Williams was a native of East Tennessee, born near Rogersville in 1947. Well known in country music circles, he composed hit songs for Joe Diffie, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Aaron Tippin and George Jones among others. He was perhaps most closely associated with Garth Brooks, for and with whom he wrote multiple popular numbers, like Ain’t Goin’ Down Till The Sun Comes Up, Papa Loved Mama, It’s Midnight Cinderella, and She’s Gonna Make It.
His biggest hit may have been Three Wooden Crosses which he wrote with Doug Johnson, and was a #1 for Randy Travis in 2002.
Though he received less widespread acclaim for his efforts, Kim was also responsible for a good many hits in the bluegrass world, including The Last Suit You Wear, famously recorded by Larry Sparks, and Seven Sundays In A Row from Blue Highway.
Other bluegrass songs Williams had a hand in include:
- My Heart was Made to Love You – Blue Highway
- Any Bar in Birmingham, Make God Laugh, Green Ivy Vine – Don Rigsby
- Brothers of the Highway – Dailey and Vincent
- Roses and Rust – Nu-Blu
- Don’t Tell Mama I Was Drinking – The Grascals
- For Sale Baby Shoes, Two Hearts on the Borderline – Larry Stephenson
- Born on the Wind – Mountain Heart
- Sweet Forgiveness – Josh Williams
- Don’t Tell Me You’re Not in Love – Marty Raybon
- Wing and a Prayer, I Couldn’t Have Lost Her to a Better Man, I Dreamed I Drove the Nails, I Have Been Across the Mountain, Ride Joy Ride, Bad News for the Blues – David Parmley & Continental Divide
Tim Stafford of Blue Highway, who was close friends with Kim through much of his life, said that he was drawn to bluegrass for its acceptance of gritty reality in new songs.
“I can say that in his later years, Kim decided he wanted to write more bluegrass because he considered it one of the last places you could get ‘real’ songs recorded. By that I mean songs about topics like death, life, religion, murder, abuse, inspiration — topics that sometimes (usually?) are too scary or controversial for mainstream music. I wish he was here to tell you — he was very passionate about it.”
Part of Williams’ fondness for real life themes surely comes from his own personal brush with fate. As a young man working in a glass factory in Tennessee, an explosion left him with third-degree burns over much of his body. Hundreds of surgeries followed before he could function freely again, but his passion for song wring developed while he was living in Nashville while undergoing repeated procedures at Vanderbilt Hospital.
A chance meeting between his publisher and Garth Brooks’ manager led to the two of them writing together regularly, and the hits kept coming.
Though he wasn’t a bluegrass picker himself, he had a brother who played banjo in regional bands, and he was close to bluegrass writers Tim Stafford, Bobby Starnes, Wayne Taylor, and Steve Gulley.
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.
R.I.P., Kim Williams.