a cover by Faron Young, which went to # 2 during a 33-week stay on the country charts. (In 1963, Patsy Cline would score a posthumous # 5 hit with "Sweet Dreams", which is also the title of a 1985 biopic about Cline.) This encouraged Don to try to write more songs. It was a good move. On one afternoon in June 1957 Gibson wrote what were to become two of the most famous songs in country music history, "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Oh Lonesome Me".
The songs came at a turning point in his recording career. After signing with RCA (again) in early 1957, he and producer Chet Atkins had tried one session in the traditional country style of Don's earlier records : fiddle, steel guitar, Hank Williams-sounding songs. Atkins told Don "This is not selling. Let's try something else. Let's put voices behind it and get rid of the fiddle and steel guitar". A June session had yielded "Blue Blue Day" done in this new style and when Chet heard the two new songs, he decided to try them as well with the more modern backing (rhythm guitar, bass, piano, drums and a vocal chorus). In December 1957 they were released back to back. "Oh Lonesome Me" spent eight weeks at the top of the country charts, peaked at # 7 on the pop charts, while "I Can't Stop Loving You" reached # 7 country and # 81 pop. It became one of the first examples of what would be called the Nashville Sound. "I Can't Stop Loving You" would eventually be recorded more than 750 times by singers in many music genres and was a transatlantic # 1 pop hit for Ray Charles in 1962.
On the tail of this success, "Blue Blue Day", which had been issued as the single before "Oh Lonesome Me", also became a massive hit (# 1 country, # 20 pop). Later country hits in 1959-60 included "Who Cares" (# 3), "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles" (# 5), "Just One Time" (# 2) and a remake of "Sweet Dreams" (# 6). "Sea Of Heartbreak" (one of the few hits that he didn't write himself) and "Lonesome Number One" (1961-62) both peaked at # 2 and were Don's only chart entries in the UK. "Lonesome Number One" was the last of Gibson's fourteen entries into the pop charts. But virtually all of his RCA singles continued to make the country Top 40, with "Rings Of Gold" (a duet with Dottie West, 1969) reaching # 2. His accomplishments in the 1960s were all the more remarkable because this was a decade full of personal problems for Don, including alcohol and drug abuse.
The sadness of his songs matched Roy Orbison's, who recorded an album "Roy Orbison Sings Don Gibson" in 1966 and had a hit single with Don's "Too Soon To Know".
During the 1970s Gibson recorded for Hickory (later ABC-Hickory), under the guidance of Wesley Rose, and maintained a high chart profile. The Gary Paxton composition "Woman (Sensuous Woman)" (1972) brought him his first number one since "Blue Blue Day". A series of duets with Sue Thompson (1971-76) was moderately successful. In 1973 he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame. "A Legend In My Time", which never charted for Don, was a # 1 country hit in 1975 for Ronnie Milsap. Altogether, Gibson had 74 entries in the Billboard country charts between 1956 and 1980. He has recorded over 500 songs.
In 1984, after re-recording some of his biggest hits for K-Tel, Don Gibson retired permanently from recording, touring and performing. He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001, two years before his death from natural causes. He died at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, aged 75.
More info : http://www.allmusic.com/artist/don-gibson-mn0000184814 (All Music Guide)
Further reading : - Book : Richard Weize & Charles K. Wolfe, Don Gibson, a legend in his own time : the bio/discography. Vollersode : Bear Family Records, 1987. 89 pages. Out of print. - Two-part article : A legend in his time : Don Gibson talks to Stuart Colman. In : Now Dig This, issues 243 and 244 (June-July 2003).
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Charles Wolfe, Dale Vinicur, Stuart Colman.
Dik, December 2012
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