Don Gibson

TrackSingle / Album
Blue Blue DayRCA Victor 47/7010
Oh Lonesome MeRCA Victor 47/7133
I Can't Stop Lovin' YouRCA Victor 47/7133
Don't Tell Me Your TroublesRCA Victor 47/7566
Won't Cha Come Back To MeThat Gibson Boy
A Legend In My TimeRCA Victor 47/7762
Sweet DreamsRCA Victor 47/7805
The Same StreetRCA Victor 47/7805
Sea Of HeartbreakRCA Victor 47/7890
Lonesome Number OneRCA Victor 47/7959

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Don Gibson photo

Don Gibson

 

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

Picture if you can, yours truly in the late fifties or early sixties painfully trying to keep the tuning on the tranny – was that slang already in place? – sticking to Radio Luxembourg and enjoying, when I could, the strains of each new Don Gibson record as it appeared. Mr Gibson was one of the very few artists we heard singing and playing the thing that we were told was Country & Western or C&W and, in the words of one of the commentators on 45cat, we got “consistently good stuff from Don”. Take me out of the picture if you like and substitute John Lennon or Keith Richards or even Neil Young in Toronto or Winnipeg or wherever he was at the time listening to his folks’ radio.

Kids in the UK in those days knew very little about country music. You didn’t hear artists like Hank Williams and Kitty Wells on the radio. The people we did get were Johnny Cash, Don Gibson and a little – too little – Patsy Cline. Gibson’s music might have been the easiest to swallow of all of them. Records like Oh Lonesome Me and Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles had some of the spirit of rock and roll and very little of the politeness of the music rock and roll was replacing (or so we hoped). Apart from the beat, I saw those records as having the directness and integrity that I didn’t find in the records from, say, Ronnie Hilton and Dickie Valentine, with zero disrespect intended.

Don Gibson was the king of country crossover who, between 1958 and 1961, had four singles achieve the rare feat of jumping from the Country Chart to the US Pop Top 40, not to mention many more which got into lower levels of the Hot 100. And that’s also not to mention the songs that Gibson wrote that achieved chart success for others, notably Patsy Cline with Sweet Dreams and Ray Charles with I Can’t Stop Loving you.

And there’s something of an irony about my reaction to those crossover records in that, not too many years later, I learned that Gibson was perceived by many as one of the main guilty parties in the dumbing down of country music by those evil people in Nashville. Although he had started recording years earlier and his singles from the early fifties were solid fiddle and pedal steel items plus de rigueur nasal vocal from the man himself, he took to the Nashville Sound like the proverbial duck to water and was amongst the earliest to be recorded in this manner. To quote a line from Wiki from their piece on the Nashville Sound:

“Writer Colin Escott proclaims Jim Reeves “Four Walls”, recorded February 1957, to be the “first ‘Nashville sound’ record”, and Chet Atkins, the RCA Victor producer and guitarist most often credited with being the sound’s primary artistic creator, pointed to his production of Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” late that same year.”

I’d marginally take issue with the late great Chet Atkins and suggest that his production of Gibson’s preceding single, Blue Blue Day, should be considered the man’s first Nashville Sound recording, but I’m splitting hairs here. Of more importance are a couple of aspects of the Gibson + Nashville sound that don’t always get mentioned. First to comment that the man seemed to have a natural affinity with the pop music of the day in that his records, the bulk of which were penned by himself, were often hybrids of country and pop with a little rock or blues providing a soupçon of edge. Also, particularly in the early days, he succumbed far less to the addition of string sections on his records than other Nashville based artists. It’s notable that his first recording of I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – like several country artists he often re-recorded songs – was minus strings. And you don’t miss them. (When I say “strings” from now on it’s shorthand for orchestral style string section(s) as opposed to individual (or maybe one or two more) country fiddles).

