Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter Don Gibson, who penned such country staples as “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Oh Lonesome Me,” died Monday in Nashville of natural causes. He was seventy-five.
Born Donald Eugene Gibson on April 3, 1928, Gibson was a second-grade dropout who earned the nickname “the sad poet” for his work crafting iconic songs that became part of the stripped down “Nashville Sound” in the 1960s. He began playing guitar in high school and started his recording career in the late 1940s with the group the Sons of the Soil, renaming the band Don Gibson and His King Cotton Kinfolks in 1950. His 1955 song “Sweet Dreams” became his first hit, and was later covered by the likes of Faron Young, Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris.
“Sweet Dreams” earned Gibson a contract with RCA Records. He was signed by Chet Atkins, who produced Gibson’s albums for the next seven years. His first single for the label, 1957’s “Oh Lonesome Me” was a huge hit, topping the country charts for eight weeks and crossing over onto the pop charts.
With his straightforward language and unadorned, pop-leaning compositions, Gibson sang about the lonely side of love in his warm baritone, writing and recording country standards that sometimes incorporated rock influences. From 1958 to 1961, he scored hits with such songs as “Who Cares,” “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles,” “Blue Blue Day” and “Sea of Heartbreak.”
But he is best remembered for “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which, legend has it, were both written on June 7, 1957, while Gibson was living in an East Tennessee trailer park. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” has been recorded by more than 700 artists, most notably by Ray Charles, who scored a pop hit with it in 1962, as well as Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald.
After his string of hits in the 1960s, Gibson struggled with drugs and alcohol, including an addiction to pills prescribed to keep his weight down. After marrying for the second time, he cleaned up his act and had one last hit in 1972 with “Woman (Sensuous Woman).” In 1973 he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2001 he was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.