April 3, 1928
November 17, 2003
Shelby, North Carolina
Three Genre-Defining Songs
Born Donald Eugene Gibson in Shelby, North Carolina, Gibson got his start with a local band called the Sons of the Soil on Shelby station WOHS. In 1949, he made his first recording with them: a Mercury side called “Automatic Mama.” By 1952, he had gotten a job at Knoxville’s WNOX and was recording for Columbia. None of his recordings for the label were not commercially successful, but he was discovering he had a knack for songwriting.
By 1955, Gibson had written his first masterpiece, “Sweet Dreams,” later to a hit for himself, Faron Young, and Patsy Cline. It won Gibson a songwriter’s contract with Acuff-Rose Publications and a recording deal with MGM. Then, in 1957, while living in a trailer park north of Knoxville, Gibson wrote his other two career-defining songs on the same day: “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The latter would eventually be recorded more than 700 times by singers in many music genres and sell more than thirty million records worldwide.
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Introducing the Nashville Sound
In 1957, Gibson traveled back to Nashville to record “Oh Lonesome Me” for RCA. He and producer Chet Atkins decided to abandon the traditional steel guitar and fiddle and use a new sound featuring only guitars, a piano, a drummer, upright bass, and background singers. It became one of the first examples of what would be called the Nashville Sound and won Gibson a #1 hit; it also set the pattern for a long series of other RCA hits, including “Blue Blue Day” (1958), “Who Cares” (1959), “Sea of Heartbreak” (1961), and “Rings of Gold” (1969). These accomplishments were even more remarkable because Gibson achieved them while suffering from personal problems and drug abuse.
By 1967, Gibson had married Bobbi Patterson and was making a fresh start with Hickory Records, moved to Nashville, and once again began to concentrate on his first love, songwriting. “I consider myself a songwriter who sings rather than a singer who writes songs,” Gibson said, and as late as 1986 he estimated he had as many as 150 to 175 “working songs that were still performed enough to earn him regular royalties. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.
In addition, as a singer, between 1949 and 1985, Gibson recorded 513 titles on a range of labels that included Mercury, Columbia, RCA Victor, Hickory, MGM, and K-Tel. — Stacey Wolfe
Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press
“I consider myself a songwriter who sings rather than a singer who writes songs,” Gibson said.