Donald Eugene Gibson was born in Shelby, North Carolina on 3rd April 1928. School wasn’t of great interest and he dropped out early. Music, however, was and he joined a band called Sons Of The Soil and recorded four tracks at WBBO Radio Station Studio, Forest City, NC in October 1948 (source: The Praguefrank discography on Don which has been a constant presence in the process of putting this post together). These were released as a couple of singles by Mercury. Among the songs was the first recorded number penned by Don, Why Am I So Lonely which is present in this clip complete with false start. Note that opening stanza, “Why am I so lonely, why am I so blue”, is the perfect look-ahead to so much of Don’s song writing oeuvre. In 1950, Don either took over the band and renamed them Don Gibson and the King Cotton Kinfolks or recruited a totally new band and gave them that name, depending on who you read. The outfit cut a couple of singles for RCA Victor with Steve Sholes as producer in ’51 (note that I’ve shortened RCA Victor to RCA in further references).

Don then got picked up by the mighty Columbia though it was a relationship that wasn’t destined to last. However, during the fallow post-Columbia period, he focused heavily on song writing. Sweet Dreams came from this time frame and the song so impressed one of his friends, Mel Foree, an employee at publisher Acuff-Rose, that he arranged for Wesley Rose to see Gibson performing the song in a club. Rose was duly impressed and not only signed Don to a writing contract but also got him a recording contract with MGM. (There are various versions of this sequence of events but this is the one which appears in AllMusic and is corroborated elsewhere.)

Don joined MGM. Sweet Dreams was released and it shot up to #9 in the Billboard Country Chart and, while “shot” might be an overstatement in terms of speed, it must have seemed that way to the hit-starved Don Gibson. And in case you’re wondering why it’s not my selection, I can tell you that I held back until the revisit (though this version would have got the vote if the revisit concept hadn’t ever been implemented). Unfortunately for Don some of his sales were stolen by the already established country star Faron Young who got his version out at a rate of knots. A considerably later cut from Patsy Cline pipped both these gentlemen. It also became Patsy’s first posthumous hit, coming out just after the fatal plane crash.

There were further MGM singles but none of them did anything in the charts; in truth none of them were up to Sweet Dreams. That said, quite why MGM let RCA come in and pick up Don’s contract little more than a year after the success of Sweet Dreams, I don’t know. Though the fact that Chet Atkins had played on some of the Columbia Gibson sessions might have helped persuade the RCA hierarchy (and Atkins was given the position of Head of RCA Nashville in ’57).

RCA Single #4 from Don was the one that effectively made his name: Oh, Lonesome Me c/w I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You. What … A … Pairing! Both sides crossed over although “Can’t Stop” only got to #81 in the Hot 100 which is amazingly low in light of the 700 plus versions that have reportedly now been made of the song. More on both of these tracks later but for the moment let’s merely record three facts: 1) that the Gibson career had now started in earnest, 2) the Nashville Sound was now firmly in the public domain (see Footnotes) and 3) that Gibson and the Nashville Sound were firmly aligned and inseparable and would continue to be. Okay, I know the third one assumes future knowledge but let’s just log the point while we can.

The hits followed. All written by Don (or almost), all produced by Chet: Blue Blue Day (which was the record immediately preceding Oh, Lonesome Me in order of release but it gained traction due to the latter’s success), Give Myself A Party, Who Cares, Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles, Just In Time, Sweet Dreams (the re-recording), Sea Of Heartbreak, Lonesome Number One and more. The crossovers dried up at the end of ’61 but Country Chart Hits just kept on going and a new source of sales opened up in Canada in the seventies. Most of these songs were written by Gibson himself though there were occasional interesting exceptions including Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings (Mickey Newbury, 1966 and later he recorded other Newbury songs), (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (Hank Williams, 1971), Any Day Now (Chuck Jackson, 1978) and The Fool (Lee Hazlewood but recorded by Sanford Clark, 1978).

Don Gibson was inducted in the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1973 and the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001. Why it took so long for the latter to happen is a mystery; maybe there were still lingering resentments over the use of the Nashville Sound.

He died of natural causes on 17th November 2003.

