BMI Songwriting Great Don Gibson Dies At 75

Posted in News on November 19, 2003
Legendary artist and songwriter Don Gibson died November 17 of natural causes at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, at the age of 75. One of BMI's most honored affiliates, he was responsible for writing at least three of the most famous songs in country music history: "Sweet Dreams," "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You." As a singer, between 1949 and 1985, he recorded 513 titles on a range of labels that included Mercury, Columbia, RCA Victor, Hickory, MGM, and K-Tel, and he charted 82 songs between 1956 and 1980. His decade-long RCA recording career, guided by producer Chet Atkins, helped to define the sound and studio style of modern country music.

Born Donald Eugene Gibson on April 3, 1928 in Shelby, North Carolina, he began performing in local clubs while still in high school. After graduation, he pursued music while working a series of jobs as soda jerk, baby diaper deliveryman and jukebox repairman. Gibson got his start with a local band called the Sons of the Soil on Shelby station WOHS. In 1949, he made his first recording with them, "Automatic Mama" on Mercury; he also cut his first attempt at songwriting, "Why Am I So Lonely?". By 1952 he was appearing on Knoxville's WNOX, recording for Columbia, and developing his songwriting talent. In 1955, Gibson wrote his first masterpiece, "Sweet Dreams"; legendary publisher Wesley Rose heard Gibson sing "Sweet Dreams" in a club in Knoxville, and signed him to a writing deal with Acuff-Rose Music. After charting a No. 9 hit with his single of "Sweet Dreams" on MGM in 1956, he left that label for RCA Victor in 1957 and began his collaboration with Chet Atkins. That same year, while living in a trailer park north of Knoxville, he wrote his other two career songs in the same afternoon: "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."

1967 BMI Country Awards: Wesley Rose, Don Gibson, BMI's Robert Sour and Frances Preston

With the 1958 release of "Oh Lonesome Me" for RCA, Gibson posted his first #1 and swept every major award in country music that year. One of the first examples of what would be called the Nashville Sound, "Oh Lonesome Me" also set the pattern for a series of RCA hits, including "I Can't Stop Loving You," the #1 "Blue Blue Day" (1958), "Who Cares" (1959), "Sea of Heartbreak" (1961), and "Rings Of Gold" (1969).

1960 BMI Country Awards: Wesley Rose, Don Gibson, BMI's Robert J. Burton

At the 1967 BMI Country Awards, he and Harlan Howard were recognized with BMI's first Songwriter of the Year honor [the first time the awards were based entirely on actual logged performances]. "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Oh, Lonesome Me" and "Sweet Dreams" appeared on the most-performed list of 40.

He signed with Hickory Records in 1969 and once again began to concentrate on his first love, songwriting. Gibson scored several duet hits with Dottie West, and he hit #1 for the last time in 1972 with solo release "Woman (Sensuous Woman)." A year later, he was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He continued to record, and the modest success of 1980's "Love Fires" meant he claimed Top 100 hits in four straight decades.

The brilliance of his songwriting is reflected in the hundreds of artists who have covered his material. "I Can't Stop Loving You" has been recorded more than 700 times, most famously by Ray Charles, whose 1962 version topped the pop charts for five weeks. "Sweet Dreams" was a hit for Patsy Cline and Faron Young and Ronnie Milsap scored with "(I'd Be) A Legend In My Time."

A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Don Gibson was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Gibson is survived by his wife, Bobbi, whom he married in 1967. He will be buried at a family plot in his native Shelby, N.C., and a Nashville memorial service is being planned.

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