Country crooner Don Williams passed away at age 78 on Friday, leaving behind a nearly unprecedented string of hit singles and a reputation as country music’s inimitable “Gentle Giant.” Other country singers have been more popular than Williams, but it’s arguable that no country singer was more loved by his fans.
A native of Floydada, Texas, Williams made his way to Nashville in the late ‘60s after a few years recording in small bands and doing odd jobs. By 1971 he had a songwriting contract with Jack Clement’s publishing company, and in 1973 he made his chart debut with “The Shelter of Your Eyes.” With his signature laid-back baritone and mellow disposition, Williams was a natural performer and writer of love songs, scoring his first No. 1 country hit in 1974 with “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me.” From that point through 1991, every single he released landed in the Top 40 on the Billboard Country charts, and 17 of them reached No. 1.
His biggest hit came in 1981 with “I Believe in You,” which crossed over to No. 24 on the Hot 100, and his last Top 10 song came in 1991, with “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy.” After nearly five decades on the road, he played his last show in 2016.
To honor the silky-smooth Gentle Giant of country music, let’s go back and listen to him perform in his prime. We have two excellent, exclusive Williams concerts in the Paste Vault, both from the early 1980s. On May 26, 1982, Williams made a stop at the Country Club in Reseda, Calif., where he played a 10-gallon-hatful of signature love songs like ”(Turn Out the Light and) Love Me Tonight,” “Love Me Again,” “Lay Down Beside Me,” It Must Be Love” and “To Be Your Man.”
As was common at Williams’s performances, his fans were active participants in the show, singing all the choruses and sending shrieks of love and joy wafting toward the stage all night. Below, listen to great recordings of Williams (and the women of Reseda, Calif.) singing “I Believe in You” (maybe his greatest hit) plus four other No. 1s: “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good,” ”(Turn Out the Light and) Love Me Tonight,” “Love Me Over Again” and “You’re My Best Friend.”