 

THE BIG ONES

Contrary to what one would like to believe that, nestling under the hits from some artists are even better tracks that somehow didn’t make it or got buried on albums, reality tells us that it’s more often the case that the hits were actually the better tracks i.e. that record buyers knew best. That was largely true with Don so I’m allocating most of my selections to the hits. Those who know them should enjoy them yet again. Those who don’t should be entertained by some fine tracks.

Blue Blue Day (the comma between the “blue’s” didn’t appear on the single but was on the EP). This was the first unveiling of the Nashville Sound, Don Gibson style. The track came from the second RCA session held on 26th June 1957. The first session in February that year had yielded the tracks for the first two RCA singles in which the overall sonic mix hadn’t changed to any significant degree from the MGM discs that had come before. But for the June session both fiddles and steel were conspicuous by their absence. In came Floyd Cramer’s piano and the Jordanaires vocal group as replacements. Heavily strummed acoustic guitar got the number up and rolling. It may or may not be relevant but Atkins had been lead guitar on the relatively recent Everly Brothers’ session for Cadence Records. That session produced Bye Bye Love, a country/pop/rock merger if ever there was one, with a striking opening from strummed acoustic guitar, something that Don Everly had magicked up during the session. Whatever, for Blue Blue Day the new sound was an experiment that worked although the public took a little time to warm to the record, not sending it into the charts until the follow-up had caused the tills to register.

It’s been a blue, blue day
I feel like runnin’ away
I feel like runnin’ away from it all

Oh Lonesome Me. Similar to Blue Blue Day in terms of intro, chugalong tempo and general mood with a lyrical thrust that was typical Gibson – “I can’t get over how she set me free / Oh lonesome me” – and a statement which seemed to strike a chord with the American public judging by its crossover success. Country perhaps, for those who don’t normally buy country. Reportedly, and the report appears in several places, Don wrote this song and I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You on the same day in early ’57 while living in a trailer park north of Knoxville, Tennessee.

I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You. The one that spawned a multiplicity of covers as we’ve already learned though Oh Lonesome Me didn’t do badly in that respect either. The most famous of those covers has to be the one from Ray Charles and I may be the only person in the world who doesn’t love the record. It was included in Ray’s 1962 album, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music which was heavily trailed in the music press. As a soul fan I was looking forward to the album but its mixture of singalong, strings and big band arrangements didn’t meet my possibly narrow country soul expectations. In terms of the single, I felt that there was a degree of majesty in the Gibson original even if, in its treatment it was more akin to a rockaballad than an outright country item with Cramer’s fingers flying up and down those riffs just as they’d done on Too Soon To Know from the previous session (see Footnotes). In comparison, the Charles version almost seemed to invite end of the evening out of tune pub singing. Sorry Ray.

This pair of tracks are inextricably linked so here are both:

 

Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles. Several records saw release and several hits clambered up the charts prior to this one in 1969. It was something of a throwback to the Blue Blue Day template rhythmically but lyric-wise Don had added a dimension. This time he wasn’t alone in feeling lonesome and blue, but he certainly didn’t appreciate another guy dumping his pain all over him (Don). Lyrical simplicity was a Gibson strong point with few wasted words. He was rarely one for metaphors but would reach for a saying occasionally:

It happens to the best of us
That’s what they always say
So take it boy, like a man
Don’t stand in my way

I’m pressing pause, trying to think of comparisons to Gibson and there really isn’t one. A single Everly is a possibility but the voices are miles apart. The nearest I can get is somewhere between Elvis on one of his rock ballads or a milder rocker like Don’t Be Cruel, and Jimmie Rodgers, the pop singer not the country legend. The last named will be unknown to the vast majority of people these days but this is his Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, a hit from ’57.

A Legend In My Time. I think it must be the sheer absurdity of this song that made it a selection. It’s as if someone once said to Don, “If there were prizes for being miserable, you’d win them all” and the thought balloon went up, “There’s a song in that”. That’s all it’s about but they treat it with complete sincerity, Floyd doing his rockaballad thing on the piano, and amazingly it works.

