by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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. Gibsons 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 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.
Gibson began playing guitar while he was a high-school student in North Carolina, playing local radio stations and dances. In 1946, he became a regular with the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville. Around the same time, he began recording western songs with the Sons of the Soil, both on Mercury and RCA Victor Records. In 1950, Gibson assumed control of the band, renaming them Don Gibson & His King Cotton Kinfolks and switching their musical direction to honky tonk. Although their sound was more focused, they remained unsuccessful. Gibson continued to perform on the radio, as well as at Esslingers Club in Tennessee. At the nightclub, Wesley Rose saw Gibson perform and offered him a writing contract. Gibson would only accept the deal if he was allowed to record. Rose managed to get Gibson a contract with Columbia, which proved unsuccessful. Again, Rose secured him another contract, this time with MGM. Gibsons first single for the label, Sweet Dreams, became a Top Ten hit and was covered by Faron Young, who took it to number three.
Following the success of Sweet Dreams, Gibson was signed to RCA in 1957 by Chet Atkins, who would become his producer for the next seven years. Released early in 1958, Gibsons 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. Gibson and Atkins developed a pop-friendly style which featured rock & roll flourishes that brought him to a larger audience. In the course of 1958-1961, Gibson had a total of 11 Top Ten singles, including I Cant Stop Lovin You, Blue Blue Day, Who Cares, Dont Tell Me Your Troubles, Just One Time, Sea of Heartbreak, and Lonesome Number One.
Although his career wasnt as successful in the latter half of the 60s, he still had the occasional Top Ten single, including (Yes) Im Hurting (1966), Funny, Familiar, Forgotten, Feelings (1966), Rings of Gold (1969), and Theres a Story (Goin Round) (1969). 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, 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 1980s Love Fires. During the 80s and 90s, he continued to tour and perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Gibson died in Nashville, on November 17, 2003.