Songwriter and novelist Richard Dobson, whose songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, David Allan Coe, Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds, among others, died Saturday in a hospital in Diessenhofen, Switzerland. He was 75.
The writer of the title cut to Guy Clark’s celebrated 1988 LP Old Friends, Dobson was called the “Hemingway of country music,” by Nanci Griffith, who recorded his “Ballad of Robin Winter-Smith,” the tale of a motorcycle daredevil, on her 1984 album Once in a Very Blue Moon. His tune “Baby Ride Easy” was recorded as a duet by Johnny and June Carter Cash as well as Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds. Earlier this year, Dobson was name-checked in Rodney Crowell’s “Nashville 1972,” a loving homage to his fellow songwriter friends.
Dobson was born March 19th, 1942, in Tyler, Texas, the son of a geologist for Shell Oil. At 8 years old, his family lived in the Hague, Netherlands, for a year, where he first took piano lessons, swapping that instrument for guitar a dozen years later. Dobson joined the Peace Corps in Chile, after which he relocated to Nashville in 1971. While he would move from Tennessee to Texas and back again several times over the next couple of decades, his reputation for poetic lyrics made him a favorite of tunesmiths, including John Prine, who said of him, “Richard Dobson is one of the best songwriters in Nashville… make that the United States.”
In a scene from Heartworn Highways, a mid-Seventies film chronicling songwriters – including Clark, Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Steve Young, all of whom would shape the burgeoning Americana music movement – Dobson performed his “Forever, for Always, for Certain,” which Clark would later record.
Dobson and his wife, Edith Brunhold Dobson, a Swiss native, moved to her home country in 1999. He would return to Music City frequently to record, releasing his debut LP, In Texas Last December, in 1977. For more than 20 years, the Swiss label Brambus Records released a series of Dobson’s albums.
In addition to his music, Dobson wrote prose, penning Pleasures of the High Rhine: A Texas Singer in Exile, about his life in Switzerland, and The Gulf Coast Boys, and publishing a newsletter called Don Ricardo’s Life and Times.