Sweet Dreams. Follow-up to “Legend” and a revisit of course. Don’s original was very good but this take betters it. It’s not just the more sympathetic backing, it’s the man’s voice that really makes the record. It’s improved so much but it’s also quieter with nothing overstated. Note the way he holds on to the word “sweet” as the chords are changing underneath him. Elsewhere, the timing and timbre cannot be faulted and there are even so-subtle-you-might-miss-them touches of melisma in his enunciation of some syllables.

Before leaving the song it’s probably a good time to air the very fine 1963 version from Patsy Cline replete with shimmering strings and the break in the great lady’s voice. Some readers may be familiar with the take from Tommy McLain which appeared in the Oval compilation Another Saturday Night: Jukebox Hits From South Louisiana put together by Charlie Gillett in 1974. Tommy’s original single, which was released in ’66 and usually gets categorised as ‘swamp pop’, was the only version of the song to crack the US Top 40.

Sea Of Heartbreak. I said that Don “was rarely one for metaphors”. This wasn’t an exception: the song was written by someone else; to be precise, by Paul Hampton and Hal David with Hal, of course, being the man who subsequently paired up with Burt Bacharach. Given that both are listed as lyricists I don’t know which of the pair contributed most in this case. It doesn’t matter. What they produced was lyrically the most eloquent summary of the blue theme that runs through so many of Don’s records that we were ever going to hear. More than that, the song is one of the greatest written on the subject, and the performance of Don and the team doesn’t let it down.

The lights in the harbour
Don’t shine for me
I’m like a lost ship
Adrift on the sea

By “team”, I mean the RCA Nashville studio A Team as they were/are often referred to. Whatever you may think about the Nashville Sound, these guys, and the occasional gal (see Footnotes), certainly delivered. So let’s drink to the hard working people, not forgetting the Jordanaires who put on their best doo wop style for this record.

Lonesome Number One. The last of Don’s big hits in that it was the last of his releases to make the Hot 100. It’s also the last of my ‘hits’ selections. Thematically, this was a restated Legend In My Time but minus any grandiosity – “Although no titles have I won / I surely must be lonesome number one”. Musically, like Sea Of Heartbreak it was another big nod in the pop direction but more striking than those words might suggest and decked out with some Mexican guitar flourishes (which probably came from Grady Martin who was one of the guitar pickers in the support team this time).

 

THE WILD CARDS

There had to be a few tracks that no one saw coming; isn’t that what Toppermost is about? For my first one I went for inspiration to the 1967 Gibson tribute album from Roy Orbison entitled, imaginatively, Roy Orbison Sings Don Gibson. Roy was a fan of Don and, for a brief period, they were label mates at RCA. Both had struggled in their early days and both had spent time trying to produce songs for other artists.

Perhaps even more important than those similarities was the fact that the Orbison life so closely resembled that of the narrator in a typical Gibson song, the ‘hopelessly romantic loser’ as Richie Unterberger called him in his piece on Orbison in AllMusic. Add in to that the fact that Roy’s wife Claudette died in a motor cycle accident while he was recording the album and you had the worst sort of sea of heartbreak. The already-recorded Orbison version of Too Soon To Know was taken from the set prior its completion and released with a dedication to Claudette. It was a smash hit in both the UK and Ireland,

The Same Street. The Orby album was a mix of big numbers and obscurities. This was one of the latter; it was originally the flip of the RCA Sweet Dreams. The title gives you a good idea of the theme and the expansion of the first line spells it out, “I still live on the same street that we lived on”. The melodic structure was unusual in that the verse, if you can call it that, was extremely long; there were only two of them on the record. The appeal to Roy was obvious: it was the sort of thing that he often used to do on his songs, building to grand crescendo(s) as he progressed. However on Don’s “Same Street” there’s no let-it-all-hang-out climaxing. That simply wasn’t his style. Instead, the mood of broody introspection lingers with occasional swells in the accompaniment (which was minimal, comprised only of rhythm section, Jordanaires and a fine guitarist) to indicate slight changes in state of mind. Only a few months before, Don had recorded a cover of the classic country soul number, Lonely Street; I wonder if that was what gave him the idea for this song.

