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Don Gibson

Singer/songwriter Don Gibson was one of the most popular and influential forces in '50s and '60s country, scoring numerous hit singles as a performer and a songwriter. Gibson's music touched on both traditional country and highly produced country-pop, which is part of the reason he had such a broad audience. For nearly a decade after his first hit single, "Sweet Dreams," in 1956, he was a reliable hitmaker, and many of his songs have become country classics -- they have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Kitty Wells, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, and Ronnie Milsap.

He was born Donald Eugene Gibson in Shelby, NC, the youngest of five children of Solon and Mary Gibson. His father, a railroad worker, died when Gibson was just two years old, and his mother remarried in the early '40s, when Don Gibson was still a boy -- by that time, the family survived as sharecroppers, but even as a boy the youngest Gibson hated farming, and as he grew older he made the decision to get as far away from it as possible. He ceased attending school regularly after the second grade, a decision that he regretted in the years to come -- perhaps in compensation, Gibson subsequently became a voracious reader across much of his adult life. And for all of his professed desire, even at a young age, to break away from a life on the farm, he was hindered by terrible emotional insecurity. Gibson was hopelessly shy all through life, defensive about his appearance -- to the point where, as a boy or a young man, he would avoid walking into places that were too crowded -- and also about his voice, which was characterized by a very bad stutter while he was growing up.

One escape that he had from those and other worries was the music he heard on the radio in the 1930s and early '40s. Even as a young boy, he would listen to the music and try to visualize himself as a performer. He took his first step toward this goal at 14 when he bought a guitar and learned some rudimentary chords. He was soon sitting with the instrument, watching and listening to other, older boys and men playing, and trying to pick up on what they were singing and playing. When he wasn't doing that, he was engaged in his other preferred pastime, making a living in the pool halls around Shelby as a teenage pool shark.

As he approached his mid-teens, Gibson's playing advanced to the point where he was approached by Ned Costner, a fiddle player, who began playing with him at Costner's home. The informal duo soon became a trio with the addition of Curly Sisk on second guitar, and they were soon playing at the Sisk family's home, a boarding house where the three became regular entertainment for the Sisk family and their tenants on Saturday nights. Before long, they even had a name, the Sons of the Soil, with Gibson playing a washtub bass. They were good enough so that in 1948, when Gibson was 16 years old (and Sisk only 14), they were hired as a duo on WOHS, the local radio station. And not long after that, Gibson as singer (but still playing bass, though no longer an adapted washtub) became the focal point of a new band put together by the station's program director, Milton Scarborough (who played accordion in the group). They were christened the Hi-Lighters, with Billy Roberts (trumpet), Gibson and Sisk, Scarborough and Doc Whitmire (accordions), and Jim Barber (fiddle). They were barely paid anything, but the exposure did an enormous amount for the members, especially Gibson, who was overcoming at least the most outward aspects of any insecurity he was feeling.

He was still earning his living doing outside jobs, and the boys apparently didn't think in terms of where to go beyond WOHS. Then, in 1949, fate took a hand when a radio salesman named Marshall Pack chanced to visit the station and heard the Hi-Lighters. He was impressed with the entire group but most especially with Gibson's singing, and he, in turn, convinced Mercury Records producer Murray Nash that the group might be worth an audition. Out of that chance encounter came Gibson's first recording, a set of four songs: "Automatic Mama," "I Love My Love," "Cloudy Skies" -- the latter two featuring Gibson, Sisk, and Barber on harmony vocals in the style of the Sons of the Pioneers -- and "Why Am I So Lonely"; the latter was also the first song written by Don Gibson to see the light of day as a record. All four sides were issued by Mercury, credited to the Sons of the Soil. Any chance that the group ever had of making a name for itself ended later in 1949, however, when Sisk and Barber exited the lineup for a spot in the live stage show of cowboy actor Lash LaRue.

