Don Gibson (1928-2003) started his career in the 1940s and rose to fame on the wings of a string of giddy hits, late 1950s songs like "Blue, Blue Day" and "Oh, Lonesome Me" that had the bounce of early rock'n'roll, without the gritty teenage edge. A songwriter as well as a performer, Gibson was a major player in early '60s Nashville, writing "Sweet Dreams" and other hits, but he swiftly succumbed to the lure of lush "Nashville Sound" production and increasingly goopy poetics. The early stuff is the fun stuff, but the later stuff is horrible. Still, there are a few songs later on you might want to give a whirl... Here's a quick look at his work...
Don Gibson "The Singer - The Songwriter: 1949-1960" (Bear Family, 1991)
A lavish, 4-CD overview of Gibson's early years, with tracks from Mercury, Columbia and MGM, as well as his first big hits on RCA, such as "Blue, Blue Day" and "Oh, Lonesome Me." The earliest stuff is the most revelatory, revealing Gibson's hillbilly roots, relatively rough material that has the same bounce as his better-known hits, but more twang than we might imagine. Even back then, though, Gibson was a smoothie, and he also had a penchant for gimmicky motifs: an early success with a novelty number called "The Color Song" led to numerous spinoffs: "Roses Are Red," "Blue Million Tears," "Red Lips, White Lies And Blue Future," themes that would linger throughout his songwriting career. The third disc also includes an album's worth of gospel material, from his second LP, No One Stands Alone. This collection shows Gibson at his most vigorous -- it didn't take long for the snoozy "Nashville Sound" to take over, but there's still some really fun stuff on here. Recommended!
Don Gibson "The Singer - The Songwriter: 1961-1966" (Bear Family, 1994)
Four more discs worth of Don Gibson in his prime... The Nashville Sound production style is taking over -- like a lot of his contemporaries, Gibson specialized in crooning pop vocals, but there's still some fun country twang in there, too. A tasty package for true fans!
Don Gibson "The Singer - The Songwriter: 1966-1969" (Bear Family, 2004)
Another four CDs worth of vintage RCA material... The later stuff this time around.
Don Gibson "RCA Country Legends" (Buddah, 2001)
This disc makes up for crooner Don Gibson's mysterious absence from RCA's late-'90s Essential series... Gibson's earliest hits, late '50s ditties such as "Oh Lonesome Me" and "Blue Blue Day," are marvels of compact, bouncy, melodic pop irresistibility. They're a near-perfect hillbilly distillation of the perkiness of classic 'Fifties rock, but with a polished quality that makes them all that much more delicious. Initially, Gibson tried to follow the basic pattern he'd set on these hits, repeating the loping downbeats on tunes such as "Sea Of Heartbreak..." But then he got "soft", or all croony and countrypolitan, which ultimately was a real drag. This disc sticks pretty closely to his earliest material -- all but two songs on here comes from 1958-1961, when Gibson was still regularly crossing over into the Pop charts. On later tracks, such as 1966's "Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings" (an early Mickey Newbury composition) Gibson seems to have lost his pert, perky muse, but fans of early countrypolitan will also find a lot to cheer about on this collection. Recommended!
Don Gibson "20 Greatest Songs" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
Well, these early '70s Hickory singles aren't the old RCA originals, but sometimes the rocked-up new arrangements add an interesting new twist to some great old songs. Not the album you'd want to get to introduce yourself to Gibson's ouvre, but a potential eye-opener for true country snobs (like me) who might have written him off by this point in his career.
Don Gibson "Anthology" (BMG-International, 2004)
A nice 2-CD set covering his RCA years, from 1957-1970... Includes a bunch of hits as well as some stuff a litle more off the beaten track.
Don Gibson "Don Gibson Rocks" (Bear Family, 2008)
Fun stuff! A snappy retrospective that concentrates on all his bouncy, uptempo early stuff... The kind of music you wish Gibson had stuck to after hitting the sound that made him famous to start with... If you loved "Oh Lonesome Me" and just want one Don Gibson CD that sounds like that... Well, here ya go!
Don Gibson "My God Is Real/I Walk Alone" (Collectables, 2004)
Don Gibson "Hurtin Inside/I Love You So Much It Hurts" (Collectables, 2004)
Don Gibson "Girls, Guitars And Gibson/Too Much Hurt" (BMG-Europe, 2009)
Don Gibson "I Love No One But You: The Early Years" (BACM, 2005)
Don Gibson "Sample Kisses" (Columbia-Harmony, 1972) (LP)
Wow! Great stuff! These 1952 sessions were some of Gibson's earliest recordings and find him playing solidly in the mainstream hillbilly/honkytonk style, sounding a lot like Hank Williams and Faron Young. The material is typical lightweight hillbilly stuff, with sweet simple accompaniment -- good pedal steel, sweet fiddle, a plunk piano -- with all the artists unidentified, though apparently producer Don Law helmed the sessions. The songs also appear on the Bear Family CD above, in their original mono mixes, but these doctored-up phony "stereo" versions are surprisingly normal sounding -- no empty echoing, no out-of-sync second channel -- and if you see this old LP, snap it up. It's Don Gibson singing in a rootsier style than you've probably ever heard before.