Won’t Cha Come Back To Me. I felt there had to be something cheery to complete the selections and, although the title doesn’t sound promising, the performance on the track fits the bill nicely. It appeared on the third RCA album, That Gibson Boy, which elsewhere was stuffed with non-Gibson songs indicating that RCA wanted to get product out with alacrity to cash in on singles sales. With different accompaniment this could have been rockabilly but of the more comfortable jogalong variety rather than the frantic stuff. Mind you, the lead guitarist – pick one of Chet Atkins, Hank Garland or Harold Bradley – doesn’t take any prisoners on his break, on which he’s accompanied by a sole high and hooting Jordanaire. The whole thing is over in 1:31. A little gem.

 

THE ONES THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT

There are always some that you agonise over; should I find space for this one? These are the ones that caused me most grief over their omission. They are in no particular order and, unless otherwise stated, are singles or flips.

Give Myself A Party, a kind of bluesy swing affair wherein Don states “Gonna take all the loneliness, sit right down with the blues” and it’s the blues he’s inviting to his party. It was covered by, amongst others, Rosemary Clooney who took it in the swing direction and Jeannie C. Riley who stuck with Nashville albeit seventies version.

Who Cares is a great up-tempo romper of a kind that Don all too rarely committed to wax. The Nashville guys and gals are clearly enjoying themselves.

What About Me, another variation on Don’s usual theme – “you’re not concerned with your old used-to-be’s” – but with a fine tune and performance.

Sweet, Sweet Girl, the nearest Don ever got to writing and performing a Sun-style Memphis country rocker and it was only the fact that Warren Smith cut such a good cover (on Sun) that prevented this track getting into the ten. From the 1958 album, Oh Lonesome Me.

I Let Her Get Lonely is a classic slow country weepie written by Carl Belew, co-writer of Lonely Street. Don’s timing comes to the fore again in a superb final line. Would have been in the selections but I find the vibes in the accompaniment a tad irritating and twee.

This Cold War With You. A fine rendition of the Mel Tillman song which had managed to equate the male/female relationship with fifties politics. The track can be found on the 1962 album, Some Favorites Of Mine.

Maybe Tomorrow. The Everly Brothers song, written by Don E, which appeared on the flip of Wake Up Little Susie plus their first, eponymous, album. Don’s version is included on the late 1960 album, Sweet Dreams. For comparison, here are the Everlys. While Don can’t match the high and lonesome harmonies of the boys, he does produce a very credible version and, once again, it was nudging my selections. I’m happy to call this country soul.

I Wish It Had Been A Dream is another album track, this time from 1959’s That Gibson Boy, and it’s a fine performance of a relatively recent Louvin Brothers flip.

 

THE LAST WORDS

Rightly or wrongly, I feel that the music establishment has never quite given Don Gibson the credit that he deserves. The long delay in according him a place in the Country Music Hall Of Fame is a symptom of this, as is the fact that it’s difficult to find much in the way of tributes to him from critics and reviewers. It’s true that he wasn’t a Williams or a Rodgers – and I do mean the country one this time – but over a period of roughly five years he managed to break that wall between country and popular music, a feat that only a few other artists have managed. In the process he built a new fan base whose existence can be confirmed in the rather ghoulishly titled Blog Of Death, a site which holds obituaries and comments from fans. I think I can state with some certainty that the bulk of those commenting on Don are, let’s say, on the mature side, with the corollary being that very very few of today’s record buyers, if such a term has meaning any more, have even heard of our man.

Which is a shame. Though I can say with some element of truth that his music lives on. Versions of his biggest songs aren’t exactly strangers on the radio although they’re almost invariably from artists other than Don Gibson. And yet if you play his originals they stand up very well against the covers.

