Singer/songwriter Don Gibson made his first huge splash with "Oh Lonesome Me" in 1958, a crossover hit on both the country (No. 1 for eight weeks) and pop charts. Unbeknownst to country music fans outside his Tennessee stomping grounds, and probably some folks in his native North Carolina, he had actually been recording fairly prolifically since 1949.
First came a pair of singles for Mercury with a group called Sons of the Soil, followed by three LPs worth of material under his own name -- all before his first official album, named Oh Lonesome Me, natch. Most of this early music is in a much more traditional country mode than the somewhat indefinable country-pop hybrid that would eventually launch Gibson to a couple decades-run of chart hits.
Here's a breakdown of what came first, grouped by the labels that released it originally.
RCA Victor, circa 1950-52
RCA was the label where Gibson became a crossover star while collaborating with Chet Atkins ... and, ironically, the label that started his solo career before dropping him after four singles failed to set the world on fire. The first, "I Love No One But You," unsurprisingly capitalizes on his smooth way with a ballad -- but the flip side is a somewhat unexpected instrumental track! The topside of the second single is also an uptempo country instrumental, with the flip taking a crack at an Eddy Arnold vibe for Gibson's first songwriting credit on a record under his own name. The first three singles were credited to Don Gibson and his King Cotton Kinfolks, an appellation which disappears forever by the fourth, even though, judging by the matrix numbers, the ballads of the third and fourth singles were recorded at the same session. Beyond the original singles, all of these tracks except one showed up later on the Camden compilation A Blue Million Tears
Columbia, c. 1952-54
Gibson recorded six singles in all for Columbia, none of which cracked the Billboard country charts. Again, the songs are still in a mellow honky tonk mode for the most part, with a few more uptempo numbers such as "Sample Kisses" or "Ice Cold Heart." His vocal style is beginning to mature in this period, though there are also occasional attempts at more direct Hank-ery such as "We're Steppin' Out Tonight" and "Symptoms of Love." It's another bit of Williams-esque wordplay from Gibson's own pen, "Many Times I've Waited," that points the way forward -- a sort-of defiantly jaunty (though barely mid-tempo) rejection song. All of these tracks but two were recycled post-fame on an early '60s Harmony LP, The Fabulous Don Gibson.
MGM, c. 1955-57
It's a more focused Don Gibson who resurfaced with a contract to MGM's record division -- and, more importantly, a songwriting deal with Acuff-Rose Publications. Unsurprisingly, MGM pushed the musical accompaniment in a more overtly Hank Williams direction much of the time. However, seven of the twelve sides released feature Gibson-penned material, and his unlucky-in-love subject matter is already firmly in place. Even the songs he didn't write during this period are about being dumped, or from the side of the person doing the dumping. Also peeping out at times is his nuanced country-soul vocal style, years before that appellation would be used to title a couple late '60s LPs. Gibson even managed to hit the charts for the first time in the summer of 1956 with the original version of "Sweet Dreams," which made the Top 10 despite competition from a Faron Young version. MGM recycled these tracks on the Lion LP Songs By Don Gibson nearly immediately in the wake of "Oh Lonesome Me" becoming a smash. Most of them were repackaged again -- with much better sound quality, at least on the mono version -- in a mid-'60s Metro label album.
Gibson re-signed with RCA in the wake of his lone hit for MGM, but it took a few more cracks at it before his signature pop-influenced sound emerged. The first single on RCA after his return, "I Can't Leave," is a country twanger still in the mold of his earlier work; I've never managed to find a copy of the second one yet. After those was "Blue Blue Day," which would sink on initial release but later go all the way to No. 1 ... after "Oh Lonesome Me" and its flip side, "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," both spent time in the Top 10.
Here is the relevant discography:
RCA Victor 48-0424 I Love No One But You/Carolina Breakdown 48-0460 WiggleWag/Roses Are Red 47-4364 Red Lips, White Lies and Blue Hours/Just Let Me Love You 47-4473 Dark Future/Blue Million Tears
Columbia 20999 No Shoulder to Cry On/We're Stepping Out 21060 Sample Kisses/Let Me Stay in Your Arms (on EP) 21109 Just Walkin' in the Moonlight/I Just Love the Way You Tell a Lie 21156 You Cast Me Out/Waitin' Down the Road 21231 Symptoms of Love/Many Times I've Waited 21281 Selfish With Your Kisses/Ice Cold Heart
MGM 12109 Run Boy/I Must Forget You 12194 Sweet Dreams/The Road of Life Alone 12290 I Ain't Gonna Waste My Time/Ah-Ha 12331 I Believed In You/What I Fool I Was to Fall 12494 I Ain't a-Studying You Baby/It's Hoppin'
RCA Victor 47-6860 I Can't Leave/I Love You Still (also released as half of a promo-only EP, DJ-94) 47-6942 Everything Turns Out for the Best/Sittin' Here Cryin' 47-7010 Blue Blue Day/Too Soon To Know 47-7133 Oh Lonesome Me/I Can't Stop Lovin' You
For those folks who don't enjoy tracking down rare country singles -- though I know there must be a few out there -- all Don Gibson's early material has been handily collected by German archivists Bear Family, in a box set titled The Singer - The Songwriter. Along with the stray singles sides not collected elsewhere there's also other unreleased material.