Crazy Horse Saloon, Santa Ana, Cal., April 6, 1998
SANTA ANA, CAL. - Don Williams' late set started on a sad note, as an air personality for a local radio station prefaced her introduction of the veteran singer with the news that Tammy Wynette had died earlier that day.
After a moment of silence, though, Williams took the stage with his five-piece band. Perched upon on a stool which stood about even with the drum riser, and wearing his trademark light brown hat, this gentle crooner went right to work on a quiet hour-long set of music, drawn primarily from hit-filled Seventies heyday.
It's tempting to liken the soft and simple sounds of Williams to a kind of a country Perry Como, but that overly simplified characterization would be grossly missing the point: Williams has a subtle groove all his own, and he creates a uniquely hypnotic musical mood that is deceptively effective.
Besides, on a night when the country music world was grieving the loss of one of its legends, Williams' comforting songs about true love, friendship, and loyalty were appropriate healing balms for this mostly middle-aged audience; one which certainly remembers when artists like Williams and Wynette ruled the airwaves.
Williams opened with "Good Ole Boys Like Me" and then proved to be a real southern gentleman on any of the subsequent rare occasions when he chose to interact with the crowd. Even though he joked about learning all of his stage moves from the Motown school of live performance, Williams mainly sat still, looking not unlike a kind of spiritual sage, delivering melodic words of wisdom to his attentive followers.
And except for the clap-along of "It Must Be Love," and the almost lively guitar driven "Tulsa Time," the music always took a backseat to Williams' warm singing.
In addition to having a naturally beautiful instrument for a voice, Williams also knows how to keep his focus on the lyrics to his songs. He's probably sung "I Believe In You" more times than he can count, but Williams recited each of its proverb-like couplets with all the sincere devotion of a new believer.
Although Williams' band played each of these songs to near perfection, there were absolutely no extended musical jams. As soon as Williams reached the end of a song's lyric, this was the band's cue to swiftly bring its performance to a close, and then to quickly make way for the next number.
After a night of music from Williams, one is left with a peaceful feeling that there are still silver linings around the clouds in this troubled world. Year in, and year out, Williams can be found with that same soothing voice, that same tattered old hat, resting high on his own same comfortable stool, and singing those same comforting songs. And it's good to know that some good things never change.