Don Robertson, Pioneering Songwriter and Pianist, Dead at 92
Songwriter Don Robertson, whose dozens of hits included such country, pop and R&B standards as “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” “Please Help Me I’m Falling” and “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger” — and whose tunes have been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bing Crosby — died in southern California on March 16th. According to Music Row, he had resided in the Santa Monica Mountains since 1960. Robertson was 92.
Among the songs Robertson wrote, many were early country-pop crossover hits. His first big cut, “I Really Don’t Want to Know,” has been recorded some 200 times, with Grand Ole Opry member Eddy Arnold sending the song to the top of the country charts in 1954. Later that year, Les Paul and Mary Ford scored their own hit with the same song, albeit on the pop charts. This pattern would repeat itself throughout Robertson’s career, with artists from all genres putting their personalized stamp on his songs. Case in point: ”I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” which was a country smash for Hank Snow as well as a Number Three R&B hit for Dinah Washington, and has since been covered by Bob Dylan, Martina McBride, Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson.
Others who recorded Robertson’s songs include Johnny Cash, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Dottie West, Hank Thompson, Carl Smith, Skeeter Davis, Charley Pride, Della Reese and the Chordettes.
A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, elected there in 1972, Robertson was also a recording artist in his own right. In 1956, he reached Number Six on the pop chart with “The Happy Whistler.” The tune was also a Top Ten hit in the U.K. Among Robertson’s compositions for other artists were a total of 15 for Elvis, including many featured on the soundtracks to Presley’s films.
Although raised in Chicago, Robertson was born in late 1922 in China, where his father — an esteemed physician who’d developed the world’s first blood bank five years earlier — was teaching medicine at Peking Union College. While overseas, Robertson learned piano fron his mother at age four and began composing at seven years old. His syle of piano playing, which emphasized the “slip note” technique, was later popularized on hundreds of recordings by studio musician and country legend Floyd Cramer.
Robertson has also been heard for decades playing his song “Pianjo” as the character of “Gomer,” an animatronic bear featured in the opening of the Country Bear Jamboree attraction at California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World.