Nicknamed “The Gentle Giant,” the Texas native was known for his laid-back vocals and classic country stylings on huge hits like “Tulsa Time,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “I Believe in You,” and many more.
Williams first found musical success at the age of three, winning a talent contest in his hometown of Portland, Texas. He took up the guitar as a teen, and played in local bands before forming The Pozo Seco Singers in the sixties. Along the way, he made ends meets as both an oil field worker and a bill collector.
By the early seventies, he made it to Nashville and landed a songwriting deal with fellow Country Music Hall of Famer “Cowboy” Jack Clement. His first single, “Shelter of Your Eyes,” made it to #14 in 1973, with his first #1, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” coming the following year.
More hits followed, like “Till the Rivers All Run Dry,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” and “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good.” The Country Music Association named him Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978.
He went on to score his biggest hit in 1981 with “I Believe in You,” which made it all the way to #24 on the pop chart. Williams would even appear in two movies: 1974’s W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings and 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II.
Williams’ final #1 came in 1986, with “Heartbeat in the Darkness.” In 2010, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and continued to tour until his retirement last year.
Though he was far from flashy, his understated appeal was widespread. Eric Clapton took his version of “Tulsa Time” to rock audiences, while halfway across the world, Australian youngster Keith Urban was inspired to pursue his dreams in Nashville after reading about Music City on the back of Don Williams records.
Earlier this year, current hitmakers like Chris Stapleton, Garth Brooks, and Lady Antebellum covered his classics on Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams.
He’s survived by his wife Joy, whom he married in 1960, and their two sons Gary and Timmy.