Since she first gained attention for her portrayal of Patsy Cline in the Ryman Auditorium’s production of “Always… Patsy Cline” in 1994, Mandy Barnett has always demonstrated a love and appreciation of classic songs – as well as classic singers. Nowhere is that more apparent than on her latest project, “I Can’t Stop Loving You – The Songs Of Don Gibson,” a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store exclusive project that pays tribute to one of the greatest songwriters’ in Nashville’s history.
Barnett says that the album’s subject definitely had a way with a song that was very emotional and unique. “His lyrics were very simple, yet very poignant and usually heartbreaking. I think he had a wonderful marriage with his wife Bobbi, but there was something about him that was kind of sad. He was referred to as the ‘Sad Poet,’ and the lyrics he wrote were very bittersweet,” she said.
Unlike a lot of people in modern Nashville, Barnett actually had a history with the Hall of Famer, who passed away in 2003. “I met Don in 2001. Prior to that, I had been a huge fan. He had always been sort of an enigma to me. I never thought I would ever get to meet him. I loved his songwriting, and was familiar with it through Patsy Cline and ‘Sweet Dreams,’ and Ray Charles’ iconic version of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You.’ He heard my recording of ‘Give Myself A Party’ from I’ve Got A Right To Cry, and he heard my take on ‘Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings,’ which was very similar to his version. He and his wife came to my show at 3rd and Lindsley back in 2001.”
She recalled getting a phone call that day from a mutual friend to let her know that Gibson was coming. “Harold Bradley called me that day and said ‘You’re not going to believe this. Don Gibson is coming to see you tonight.’ I just almost fell out. I couldn’t believe it. He was so gracious and wonderful. From there on, we started spending time with each other about once a week, and would talk daily. We became great friends, and they were wonderful supporters of mine,” she recalled fondly.
Though Gibson spent much of his latter years in Nashville, his presence at a Barnett club date was quite noteworthy. “He did live here, but he didn’t go to events,”Barnett told Billboard. “He didn’t like to get out. I got him to go to the BMI Awards. But, the fact that he came out to a club was huge. He told me the last concert he saw was Bob Wills. So, he didn’t get out much,” she said with a laugh.
One of the highlights of the disc is her breathtaking version of “Blue, Blue Day.” Originally an up-tempo classic for Gibson in 1958, Barnett slows down the song to ballad form, and also includes some incredible fiddle playing from Charlie McCoy, which thrilled the singer to no end.
“He is one of the most talented people I have met in my entire life. We went to Japan a few years ago, and I am astonished at how talented he is. He can sing, play the harmonica, vibes, bass, piano, he’s so incredible. I knew I wanted harmonica on that song. I had this idea of how the song would sound, but not at first. Don did not like ‘Blue Blue Day.’ He said it was his least favorite song he had ever written. He recorded it two or three times, but never slowed it down. I was looking at the words, and I thought it was such a sad song. I was playing the guitar one night, trying to figure out keys, and I am limited in the guitar. But, I started doing this rolling pattern. I thought ‘This sounds good.’ I called Harold and asked him ‘Do you think I can do this?’ and he said ‘I don’t know why not.” It was a fluke, but I’m really proud of it. I really wish Don could have heard it in that tempo. I think he would have really liked it.”
Being around Gibson – and seeing that creative spirit, even in his last few years, was an inspiration to the singer. “When I met him, he was toward the end of his life. He started becoming more creative again. He had been sick for awhile, and hadn’t really been around many singers or musicians. He started writing songs again. I saw him write three during the time I knew him, and he started playing guitar and singing again. It was an incredible thing to witness,” she said.