Don Gibson, “The Sad Poet” of Country Music



Don Gibson was an American country singer-songwriter and musician known for his standards such as “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” He was dubbed by oldies music/country music fans as “The Sad Poet” for he wrote songs of longing and loneliness, although they weren’t necessarily based on his personal experience. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was so popular that it has been covered by many artists, the most popular version being Ray Charles’. He enjoyed a string of Top 10 country hits: “Oh Lonesome Me,” “Blue Blue Day,” “Give Myself A Party,” “Look Who’s Blue,” “Who Cares,” “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles,” “Just One Time,” “Sea Of Heartbreak,” “Lonesome Number One,” “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart,” “(Yes) I’m Hurting,” “Funny, Familiar, Forgotten, Feelings,” “Country Green,” “Woman (Sensuous Woman),” Touch The Morning,” “Bring Back Your Love To Me,” “One Day At A Time,” and a lot of Top 40 country hits. He had also successful duets with Dottie West from late 1960s to early 1970s, as well as with Sue Thompson. Gibson was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Gibson died in 2003 in North Carolina, aged 75. A theater was opened in 2009 in his honor, the Don Gibson Theater.

Early Years

Don “The Sad Poet” Gibson (born Don Eugene Gibson) helped country music to crossover to the pop chart during the late 50’s and 60’s music era. Born on April 3, 1928, he hailed from Shelby, North Carolina. The American songwriter and country musician was raised in a less fortunate family that was why he dropped out of school when he was only a second grader. Influenced by the records of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (which were given by a friend who came home from Paris after World War II), Gibson started playing guitar in his early teens. In 1946, he started playing on radio stations and dances and he later became a member of the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville. Gibson had his first recording with his first band in 1948 called Sons of the Soil who usually performed songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Covay renamed Sons of the Soil to Don Gibson & His King Cotton Kinfolks and also tweaked their sound to honky-tonk. After all the changes, the band remained unsuccessful.

Success of “The Sad Poet”

In 1956 on MGM, Gibson had his first hit “Sweet Dreams” which reached #9 on the US country chart. After the short-lived success on MGM, he traveled to Nashville the following year and he was signed to RCA Victor by Chet Atkins who would become his producer for the next seven years. On the new label, Gibson issued “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The latter reached #7 on country and crossed over to pop where it landed at #81.

The following single “Oh, Lonesome Me” did much better, peaking at #1 on the US Country chart. It became a worldwide success. He continued to release a string of hits including “Blue Blue Day” (#1 Country, 1958), “Give Myself a Party” (#5 Country, 1958), “Who Cares” (#3 country, 1959), “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles” (#5 Country, 1959), “Lonesome Number One” (#2 country, 1961) and “Woman (Sensuous Woman)”  (#1 Country, 1972). Gibson was given the alias “The Sad Poet” because he used to write songs of loneliness and tragic love.

In 1969, Gibson teamed up with country singer Dottie West which resulted an album Dottie and Don which included two successful singles, “Rings of Gold” (#2 country, 1969) and “There’s A Story Goin’ Around” (#7, 1970). After West, Gibson did several duets with another country singer Sue Thompson with the Top 40 Hits “I Think They Call It Love” (1972), “Good Old Fashioned Country Love” (1974) and “Oh, How Love Changes” (1975). Throughout the years, his song “I Can’t Stop Loving You” has been recorded by over 700 artists, the most notable version was from Ray Charles in 1962. In 1967, Roy Orbison who was a big fan of Gibson’s songwriting talent, released an album entitled Roy Orbison Sings Don Gibson. In 1970, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young recorded a version of “Oh, Lonesome Me” which he included for his After the Gold Rush” album.

Later career, final years and legacy

In the 1980’s, Gibson’s hits dried up and Gibson’s commercial heyday was over. He was never seen by the public eye for years. On November 17, 2003 at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital, Don “The Sad Poet” Gibson passed away from natural causes. He was 75 years old.

In November 2009, a theater located in Cleveland County, North Carolina was named after Gibson to celebrate his life and contribution to music business, The Don Gibson Theater.

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