Gibson marked time for a while, until a chance at a contract with RCA Victor opened up in 1950. He put together a new group called the King Cotton Kinfolks and also took back his rhythm guitar spot in the new band. They recorded a demo for RCA A&R chief Steve Sholes at a Charlotte, NC, radio station on October 17, 1950. None of the resulting releases from Gibson's first stay on RCA sold well enough to justify further investment -- the company simply wasn't sure what to do with him as a singer, or with the band, whose sound at that time was honky tonk. They weren't selling a lot of records, but they did have a regular spot on the radio as part of The Tennessee Barn Dance, which gave them some much-needed exposure -- Gibson would remain a fixture on the program for years. In the summer of 1952, Gibson got a new recording contract, this time with Columbia Records through producer Don Law. The dozen songs that he recorded over the two years he was with the label showed phenomenal growth in his range and depth as a singer, but only included a pair of originals -- though one of those, "Many Times I've Waited," was impressive.

The turning point for Gibson came after the end of his Columbia contract. He was without a record label for almost a year but still performing regularly, and he soon started to concentrate on writing. In 1955, he began to compose songs in earnest, and one of his originals, "Sweet Dreams," especially impressed a friend of Gibson's named Mel Foree, who worked for Acuff-Rose publishers. He, in turn, arranged for Wesley Rose -- a partner in the company -- to see Gibson perform the song. He offered Gibson a writing contract, which he accepted. but only if it included a chance to record. Rose agreed, and Acuff-Rose secured him a contract with MGM Records. This time, with his own song "Sweet Dreams" as the A-side, the resulting debut single for the label became a Top Ten hit and was covered by Faron Young, who took it to number three at the same time.

Following the success of "Sweet Dreams," Gibson was signed to RCA Victor in 1957 by Chet Atkins, who would become his producer for the next seven years. Released early in 1958, Gibson's first RCA single, "Oh Lonesome Me," was a blockbuster, spending eight weeks at the top of the country charts and crossing over into the pop Top Ten. That same year, he realized a long-held dream when he made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. Gibson and Atkins developed a pop-friendly style featuring rock & roll flourishes that brought him to a larger audience -- he was a country artist, to be sure, but listening to some of his songs during the late '50s one could also hear the influence of artists such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly woven into his work, all sounding perfectly natural. His singing, which was unique in range and expressiveness, was closely matched by his guitar playing, which stood out even on recordings featuring the likes of Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland, Atkins himself occasionally, and other top Nashville guitarists (as well as Floyd Cramer, et al.).

In the course of 1958-1961, Gibson had a total of 11 Top Ten singles, including "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," "Blue Blue Day," "Who Cares," "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles," "Just One Time," "Sea of Heartbreak," and "Lonesome Number One." "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," along with a brace of his other compositions, became instant country and pop standards in the hands of other artists, and successful as Gibson was as a recording artist, he was even more influential as a composer -- by the mid-'60s, RCA Victor was issuing albums built on his recordings going all the way back to 1957, and even MGM and Columbia got into the act in 1965, plundering the dozen Gibson songs each that they had in their vaults.

Although his career wasn't as successful in the latter half of the '60s, he still had the occasional Top Ten single, including "(Yes) I'm Hurting" (1966), "Funny, Familiar, Forgotten, Feelings" (1966), "Rings of Gold" (1969), and "There's a Story (Goin' Round)" (1969); RCA also issued two separate "best-of" volumes on him on LP during this same period, five years apart. During the late '60s, he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, but he cleaned up in the early '70s, which led to a comeback in 1971. Switching record labels from RCA to Hickory -- the latter owned by Acuff-Rose -- Gibson had a Top Ten hit with "Country Green" in 1972. The following summer, he had his last number one single, "Woman (Sensuous Woman)." He also had a series of duets with Sue Thompson between 1971 and 1976, which were all moderately successful.

After two Top Ten hits in 1974 -- "One Day at a Time" and "Bring Back Your Love to Me" -- he settled into a string of minor hits that ran until 1980's "Love Fires." During the '80s and '90s, he continued to tour and perform at the Grand Ole Opry. During the 1980s and 1990s, Gibson saw his catalog re-released in several different compilations, including three box sets covering his career up through 1969, by Germany's Bear Family Records, and in the 1990s and early 21st century, RCA/BMG also issued hits compilations on him, as well as licensing the reissue of several of his albums to CD. Gibson died in Nashville on November 17, 2003. ~ Bruce Eder & Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: 20 Greatest Songs

