Don Williams in an interview in the 1970: “Life’s been good and I’m blessed.”

Country music lost two icons Friday with 50-year-old Troy Gentry of the Montgomery Gentry dying in a helicopter crash en route to a concert in Medford, NJ, and Don Williams, 78. losing his battle with a long illness.

I had the honor to meet, photograph and interview Williams in St. Louis in 1976.  Known as the “Gentle Giant,” the Texas-born singer gave us 17 country hits, including Tulsa Time, Lord I Hope This Day is Good and It Must Be Love.

As country evolved into the “outlaw,” culture, the soft-spoken Williams turned out soothing ballads and clean, clear  easy-listening sounds.

“His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times,” says Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young.”

His songwriting crossed over into popular music, with Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend recording his songs.  In the interview, he talked with love and praise about Joy Bucher.  She was his longtime sweetheart, they married in 1960 and remained at each other’s side for 57 years.

“She’s my partner and my best friend,” he said.

Like many performers at the time, Williams smoked and usually had a cigarette in his tobacco-stained fingers.

Gentry and his partner, Eddie Montgomery, mixed country and Southern rock with touches of humor and rowdiness with hard pounding songs like Chrome, My Town and Hell Yeah.

Never met him but enjoyed his music.