Don Williams Dead At 78

The Country Music world mourns the loss of one of its’ most distinctive song stylists with the passing of Don Williams after a short illness. He was 78.

A native of Floydada, Texas, Williams was born May 27, 1939. He grew up in Portland, TX, graduating there in 1958. Music had always been a part of his upbringing, entering – and winning – a talent contest when he was just three years old. For his efforts, Williams received an alarm clock. He began playing guitar during his teen-age years, learning the songs that he heard on the radio during that period. He and his friends played in local bands around the area, and he wed wife Joy Bucher on April 10, 1960.

To support his family – which would grow to include two sons, Gary and Timmy – Williams worked at a number of odd jobs, including oil field work, and also as a bill collector. While living in Corpus Christi in 1964, he formed the folk-styled trio The Pozo Seco Singers with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor. They stayed together for seven years, with their biggest hit being “Time.”

After the group disbanded in 1969, Williams soon found his way to Nashville. By 1971, he had a songwriting contract with the publishing company owned by Jack Clement. The next year would see Williams ink a recording deal with Clement’s JMI Records. He made his chart debut with “The Shelter of Your Eyes” in 1973, and was soon hitting the charts time and again with a much more laid-back sound than a lot of the music coming out of Nashville at the time. 1974 would see Williams top the charts for the first time with “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me.” From that point all the way through 1991, each Williams single would hit the Top-40 on the Billboard Country charts. His 1970s hits included such chart toppers as “Tulsa Time,” “She Never Knew Me,” and “It Must Be Love.” His career grew steadily through label shifts to ABC / Dot, MCA, Capitol, and finally RCA. Williams also gained a devoted following overseas in such unlikely spots as England, Ireland, and New Zealand , and even South Africa and Kenya – where he reached superstar status. He was named the Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1978. Though known for being very low-key and soft spoken, Williams did make two movie appearances – 1974’s W.W. and The Dixie Dancekings, and 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II.

The 1980s saw no slow down in Williams’ recorded output, with the singer notching his biggest hit with 1981’s “I Believe In You,” which not only topped the Country charts, but crossed over to No. 24 on the Hot 100. By this time, he had earned the nickname “The Gentle Giant” for his trademark mellow sound, and the hits continued to pile up throughout the rest of the decade – “Stay Young,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” and “One Good Well” being three of his biggest of the 1980s. His final top ten came in 1991, with “Lord Have Mercy On A Country Boy,” a song that Josh Turner – a Williams fan – would record in 2006.

Though the changing of the guard at radio slowed down Williams’ chart success, he continued to perform for sold-out crowds in America and abroad, playing a final tour in 2006. However, retirement was not in the cards for the singer, who returned to the road in 2010 – the same year that he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Williams’ return to the spotlight also included a pair of albums on Sugar Hill, 2012’s And So It Goes, and 2014’s Reflections, which included contributions from Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Keith Urban. It was a sign of his enduring appeal that both albums hit the Top-20 on the Billboard Country Albums charts – his biggest rank there in three decades.

In 2016, Williams decided that the time was right for his final performance, calling it a career after one of the most successful careers in the history of the Country Music business. “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,” the 76-year-old Williams said in a statement at the time. Last year also saw the final release of Williams’ career, a live CD and DVD recorded in Ireland. In 2017, the singer was the subject of a tribute album, Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams, that included performances of his hits by artists such as Lady Antebellum and Garth Brooks.

Arrangements are pending.

Interview: Robert Schwartzman of Rooney

“Robert is free now,” The text message said.  I confusedly searched for a contact whose face I did not know.  I wandered, asking the staff if the stairs in the showroom led to the so-called Green Room.  I found my in-between person, who led me up the stairs to a room with a few musicians.  Sitting there was a man with gentle brown eyes and flowing hair hidden by a hat.  This man shook my hand and introduced himself as Robert Schwartzman of Rooney.

Robert began has the founder and lead singer of Ed Rooney in 1999.  The band opened their first show for his brother’s band in California.  Robert had stage fright.  “I wasn’t trying to be a singer in a band,” Robert recalls as he got up to search the fridge for the perfect lager, “I was terrified to sing in public.”

After watching his brother, he began writing songs.  It was then that he discovered his true passion for writing music.   He says, “I started to catch that bug that you catch when you just become really addicted to [writing songs].  So I just started writing songs, and then I wanted to perform them.  And then once I got over that hurdle of ‘I’m afraid to do this.’  I felt way more addicted to it.

Listening to Robert talk, I could imagine the shy twenty-something getting on the stage the first time.  His quiet voice led me to believe that the person I saw during our interview would also be the person who would take the stage later that night.  I could not have been more wrong.

That night, as the lights dimmed and the headlining musician prepared to take the stage, the spirit of the many rock stars by whom he was inspired entered him, and his personality changed completely.  Once the guitar was in his hands, he was no longer Robert Schwartzman, he was the single remaining member of Rooney.

The vibe he gave off was contagious.  Even the musicians accompanying him could feel his energy, and they fed off of one another.  Schwartzman bounded around the stage dipping and swaying as he sang originals like “Not in My House” and “My Heart Beats 4 U.”  In between songs, he would thank his fans for coming to see him play, and he would thank the other musicians for playing as well.  The entire show was so energetic, not a person there could stand still during his set.

When the show was finished and the encore, “Stay Away,” was played, the band, Schwartzman included, took some time to talk to fans one-on-one.  People were happily taking pictures and asking for hugs, while Schwartzman’s gentle smile remained on his face.

While Robert Schwartzman is the only remaining member of the original band, Ed Rooney, he does not plan to stop performing under the band name Rooney anytime soon.  “I could start a new project tomorrow, and I’ve experimented with that.  But I don’t think I’m fully happy giving up Rooney because I’ve had a long history with it.  I don’t feel comfortable just walking away from this.  I think it’s going to take the time to rebuild this project into something people care about, but I’m willing to do the work to get there.”

It is very apparent that Robert is proud of his work, and the fan base, as well as his charisma on stage, is proof that Rooney, for now, is very much what it needs to be.

Rooney’s newest album washed away, was released in May of 2016.

Interview and photos ©  2016 Stephanie Connell