Donald Ray Williams was born in Floydada, Texas on May 27, 1939. He grew up in Portland near Corpus Christi, TX. He began playing the guitar as a child, learning the instrument from his mother. As a teenager, he played in a variety of country, rockabilly, folk and rock and roll bands. Don Wrote his first song, “Walk It Off” at age 14. His first paying job in music came at the opening of the Billups Service Station in Taft, Texas. He and his friends were paid $25.00 to perform.
Like most entertainers, Don had to pay his dues. He worked as a bill collector, drove a bread truck, worked in the Texas oil fields, in furniture retailing, in a smelting plant, and for Pittsburgh Plate Glass.
After spending time in the Army where he wrote “Down The Road I Go”, a song he pitched to Johnny Cash, he came to Nashville only to be told he needed a group. Back in Texas, Don found his group when Loften Kline and himself, singing as the Strangers-Two met Susan Taylor and, in 1964 formed the Pozo-Seco Singers. The group signed a contract with Columbia Records and had some success with 2 1966 top 40 songs – “I Can Make It With You” and “Look What You’ve Done”. In 1967 they moved their home base to Nashville and released “Time”. The group stayed together until 1971; Don jokingly “credits” Bob McDill with the demise of the group – He wrote their last song.
Don went solo, and established himself as a country song writer under contract to the Jack Clement Music Publishing Company. Don’s solo recording career began with the JMI release of “Don’t You Believe” on June 16, 1972. The single didn’t do well. But in 1973 Don Williams, Vol I. was released on JMI Records. This album contains the first recording of “Amanda”, a Bob McDill song that has appeared on many of his greatest hits albums. It is a standard at a Don Williams concert and, along with Gypsy Woman, was the name of one of his two tour busses. Also released was the single “The Shelter of Your Eyes” (Peaked at #14).
The jacket of this vinyl LP quotes songwriter, Bobby Bare:
“Don Williams is a freak! …Not just a normal everyday one, but a special freak! You see, in a business filled with pill-heads, alcoholics, drug addicts, phoneys, etc, we have found a straight person with talent and lots of soul …a kind person with depth, much love and concern for people, very honest and sincere.”
Don Williams, Vol. II included the #5 single “We Should be Together. This led to the ABC/Dot recording contract on May 17, 1974 and the release of Don Williams, Vol. III [The Dot label was discontinued in late 1977 and Don continued to record for ABC]. ABC/Dot also reissued Vol I and Vol. II. His first single with ABC/Dot, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live (If You Didn’t Love Me)” topped the charts in 1974, launching a string of top 10 hits over the next 17 years. Don Williams, Vol. III hit the country charts in November 1974 and peaked at Number 3.
Don credits Bob McDill and Garth Fundis with the success that followed him as a solo act. Bob McDill songs highlight Don Williams albums from “Don Williams, Vol. I” through “Flatlands”. Don also credits Garth Fundis, the young engineer in the early 1970’s, who created that high harmony that makes “Amanda” so special.
The 1970’s and 80’s found Don Williams an award winning country singing star throughout the USA and Europe. Recording on ABC, MCA, Capital and RCA Records, he created 52 top 40 country hits with 17 recordings topping the charts. He was named the Music City News’ “Most Promising Male Artist” and then “Male Vocalist of the Year” by the Country Music Association in 1978; his #1 hit “Tulsa Time” was named “Single of the Year”. In 1980, Don was named Country Music Star Of The Decade in England. His nickname was “The Gentle Giant” and he was the first country-artist in Europe with a videoclip. In 1981, Don’s album, “I Believe in You” was awarded the CMA Album of the Year.
In July 1985, Don left MCA Records (who had acquired ABC in 1979) to sign with Capitol Records. His aptly named album, “New Moves” yielded 5 top 10 hits including the number 1 single “Heartbeat in the Darkness”
In May 1989, Don singed with RCA Records. His 1990 album, True Love included 3 top 10 singles and was the last to yield a top 40 single for Don. His 1992 album, Currents produced no hits and pretty much ended his “commercial” streak. But Don continued to write, record and tour.
In June 1994, he worked with the American Harvest Recording Society, an independent label. The first release from this label was “An Evening With Don Williams-Best of Live” which contains some of Don’s best known songs. It included a recording of Don and his audience singing “You’re My Best Friend” and some rare comments from Don about himself and his music.
His American Harvest album, “Borrowed Tales”, consisted of cover tunes that he had always wanted to record. “Fever” was released as a single, along with a video. In keeping with his style, Don chose to present the video simple: Don and the music.
In a scrapbook-like promo piece sold at concerts, the following notes were made about Don’s shows. “While the trend in presenting live stage shows has become more flamboyant, Don has purposely kept his show simple and to the point. For Don, communication is the thing…not only between himself and the band but when that energy carries over to the audience that’s where the magic happens.” Don stated, “I’ve always felt that if something is worth saying and the music is valid, then you don’t have to overstate it…why does music have to scream at you to say something that is not a screaming subject…”
In November of 1996, Don Williams released the CD, “Flatlands”. This collection of new material portrays Don’s heart and soul. It contains songs written by Don and some of his long-time associates, Bob McDill, Danny Flowers, Don Schlitz, Charles Cochran, Dave Pomeroy, Billy Sanford and his son, Tim Williams.