Don Gibson "Don Gibson" (MGM Metro, 1965) (LP)
Similarly, this generic-looking LP is actually a treasure trove of early gems recorded in two 1955-56 sessions, back when Gibson was still a true-country hillbilly singer, backed with some tasteful (if unaggressive) twang -- sharp, simple fiddle, sweet steel guitar, plunky bass, and Gibson in kind of a Lefty Frizzell-like mode. The musicians aren't identified, but they were good, and Gibson was in fine fettle. Includes his own early version of "Sweet Dreams," a song most famously recorded by Patsy Cline.
Don Gibson "A Blue Million Tears" (RCA-Camden, 1965) (LP)
More great stuff. This reissue has some of the same early hillbilly material as the Sample Kisses LP above, as well as earlier material from 1950-51. The pace is slower, with the A&R folks in '65 leaving out the twangier tracks and trying to match the tone to what he sounded like in '65... But still, it's really good stuff, way more country than most of what he recorded in decades to come. By the way: look for the monophonic version -- CAL-852, as opposed to the fake-stereo CAS mix -- and you'll get a nicer, twangier sound.
Don Gibson "Oh, Lonesome Me" (RCA, 1958) (LP)
Don Gibson "No One Stands Alone" (RCA, 1958) (LP)
Don Gibson "That Gibson Boy" (RCA, 1959) (LP)
(Produced by Chet Atkins)
A great album, with Gibson still singing with feeling, with a backbeat in his arrangements, good material, beautiful, crystalline production and best of all, producer Chet Atkins actually in game, whipping out some great licks on uptempo tunes like "Didn't Work Out, Did It" (wow!) and some sweet, lush-toned embellishments on others. This was Gibson's all-too-brief period where he was following up on the success of his rock-tinged breakthrough hits and still had some swing in his step. Even the slow songs are fun on this one. Too bad it didn't last. But this is definitely one of the Don Gibson albums I would recommend. Fun stuff!
Don Gibson "Look Who's Blue" (RCA, 1960)
Don Gibson "Sweet Dreams" (RCA, 1960)
Don Gibson "Girls, Guitars And Gibson" (RCA, 1960)
Don Gibson "Some Favorites Of Mine" (RCA, 1962) (LP)
(Produced by Chet Atkins)
A dismally lethargic album. Gibson covers songs by four great artists -- Boudleaux Bryant, Fred Rose, Hank Williams and Floyd Tillman -- and denudes them of all rhythm or vitality. His voice still sounds kind of youthful, and the production mix has a rich tone, but the pacing is stubbornly slow and all the performances sound measured and contrived. Marginally better than the endless stream of similar albums that followed, but basically, this just isn't much fun. Not even as kitsch. On a couple of tracks he almost comes to life -- "Baby We're Really In Love" has an almost Elvis-y feel -- but others are painful to listen to, like his oh-so-serious version of "I Love You So Much It Hurts." Ugh. I actually couldn't recommend anything on this album; it's a real snoozer. Oh, well. It happens.
Don Gibson "I Wrote A Song" (RCA, 1963)
Don Gibson "God Walks These Hills" (RCA, 1964) (LP)
Don Gibson "Too Much Hurt" (RCA, 1965)
(Produced by Chet Atkins)
The first half of this album is surprisingly good -- he seems to have made a real effort to pump things up, and put a little life into it. It takes a while, but on, oh, the last third of the album he gets too cheesy again, but compared to other Gibson albums from the '60s, this is pretty fun. It closes on a high note, too, with the uptempo "Then I'll Be Free," which has some decent rock-ish guitars alongside a goofy merry-go-round organ riff. This one's actually worth checking out.
Don Gibson "...With Spanish Guitars" (RCA, 1966) (LP)
Don Gibson "Hurtin' Inside" (RCA-Camden, 1966)
Don Gibson "Great Country Songs" (RCA, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by Chet Atkins)
This is a mix of real country standards (by Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers and others) and songs of more contemporary vintage, including some Don Gibson material. For the most part, the pacing is lethargic and monotonous, with Gibson indulging in his "great song stylist" mode. Many songs are are bland but inoffensive, though a couple are sheer torture, with Gibson painfully drawing out what he thought was great emotive phrasing, and then there are a couple of uptempo tunes -- "A Born Loser" and "(Yes) I'm Hurting" -- that briefly redeem the whole affair, but only a little. Like a lot of his work, this is stuffy and pretentious, and not very emotionally resonant. The Jordanaires ooh-wahh all the way through, and Gibson mixes in some Spanish guitar plucking; the same old same old, mostly. You have to be pretty hardcore to make it through this one.