1. Sweet Dreams

2. Oh Lonesome Me

3. I Can't Stop Loving You

4. Give Myself A Party

5. Blue Blue Day

6. Look Who's Blue

7. Who Cares

8. Just One Time

9. Sea Of Heartbreak

10. Lonesome Number One

11. Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings

12. Rings Of Gold

13. Country Green

14. Far, Far Away

15. Woman (Sensuous Woman)

16. Is This The Best I'm Gonna Feel

18. Snap Your Fingers

19. One Day At A Time

20. Bring Back Your Love To Me

x

Track List: The Singer - The Songwriter: 1961-1966

Disc 1

2. I Think It's Best (To Forget Me)

8. Camptown Races

11. White Silver Sands

13. Lonesome Road

19. So How Come (No One Loves Me)

23. I Can Mend Your Broken Heart

26. It Makes No Difference Now

27. Settin' The Woods On Fire

28. Baby, We're Really In Love

29. I Love You So Much It Hurts

30. It's A Sin

Disc 2

1. This Cold War With You

2. Where Is Your Heart Tonight

3. Blue Dream

4. How's The World Treating You

5. May You Never Be Alone

6. We Live In Two Different Worlds

7. Old Ship Of Zion

8. Then I Met The Master

9. I'd Rather Have Jesus

10. Be Ready

20. Love Has Come My Way

24. Oh Such A Stranger

27. God Walks These Hills With Me

28. Do You Know My Jesus

29. Hide Me, Rock Of Ages

30. Where Else Would I Want To Be?

31. If I Can Help Somebody

Disc 3

1. He's Everywhere

2. You Don't Knock

3. When They Ring The Golden Bells

10. 'Cause I Believe In You

11. Then I'll Be Free

14. When Your House Is Not A Home

15. Watch Where You're Going

18. Too Much Hurt

19. A Born Loser

20. A Wound Time Can't Erase

21. Around The Town

23. Dark As A Dungeon

24. Right Away

25. Lovin' Lies

26. All The World Is Lonely Now

27. When Your House Is Not A Home

28. Worried Mind

29. There's A Big Wheel

30. Take These Chains From My Heart

31. Singing The Blues

Disc 4

7. (Yes) I'm Hurting

20. Blues In My Mind

x

Track List: The Songwriter 1949 - 1960

Disc 1

1. I Lost My Love

2. Why Am I So Lonely?

3. Automatic Mama

4. Cloudly Skies

5. I Love No One But You

6. Carolina Breakdown

7. Roses Are Red

8. Wiggle Wag

9. Dark Future

10. Just Let Me Love You

11. A Blue Million Tears

12. Red Lips, White Lies And Blue Hours

13. Sample Kisses

14. No Shoulder To Cry On

15. Let Me Stay In Your Arms

16. We're Stepping Out Tonight

17. Waitin' Down The Road

18. Walkin' In The Moonlight

19. I Just Love The Way You Tell A Lie

20. You Cast Me Out (Forevermore)

21. Symptoms Of Love

22. Selfish With Your Kisses

23. Ice Cold Heart

24. Many Times I've Wanted

25. The Road Of Life Alone

26. Run Boy

27. Sweet Dreams

28. I Must Forget You

Disc 2

1. Ah-Ha

3. I Ain't Gonna Waste My Time

4. I Ain't A-Studyin' You Baby

5. I'm Gonna Fool Everybody

6. I Believed In You

7. What A Fool I Was For You

8. You're The Only One For Me

9. I Love You Still

10. Everything Turns Out For The Best

11. I Can't Leave

12. Sittin' Here Cryin'

13. Too Soon To Know

14. Pretty Rainbow

15. Blue Blue Day

16. Tell It Like It Is

17. Oh Lonesome Me

18. I Can't Stop Loving You

19. Tell It Like It Is

20. It Has To Be

21. Give Myself A Party

22. Look Who's Blue

23. Bad Bad Day

24. I Can't Leave

25. Take Me As I Am

26. Heartbreak Avenue

27. We Could

28. If You Don't Know It

29. Sweet Sweet Girl

30. Blues In My Heart

31. Give Myself A Party

Disc 3

1. Taller Than Trees

2. Satisfied

3. Wait For The Light To Shine

4. Canaan's Land

6. Evening Prayer

7. Lord I'm Coming Home

8. Satisfied

9. Climbing Up The Mountain

10. Where No One Stands Alone

11. Known Only To Him

12. My God Is Real

13. That Lonesome Valley

14. Who Cares (For Me)

15. When Will This Ever End

16. Sweet Sweet Girl

17. A Stranger To Me

18. Won't Cha Come Back To Me

19. A Stranger To Me

20. As Much

21. Who Cares (For Me)

22. I Wish It Had Been A Dream

23. Ages And Ages Ago

24. Even Tho'

25. Didn't Work Out, Did It?

26. It's My Way

27. Almost

28. Do You Think

29. Foggy River

30. Midnight

31. Lonesome Old House

Disc 4

1. Don't Tell Me Your Troubles

2. I Couldn't Care Less

3. Don't Tell Me Your Troubles

4. Heartbreak Avenue

5. Big Hearted Me

6. Maybe Tomorrow

7. Everybody But Me

8. I'm Movin' On

9. Just One Time

10. I May Never Get To Heaven

11. Lonely Street

12. On The Banks Of The Old Ponchartrain

13. Why Don't You Love Me

14. If I Can Stay Away

15. Never Love Again

16. The Streets Of Laredo

17. My Love For You

18. My Hands Are Tied

19. It Only Hurts For A Little While

20. (I'd Be) A Legend In My Time

21. Far Far Away

22. Foolish Me