In September of 1997, Don Williams realized his own “huge ambition” to travel to the continent of Africa. Through a video titled “Into Africa” you share Don’s personal impressions of Zimbabwe, Africa, from the breathtaking grandeur of world famous Victoria Falls, to the touching simplicity of local music students who perform just for him. Don’s intimate journey blends one of the most fascinating regions of the world with his first concerts performed in Africa. This very special program includes a great selection of songs, such as “Heartbeat in the Darkness,” “Amanda,” “Desperately,” “In the Family,” “Senorita,” “I Recall a Gypsy Woman,” and many more.
On October 26, 1998 Don, once again recording on the major label, Giant Records, released the CD “I Turn the Page”. Radio stations received advance copies of the album. One single, “Cracker Jack Diamond” was released. According to a review by Kris Wilson, “‘I Turn The Page’ is a collection of the best 12 songs to be recorded in Nashville all year.”
In October 2000, RCMG Records, a label created by Don’s manager Robert Pratt acquired all the recordings Don made with American Harvest during the ’90’s. The catalog includes “Greatest Hits Live Volume 1”, “Flatlands”, and “Borrowed Tales”. “Greatest Hits Live – Volume 2” was released in March 2001 and “Silver Turns to Gold” in October 2002.
In October 2003, Don began work on his first new recordings since 1998. The completed CD, “My Heart To You”, released on Intersound Records in 2004, contains some new material from Don along with a few excellent standards never sung by Don before.
Early in 2006, Don announced his “Farewell Tour of the World” and played numerous dates both in the U.S. and abroad, wrapping the tour up with the “Final Farewell Concert” in Memphis, Tennessee at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts on November 21, 2006. Playing to a full house, the final event was well received and quite emotional for fans in attendance.
On February 23, 2010, the Country Music Association announced that Don Williams was to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. That same year, Don came out of retirement and was once again touring.
In March 2012, Williams announced the release of a new record, “And So It Goes” (UK release April 30, 2012; US/Worldwide release June 19, 2012), his first new record since 2004. The record is his first with the independent Americana label Sugar Hill Records. The record includes guest appearances by Alison Krauss, Keith Urban, and Vince Gill. To accompany his latest album release he embarked on a UK Tour. “Reflections”, his second album with Sugar Hill Records, was released in March 2014.
Don continued to tour, planning a 21 city tour for 2016 which had to be postpone due to health issues. Not long after, Don announced his retirement saying, “It’s time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support,”
During his career, Don has written songs that were recorded by Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Lefty Frizzell, Sonny James, Lobo, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers and Pete Townsend. He has performed in Belgium, Monaco, Germany, Spain Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, France, Sweden, England, Holland, Finland, Brazil, Australia and Africa as well as the USA.
Don was the first country music artist to make a concept video. It was produced in 1973 in support for the single, “Come Early Morning.” In 1986 he starred in a music video for the single, “Heartbeat In The Darkness”, and in 1995 his video “Fever” was released.
Don costarred with Burt Reynolds in W. W. & The Dixie Dance Kings, a major motion picture for 20th Century Fox. He made a cameo appearance in Smokey & The Bandit II for Universal. He also did the voice-over for the CBS-TV movie, Reunion In Hazard.
Don’s trademark hat came from the movies: “The hat was first given to me by the people at 20th Century Fox when I was filming W. W. & The Dixie Dance Kings. I really had worn hats very little prior to that. But the guy who made it for me, his specialty was styling hats to a person’s features. And I just little by little got to wearing it, until it became like a part of me – I kid about it turning into a growth, but I really don’t feel right if I go outside now without wearing it. I feel like I’m not dressed.” Since the original, the Stetson Hat Company of St. Joseph, MO, has fashioned exact replicas for Don.
Although it is rare to see Don on television, he has several shows to his credit including: Tonight Show, The Nashville Network Debut, Country Music Association Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Country Gold: The First 50 Years, Austin City Limits, Solid Gold, The Don Williams Special (BBC/UK), Hee Haw, Live From Tucson (Don’s TNN special), Prime Time Country, Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee, The Statler Brothers Show, and TNN’s Country News
When Don isn’t on the road, he spends time at home; he likes to fish, and tinker with his prized ’56 Chevy and of course, spend time with his family. Don is married to Joy Bucher – Don and Joy have two sons, Gary and Tim. Tim was featured on the Flatland’s album and is beginning a musical career of his own.
A Don Williams show has not changed very much over the past 20 years. Don and his band walk on stage; Don seats himself on his stool, quietly situates himself and then breaks into a song. And of course, we know all of the words to all of the songs. Don takes advantage of that and allows the audience to sing “You Are My Best Friend” to him. The song finishes, the crowd cheers and Don exclaims, “Mercy!” …and the fans love it!