I’ve implied in much of the foregoing that Don was something of a one trick pony in terms of song writing and subject matter but he wasn’t entirely alone in that in the country field. The fact that he sold a lot of records doing so tells us that he communicated to people or, put more simply, he was good at it. I’m tempted to coin a new phrase about those records, “since when did agony have to be so sweet” (with apologies to The Great Bard).

 

FOOTNOTES

1. While there were several fascinating chunks of pre-history prior to the key moment, it was the establishment of the Grand Ole Opry weekly radio show on 28th November 1925, broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium, that was the most important single event which led to Nashville being viewed as ‘(Country) Music City USA’. The regular presence in the city of all the big names due to their appearances on the Opry led to the establishment of studios by the major players in the recording industry. By the mid-fifties, RCA Victor, Columbia and US Decca were running along nicely in Music City but starting to get a little concerned by things happening elsewhere in Tennessee, to be precise, in Memphis. Working on the principle, if you can’t beat them buy them, RCA took the bull by the horns and bought out the Presley contract from Sam Phillips. That only solved part of the problem though. While it gave RCA the potential – which as we know was realised – of earnings from Presley for years to come, it didn’t do anything to address the negative impact that rock and roll in general was having on sales of country records from the label, plus other labels in Nashville and elsewhere in the US.

Presley’s first single for RCA, recorded on 10th and 11th January 1956, might give us clues to the changes that would take place in the approach to recording country music in Nashville. In the studio for the sessions were Scotty Moore and Bill Black from Memphis plus newly recruited drummer D.J. Fontana, plus the Nashville guys, Floyd Cramer on piano and Chet Atkins on guitar. Officially, Steve Sholes, head of RCA Nashville country division, was in charge of production but Atkins was assisting. For the A-side, Heartbreak Hotel, the Memphis guys were largely given their head. The blues-based rocker wasn’t overly different to what they’d been recording at Sun. The flip was something different. I Was The One was a teen ballad, something that was outside the so-far-recorded repertoire for Elvis, Scotty and Bill. What did come through on the record very clearly was the Cramer piano and the sound of three male backing singers (one of whom was Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires).

Leap forward little more than a year to a session in February ’57 and those elements are in place on the Jim Reeves record, Four Walls, plus a limpid guitar intro from Chet Atkins who also produced the session. The slightly mixed down piano was from Cramer. And there’s not a sign of a fiddle or steel guitar in the room. Via the Colin Escott quote, Wiki states that this disc could be one of the earliest records with the new Nashville Sound.

Chet Atkins wasn’t the only producer moving in this direction though; others including Owen Bradley at Decca (where he cut Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee and more), Bob Ferguson, another RCA producer, plus Steve Sholes himself, were also at it. And an even earlier single, Ferlin Husky’s crossover, Gone, featured both backing voices and a string section thus bringing another major component of the Nashville Sound into the mix.

We can hear a good example of the before and after effect of the Nashville Sound in operation via two versions of Don Gibson’s first RCA single I Can’t Leave. When it was released in March ’57 it sounded like this but the version that appeared on the February 1958 LP, Oh Lonesome Me, had received a major makeover. This is the updated version. Both cuts were produced by Chet Atkins (source: the Praguefrank discography of course) and, yes, that’s Floyd Cramer on the second plus the Jordanaires. A really striking difference between the two versions is the updating of the Gibson voice: on the first he’s nasal in an attempt to capture the somewhat unusual vocal delivery of Hank Williams – this was a consistent sound on all Gibson records prior to his third RCA single Blue, Blue Day; on the second he’s much smoother but also more natural-sounding suggesting that his previous style was forced.

