Don Williams, a member of Country Music Hall of Fame who became a superstar during the late 1970s and early 1980s, died Friday.
He was 78. His publicist told the New York Times that Williams died of emphysema.
Williams was known for his smooth baritone voice, plain-spoken lyrics and understated arrangements on many of his hits.
One notable exception, however, was “Tulsa Time,” which became one of the biggest hits of his career.
Written by his guitarist Danny Flowers and recorded by Williams in 1978, the rhymes and rhythms of “Tulsa Time” locked into a catchy groove. It rose to No. 1 on the country charts and received attention on the pop charts. The Academy of Country Music voted it the Single of the Year, despite the fact a few traditionalists thought the song was too rock ‘n’ roll for country.
Here’s a performance, with Flowers on lead guitar, in 1982.
When I was a wee lad about the time of the above video, I went to a Williams concert in central Illinois. “Tulsa Time” received the biggest ovation of the night, largely because of Flowers was ripping on the guitar solos. The crowd clapped, hooted and hollered for so long, the band felt compelled to do the song again.
But that’s not all. Guitar wizard Eric Clapton also liked the song and recorded it on one of his albums in 1978. Clapton’s live-in-concert version of “Tulsa Time,” released in 1980, reached the Top 30 of the pop charts. It also is notable this was the time Clapton immersed himself in Tulsa music, especially J.J. Cale and Leon Russell.
By now, Flowers obviously was receiving fat royalty paychecks in the mail. Reba McEntire and Jason Boland and the Stragglers later would record versions as well. But it’s Williams’ cut that started it all.
You’re probably wondering what “Tulsa Time” has to with Route 66. These opening lyrics offer a clue:
I left Oklahoma drivin’ in a Pontiac
Just about to lose my mind
I was goin’ on to Arizona, maybe on to California
Where all the people live so fine
If you’re a musician leaving Tulsa for Arizona or California during the 1970s in a Pontiac, which road would you take? U.S. 66, of course.
A few dozen songs have been written about the Route 66 city of Tulsa. “Tulsa Time” remains easily the best-known of the lot.