Don Gibson "All My Love" (RCA, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Chet Atkins)
Gibson picks up the tempo a little on this one, injecting an echo of his old backbeat into the opening title track and several other songs. There's still plenty of snoozy slow stuff though, and he keeps holding himself back, preferring deliberation and "fancy" phrasing over feeling and expressive release. Rarely has an artist seemed so completely trapped by convention and stylistic mannerisms -- the music is so bad, and yet he can't stop himself. Still, there's more life here than on many other albums he did in this period, and a few songs, like "The Chance I Had To Take" and "xxxxxxxxxxxxx" are worth checking out. This one's a true needle-dropper: if the song sounds slow, skip it, and keep going until you hear anything that sounds uptempo
Don Gibson "I Love You So Much It Hurts" (RCA-Camden, 1968)
Don Gibson "The King Of Country Soul" (RCA, 1968) (LP)
Don Gibson "More Country Soul" (RCA, 1968) (LP)
Don Gibson & Dottie West "Dottie & Don" (RCA Victor, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Chet Atkins & Danny Davis)
A somewhat sleepy, sterile-sounding set of slow, soft countrypolitan duets. When they actually sing together, they harmonize beautifully. But mostly they just trade lines and come in on cue in the middle of the oh-so-safe, oh-so-unexciting studio arrangements. This is pretty much the epitome of Nashville's most boring work of the era, with everyone concerned sleepwalking themselves through the disc. I mean, their vocals are okay, but the music is a snooze.
Don Gibson "Sings All-Time Country Gold" (RCA, 1969) (LP)
Don Gibson "Lovin' Lies" (RCA-Camden, 1970)
Don Gibson "Great Gibson, Volume One" (RCA, 1970) (LP)
Don Gibson "Hits, Hits, The Gibson Way" (Hickory, 1970) (LP)
Don Gibson "A Perfect Mountain" (Hickory, 1970) (LP)
Don Gibson "...Sings Hank Williams" (Hickory, 1971) (LP)
Don Gibson "Country Green" (Hickory, 1971) (LP)
Don Gibson "Woman Sensuous Woman" (Hickory, 1972) (LP)
Don Gibson & Sue Thompson "Two Of Us Together" (Hickory, 1972) (LP)
Don Gibson "Touch The Morning/That's What I'll Do" (Hickory, 1973) (LP)
Don Gibson "The Very Best Of Don Gibson" (Hickory, 1973)
Re-recordings of some of his classic songs -- "Blue Blue Day," "Oh Lonesome Me," "Sweet Dreams" and some newer ones, like "Touch The Morning."
Don Gibson "Snap Your Fingers" (Hickory, 1974) (LP)
Don Gibson "Bring Back Your Love To Me" (Hickory, 1974)
Don Gibson "I'm The Loneliest Man" (Hickory, 1975)
Don Gibson "Oh How Love Changes" (Hickory, 1975)
Don Gibson "Don't Stop Loving Me" (Hickory, 1975)
Don Gibson "I'm All Wrapped Up In You" (Hickory, 1977)
Don Gibson "If You Ever Get To Houston" (Hickory, 1977)
(Produced by Wesley Rose & Ronnie Gant)
On this late-vintage outing, Gibson tackles new material with uncharacteristic vigor: the title track was a Micky Newberry tune that the band cranks out as a bluesy rocker, and Gibson throws himself into it full force, although it manages to devolve into an ill-defined blues jam, when it could have been a fairly concise and catchy single. The rest of the album has a similarly energetic tone, with bright, lively production that actually almost manages to mask or overcome Gibson's innate snooziness. The talented studio crew included pickers such as Pete Wade, Chip Young and Leon Rhodes, along with steel players Russ Hicks and Pete Drake, with Terry McMillan chugging away on the harmonica, and a pre-fame Janie Fricke in the backup chorus. This turns out to be another bland Don Gibson album, but the production is good, and almost manages to make this music fun.
Don Gibson "Starting All Over Again" (Hickory, 1978)
Don Gibson "Look Who's Blue" (Hickory, 1978)
Don Gibson "The Best Of Don Gibson" (RCA, 1965)
Don Gibson "The Best Of Don Gibson, v.2" (RCA, 1970)
Hick Music Index