Don Williams - Backchat

First Published in Country Music International April 1998

Having enjoyed an incredible 17 Number One records between 1974 and 1986, Country music’s ‘Gentle Giant’ is still playing packed houses around the world.

In the past few years you’ve toured Africa, Australia and Europe. Do you find the travelling tiresome?

I find that very often. I'm really not the best traveller in the world. In fact, I’m a sorry excuse for a good international traveller. I don’t like to get that far away from home, but that’s the way it goes.

What makes all the hassle of international travelling worthwhile for you?

Well, I'll tell you, it’s the people. The fans have just been unbelievably good to me. It's like in Australia. I’ve been there twice now, and even the first time, I was just amazed at the fans.

Do you find audiences much different in foreign countries, to those back home in the States?

It seems that people in other countries are real interested in what you’re doing and want you to come back, more so than in the States. Fans in other countries are certainly more knowledgeable about my music. They know more about my music than I do.

Do you spend much time on the road back home?

I’ve started to tour again in the States, the last three years I guess. I went about five years when I didn’t tour in the States and I did get some flak over it. I've really started trying to equalise what I'm doing between the States and overseas.

What was the best gig you’ve ever played?

The very first time we played Wembley was a tremendous occasion. I was totally overwhelmed. I really didn’t expect the fans, firstly, to know who I was, and secondly, to know my material as well as they did. I believe that performance was the very first encore that Mervyn Conn had ever allowed. I had gone back into my dressing room, taken my guitar and was sat down talking to the guys. It was just the three of us, Danny Flowers and David Williamson – that was all I had then – and they came down and told me, ‘Mr Conn, says that we are going to have to let you go back on.’

Do you see Danny and David very often these days?

I see Danny pretty much yearly. He did the Australian tour with me but doesn’t tour very often. I have another guy that fills his spot. I haven’t seen David Williamson in probably seven or eight years, I guess. He lives in Florida and does just a solo thing down there.

Could you name one person who has been a major influence on your music?

That would be pretty tough. I don’t know that there would be any one person who had more of an influence on me than anyone else. Back when I was growing up there was a lot of pop people I listened to. I was a fan of just about everybody, back in the days of Johnny Horton and all those people. I guess as far as making records and such, I think Allen Reynolds and I were probably about as good a team as there’s been. When Allen and I were together I think we really learnt a lot from each other.

The two of you actually developed a totally new sound for country music. Did you realise the importance of what you were doing?

We weren’t trying to do that. We were just trying to make good records. We weren't trying to be revolutionary or anything. It just happened accidentally.

Which is your favourite of your own songs?

That would be hard, for me to just pick one song from all the other. They're kind of like children, y’know. Many of them have represented different things in my career, so it really would be hard for me to do that.

Is there one song that you wish you had written?

Oh, man, yeah. There’s been a number of songs. Just immediately, Behind Closed Doors and Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue. I think those two songs are pretty incredible.

And a favourite songwriter?

I think it would have to be Bob McDill. He seems to capture the thoughts and words that suit me so perfectly. He's a very talented writer and has been a great influence on me and my music.

Have you any new recording plans?

I'm looking at different situations. I don’t know if the label that I've been with for the past three years will be part of the picture or not. But there are some other things. If a situation presents itself that I'm interested in, then yes, I'd like to get to make some more records. But right now I have no definite plans.