Don Gibson, writer of 'I Can't Stop Loving You,' dies at 75

Tuesday, November 18th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Don Gibson, an elementary school dropout who wrote and recorded country standards like ``I Can't Stop Loving You,'' has died, his lawyer said. He was 75.

Gibson died Monday at Baptist Hospital, said Richard Frank, who is also a longtime friend of the Grand Ole Opry star.

Gibson's songs used plain language and riveting melodies to communicate strong emotions. He sang in a rich baritone and usually wrote about solitude and sadness involving love, earning him the nickname ``the sad poet.''

``Simple is the only way I can write,'' he once said.

Gibson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Born on April 3, 1928, Gibson was a poor boy from Shelby, N.C., who dropped out of school in second grade. But he became a songwriting genius who sold millions of records.

``The only thing I was any good at was music,'' he said in a 1997 interview.

Between 1958 and the mid-1960s, Gibson's records and his compositions, including ``Sweet Dreams'' and ``Oh Lonesome Me,'' were hits for himself and many other performers.

``I Can't Stop Loving You'' was recorded by more than 700 artists, but Ray Charles had the big pop version in 1962.

Gibson and others helped create the ``Nashville Sound'' in the 1960s _ clean, uncluttered music that remains an influence today.

Somewhere along the way, the moody, shy kid from a sharecropping family began playing guitar. When a friend came home from Paris after World War II with records by the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, Gibson was captivated, and was experimenting with different styles by his mid-teens.

A friend helped him land a performing job with a Knoxville radio station. But things weren't what Gibson expected: The fans wanted old-time country, not Gibson's brand of crooning.

Gibson hung on to the radio job but struggled on $30 a week earned playing beer joints. One day after a radio show, Gibson started humming a melody and playing with words _ not writing anything down at first, just seeing where the tune would lead.

It was the beginning of a classic _ the haunting ``Sweet Dreams,'' made famous by Patsy Cline in 1963.

On June 7, 1957, he wrote two of country music's greatest songs: ``I Can't Stop Loving You'' and ``Oh Lonesome Me.''

Gibson was living alone in a trailer outside Knoxville. A repo man had just picked up his vacuum cleaner and television when Gibson started strumming, exploring a swirl of words and melodies.

``When I wrote those two songs, I couldn't have been any closer to the bottom,'' Gibson once said.

``Oh Lonesome Me'' was a hit again in 1990 by the Kentucky Headhunters.

Gibson's own recording fared modestly, but the song was a solid success for Faron Young as well as Cline. Gibson quit the beer joints and took up songwriting full time.

``Don's one of the most talented people I've known,'' the late Chet Atkins once said. Atkins produced Gibson's greatest hits. ``I always name him when I talk about the most important people I've recorded.''