23. My Tears Don't Show

24. The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise

25. What About Me

26. The Next Voice You Hear

27. Hurtin' Inside

28. Sweet Dreams

29. Time Hurts (As Well As It Heals)

30. What's The Reason I'm Not Pleasing You

31. Sweet Dreams

32. The Same Street

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Oh, Lonesome me - Don Gibson: Off The Singer - The Songwriter); Don's voice as good as ever, just the backing not up to his original version.
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Touch the morning - Don Gibson: Good happy song - is that Chet Atkins guitar helping out in there, great guitar backing.
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Just one time - Don Gibson: What was the matter with his original version/?
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Don Gibson did not die in Nashville. I heard via an Alabama disk jockey who is reputable. Mr Gibson perished in a mobile home fire in Knoxville. It seemed such a sad ending for someone of his stature. RIP Mr Gibson!
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I listen to don all the time just love him
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Lonesome Number one - great song
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Great to hear this again, nice gentle version from Don, - nice but not quite as good as his original version way back then.
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gibson=geniu s
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gwells888
was the great Don Gibson Native American? I'm curious, because I'm part Native American and I think he had the features. Certainly very handsome.
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Don had a lot of personal things going on in his life back a number of years ago& tried committing suiside.He finally got his life back together.So glad,he is part of a handful that helped
build Nashville & the Grand Ole Opry.A lot of people are not aware of just how many songs he's written that's become hits for himself & others.He is one that has made money for a lot of singers
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Don Gibson sings Sweet Dreams better than anyone, I love his voice, but I love all of his songs, I have a CD that has been played probably a thousand times, I never get tired of hearing it !!
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lelliott0521
I never heard of him but I enjoyed listening to his music on Pandora. Nice looking fellow, wonder why he was insecure about his looks?
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I have be a fan of Don Gibson starting back in 1958 when I was in Boot camp in the Coast Guard in Cap May NJ,
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One of the greatest Country music songwriters ever.
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I have been a fan of Don Gibson since the mid 1950's. I have loved so many of his songs over the years, but my all time favorite is "I Can't Stop Loving You".
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debnron0
Don Gibson was so good, first heard his music in the late fifties when I was a boy and love his music to this day. Sea of Heartbreak is my favorite but like all his stuff.
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todd_mesberg e n
My favorite artist
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i love don gibson, wish i knew where to find some songs of him on paper
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we love old muisc.countr y . . .
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Great singer, Great Writer. Great stylist,
Good Man
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have always liked gibsons songs his performance is great
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Great singer-songw r i t e r , a l w a y s have loved this guy,sure has alot of songs to his credits ,wonderful country icon,play more of this man`s songs...Than k s Pandora
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daisy.clifto n
Don Gibson's voice always evokes sweet memories of simple days gone by. His songs always has distinct pages of my life.
Report as inappropriate
mpmizell
I can remember the radio playing one of your songs when I would get up and ready for school. You have the style of music that just lingers on and on in our minds and hearts. Thank you for using your talent for the rest of the world to enjoy.

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