I remember vividly the shame and embarrassment my seven-year-old self felt when, after telling my classmates on the first day of school in response to one of those questions about what we’d all done that summer that I’d been to a concert, they asked excitedly who it was, and when I said, “Don Williams,” the ridicule began in earnest. IN the space of a few seconds, I’d gone from having one of the most exciting summer adventures to having done possibly the most nerdy thing a kid could confess to. I had been proud then of the concert I’d attended; indeed, it had been the first country show I’d ever gone to, and although I was firmly ensconced in the more modern sound of late 90’s country music, Don Williams had been one of my first introductions to the older styles. But they made me feel as if liking his music and going to his show was something to be ashamed of, and from then on, I was careful about the amount of country music fandom I allowed myself to display around them.
But now, sitting here three days after the death of Don Williams, the beloved Gentle Giant, I am forever thankful that I went to that concert back then, heard that unmistakable voice live, a voice like none other before and I daresay never will be. Years later, going through difficult times in my life, Don Williams music was often what I found myself turning back to. Even before I found all this independent, more traditional music floating around, Don Williams music brought me comfort and escape. During dark times, it was Keith Whitley who understood me, that voice wrought with emotion borne only from experience, Keith Whitley who understood pain better than maybe anyone who has ever made music, certainly better than anyone i knew. And it was Don who put a smile on my face afterword, who reminded me of happier times, simpler times. You can’t listen to a Don Williams record and not draw strength and comfort from it, and for me, it was like therapy. I wrote in a reflection piece not long ago that Don Williams songs are just relaxing. They are guaranteed to make you feel better.
I’ve been saddened, especially in recent years, as more and more artists I loved have passed on and left us their legacies. I can remember exactly where I was the morning I learned of Merle Haggard’s death, and it made me miss my grandma all over again because she used to play his music. I remember growing up with Glen Campbell’s songs, and his loss was truly painful. I still can’t get through his final record because it depresses me too much. While it’s true that I didn’t own tons of Montgomery Gentry albums, I did enjoy their music growing up, and Troy Gentry’s death is no less, and no more, tragic than Don’s. But Don Williams was a friend, even if I didn’t know him. His music lifted me up and brought me through hard times in my life, and it’s mostly all I’ve wanted to play since Friday.
If you haven’t gotten to know my friend, even though these are terrible circumstances, I encourage you to take the time to get acquainted with the Gentle Giant. That incredible voice lives on in his music, and his songs will always be here to bring us comfort, even if we’re seeking comfort from the loss of Don Williams himself.