The youngest of five children, Don Gibson was born to a family of sharecroppers
in North Carolina during the Depression. A shy kid with a stuttering problem,
he found escape in the local pool hall and by listening to country music on the
radio. At 14, Don bought a cheap guitar and started learning songs by his
heroes Red Foley and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Shortly after, he formed a band, the Sons of the Soil. That led to his first
professional break in 1948, singing on local radio station WHOS. As his
regional fame grew, Gibson moved to Knoxville and cut some sides for Mercury
and Columbia. None caught on, but by this time, he was writing his own
material, and in 1955 his song "Sweet Dreams" scored him a publishing deal with
Acuff-Rose Publications in Nashville. Chet Atkins played guitar on Faron
Young's #2 country hit version of the song, and in 1957 when Atkins was named
head of RCA's Nashville operation, Gibson was the first artist he
Gibson's intimate, husky voice was a perfect vehicle for the pop-friendly
Nashville Sound that Atkins helped pioneer. In one historic 1957 session,
Gibson cut two originals, "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" (more
than 150 artists would cover the latter). That alone would have sealed his
legacy, but Gibson made nearly 80 more hits over the next two decades,
including duets with Dottie West and Sue Thompson.
As a songsmith, Gibson's forte was straightforward expressions of loneliness
and lost love. "Simple is the only way I can write," Gibson once said. This
understated gift for melancholy earned him a nickname, "The Sad Poet."
Unfortunately, that sadness extended into his own life. With success an uneasy
fit for the shy artist, Gibson turned to pills and booze. After quitting music
in 1967, he moved back to North Carolina. There he met his second wife, who
helped him get clean and sober. In 1972, he came back with a #1 hit "Woman
(Sensuous Woman)," and continued to perform into the early 1980s.
Though best remembered as a songwriter and vocalist, Gibson loved the guitar first, and he was an ace jazz player, with a style similar to Django
Don Gibson died of natural causes at age 75. He is buried in his hometown in