2. The influence of the Everly Brothers records and producer Archie Bleyer on the Nashville Sound doesn’t tend to get mentioned but the switch between their initial (and only) Columbia single and the series of Cadence records which followed was like chalk and cheese. That debut single, Keep A’Loving Me was conventional country with fiddle & steel and the boys sounding a little like their heroes, the Louvin Brothers. Bye Bye Love, recorded in Nashville for Cadence Records was, arguably, rock and roll but of a type not heard before. Musicians used on those singles for Cadence included people like Atkins, Cramer, Buddy Harman, Hank Garland and others, people who would appear at scores, hundreds even, of other Nashville sessions. Atkins had close links to the Everlys and was instrumental, either directly or indirectly, in getting them signed with both Columbia and then Cadence.

3. The June 1957 session which produced Blue Blue Day was unusual in other respects. Too Soon To Know, another Gibson penned number and the flipside to Blue Blue Day, was also recorded. It was unlike anything he’d done before, more like a big teen ballad than a country number. While some fifties country artists – another RCA man, Eddy Arnold springs to mind – had already ventured into the world of pop, this was new territory for Don. He and the team also had a go at a couple of tracks which didn’t see release at the time, a light pop affair plus another, Tell It Like It Is, which was darn close to Sun-style rock and roll. They must have had some faith in the last named since they had another attempt at pinning down the completed article at the next session but again met with no success. So, all in all, 26th of June was quite a date for Don and Chet with a lot of experimentation going on and hardly any of it along the lines of the honky tonk style of country that Don had previously been associated with.

4. Outside of lead vocalists and female singing groups (like the Anita Kerr Singers), studios in Nashville were an overwhelmingly male domain. For that reason I feel I should mention a lady called Velma Smith who played rhythm guitar on the session which produced Oh Lonesome Me and I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You. She also played on other Gibson sessions and, according to Wiki, was on Eddy Arnold’s Make The World Go Away, Jim Reeves’ I Love You Because and Hank Locklin’s Please Help Me I’m Falling. She also toured with various country bands.

5. RCA got up to some unexpected things at times. The first version of Sweet Dreams under their control was cut on the session held in July of 1960 and was included in the LP of that name. The cut that was released on the single came from the following session held in September that year. The cuts are noticeably different in terms of intro, plus the Floyd Cramer piano which is more prominent in the earlier take, plus the rhythm (which is more subtle on the second) and the presence of a slight fluff near the start of the second. Overall the later cut has better balance and I suspect it was this that persuaded RCA (which probably means Chet) to go with the second, on the basis that balance was the deciding factor. I should add that there were subsequent versions of the song from Don with the consequence that identifying cuts on albums (and YouTube), particularly best-of’s, is difficult to say the least.

6. The 12 track Oval compilation Another Saturday Night: Jukebox Hits From South Louisiana put together by Charlie Gillett – Oval was his label – was expanded and released on CD by Ace Records UK in 1990 and it’s still on their books. Ace also released a follow-up entitled Louisiana Saturday Night. The later comp included another Tommy McLain cover of a Gibson number, (I’d Be) A Legend In My Time.

7. Swamp Pop was the name given, several years later, to a form of music which flourished in the South West of Louisiana and the South East of Texas from the mid-fifties to roughly the middle of the following decade though it did linger on in places. Essentially it was slow rock and roll which took on board the self pity theme often found in country music and wallowed in it. Typical titles included Born To Be A Loser and Going Out With The Tide. I have written five Toppermosts on the genre and, in an attempt to cover as many of the minor artists found in this stream of music as possible, have devoted each Topper to one major artist, but filled out to ten selections with several of the minor names. There’s a paragraph on Tommy McClain in the Topper on Jimmy Donley. In the Footnotes of the first of the series, the one on Rod Bernard, I attempted to put together a definition of the genre.

8. I mentioned the Nashville A team and hypothesised whether one of its members, Grady Martin, who was on the session for Lonesome Number One, might have supplied the south of the border guitar work. The reason for my brain making that leap is because Martin was the guy who supplied similar embellishments on Marty Robbins’ famous El Paso disc. Like most of the Nashville session musicians he got around; he was even on some of Don’s earlier Columbia material.

