The death of laid-back country icon Don Williams aroused the deep and heartfelt sympathy of many folk in Northern Ireland so taken by the warm baritone mellow voice of the genial Texan.
Don, who was 78, was quite a unique entertainer, who, in his own quiet way, honed a soft and engaging style of music that was both soothing and gilded with sincerity and passion. Characteristically, the unabashed Don Williams had his own definition of a good love ballad. “The lyric and the melody have to be married. they have to be saying the same thing,” he once noted with real authority.
The mild-mannered Don was of old school family values and in 1973, when he emerged as a top recording star, Nashville contemporary Bobby Bare paid him this fulsome tribute: “In a business filled with pill-heads, alcoholics, drug addicts, and phoneys we have found a straight person with talent and lots of soul . . . very honest and sincere”. Not for him show boating or racuous behaviour off-stage.
Don was married for 57 years to Joy Butcher and they had two sons. He was always very protective of his privacy, even when touring, and was happiest working on his 100-acre farm outside Nashville, riding horses and tinkering with old cars.
Don Williams was in every respect a ‘Gentle Giant’ with a full page obituary in The Times newspaper in London eulogising that his singing style had “barely changed a crotchet or a quaver in a career lasting 40 years”.
On his visits to Belfast (for shows in the Ulster Hall, Waterfront Hall), Don was always on the same wavelength and tone as his rapturous audiences, churning out those much-loved standards - Gypsy Women, Til the Rivers Run Dry, I Believe in You, You’re My Best Friend, Tulsa Time, I’m Just a Country Boy, and Lord, I Hope This Day is Good.
Don Williams personified, both in an unassuming but exhilarating singing role and personna, all that is good and engaging about American country music. He was a ‘Good Ole Boy’ in the best sense and his rich musical legacy will live on. We do mourn his passing.