When I was in my mid-20’s I was looking through the used section at CD Exchange, an old store on Northgate that used to sell new and used CD’s. I stumbled across “Don Williams Greatest Hits”. Williams was a singer who had been one of my mom’s favorites when I was a child. I was a long-haired grunge metal fan when I found that CD, probably looking for some Pearl Jam or Nirvana bootleg, but something about that old country album reminded me of my childhood, and I had to buy it.
I got home, put it on my stereo, and I was instantly transported back to my youth. Out of my speakers came a voice that soothed me, made me nostalgic, and gave me a sense of warmth and peace. I also knew everyword. I had no idea that I’d remember every word when I bought the album, but as soon as each new song came on, I could remember the lyrics the way one might remember Christmas carols or church hymns. I didn’t know when I learned them, but I suddenly couldn’t remember ever not knowing those lyrics.
Williams’ voice sounds like the most masculine, manly voice you’ll ever hear while still sounding like the most loving, gentle soul you could ever meet. But in a way, that’s no surprise because Don Williams was Southern to the core, and I think that’s what the ideal Southern Gentleman aspires to – gentle, loving and tough masculinity.
Williams’ voice is the sound of my childhood. I can picture my mom and dad slow dancing in the living room or cuddling on the couch while his music filled our home. The love that he sang he about in love songs sounded like the way my dad looked at my mom.
When he sang lyrics like “what do you do, with good ole boys like me,” it felt like he was describing my father, my grandfather, the men I admired growing up, and the man I’m still trying to be.
On the morning of every triathlon, open-water swim, marathon, or important swim meet I’ve ever been a part of, I’ve always found a quiet time to put on some headphones and listen to his song “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”. That song always calms my nerves, helps me focus, and puts whatever I’m afraid of into perspective for me.
In high school, I used to believe that Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was the most beautiful song ever recorded. But when I rediscovered “I Believe In You” in my 20’s, Mr. Armstrong was respectfully dethroned. “I Believe In You” is perfection – vocals, musicianship, message and production all coming together to create a piece of art that can bring me to tears of joy any time I listen.
I recently got back into collecting vinyl records and purchased a new turntable last year. When it arrived and I set it up, the first album I reached for was “Don Williams Greatest Hits”. Hearing his deep voice and smooth guitar melting through the speakers with the warmth that only analog music can provide, I felt like I was six years old again, watching my dad hug my mom and knowing that I was part of a loving family.
That’s what Don Williams means to me.
He passed away last Friday. While most of America spent the Saturday watching college football, I retreated to my music room upstairs and listened to Don Williams all day. Thank you for the music and the memories, sir. You’ll be missed.