9. I can’t mention Grady Martin without name checking another worthy member of the A team. Like Martin, Hank Garland was one of the “thirteen hundred and fifty two Guitar pickers in Nashville” but again like Martin he was right at the top of the pile. Over the years, he worked with most of the big names in country and rock with a few examples being Presley, Cline, Frizzell, Orbison, Twitty, Lee and many many more. He was a regular on Gibson sessions though it’s not necessarily easy to pick out who did what due to the presence of up to three guitar guys (often including Atkins himself) sometimes with the addition of a rhythm guitarist plus Don himself who was no mean shakes on a guitar and would often supply rhythm.

10. There was a near rockabilly (with pedal steel) cover of Don’s Won’t Cha Come Back To Me in 1958. It came from little known country singer, Margie Bowes and was her debut single.

11. I originally intended to include a paragraph or two in the main text on covers of Don’s songs but decided against in order not to detract from the man himself. Hence this footnote.

Firstly, I’d state that covers by Don of other artists’ numbers were high in number but generally more in evidence after the mid-sixties. Very often his versions weren’t technically covers in that they were distanced by time from the originals. In this respect he was merely continuing a long established practice by country singers, much like the singing of ‘standards’ by the Sinatra/Fitzgerald generation. Again, like other country singers, Don recorded a tribute album to Hank Williams.

In terms of covers of Don’s own songs, they were (and continue to be) numerous with big clusters based on Sweet Dreams, Oh Lonesome Me and I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, though Blue Blue Day, A Legend In My Time, Sea Of Heartbreak, Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles and Too Soon To Know had their share. And there were still others with ten or less versions listed as well.

Readers will have their favourites. Outside any already mentioned, mine include:

I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – Solomon Burke (live)
Sea Of Heartbreak – Rosanne Cash
Sweet Dreams – Bettye Lavette though I’m partial also to the versions from Patsy, Tommy and The Big O
A Legend In My Time – Ray Price
Oh Lonesome Me – Neil Young, which most people should know from After The Gold Rush
Oh Lonesome Me – Janis Martin, a rocking alternative to the above, recorded six months before Janis died in 2007

12. I’m grateful to Andrew Shields for a brief story about Don and Lefty Frizzell which he has gleaned from his no doubt copious reading on the latter for his toppermost on Lefty. In Andrew’s words:

“When he (Lefty) and Opry performer Don Gibson went out drinking one night and Gibson spent the evening bitterly complaining about his treatment by the Opry, Lefty drove him home, helped him up to his front door and then – angered by having to listen to one more Gibson outburst – slammed him up against the house, knocking off Gibson’s toupée.”

It’s worth adding that AllMusic in probably the best biography of Don that I’ve seen, state that “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.” Hence toupée, I guess.

13. My closing para starts with the words “Which is a shame” in reference to the fact that so many of today’s buyers won’t have heard of Don Gibson. I’m well aware that I’ve used exactly the same words about other artists in other Toppermosts, or at least implied them. But Toppers by their nature are very often (but not always), a) an excuse to indulge in musical memories of an artist(s), and/or, b) an attempt to turn on readers to an artist(s). Hence the near inevitability of such thoughts even if, from others, they’re under a more sophisticated level of disguise than I’ve used.

14. Ref. the lead-in clip, I do wonder whether the guitarist whose face we don’t really see (since Don’s right shoulder or face obscures him) was Chet Atkins. As a consequence I was determined to find a clip with Chet clearly present and came up with this late one showing Don and Chet with his trusty Gretsch performing Oh Lonesome Me, within which the producer/guitarist even gets to sing a verse:

 

Don Gibson poster

 

Don Gibson (1928-2003)

Don Gibson – Country Music Hall of Fame

Don Gibson – Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Don Gibson at Discogs

Don Gibson biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #744

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 11, 2018

    Dave, thanks for yet another brilliantly comprehensive piece (and for the name-check). Always have thought that Don is such an under-rated songwriter. While I knew the major classics well, this piece has introduced me to several more that are new to me. Thanks again…

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