NEW! Crystal Gayle (2020)
'You Never Gave Up on Me: Then and Now'
Grammy-winning American country music legend Crystal Gayle (originally Brenda Gail Webb) was born in 1951 in Paintsville, Kentucky.
Gayle's older sister is country legend Loretta Lynn, and following in her footsteps, Gayle set out at an early age to be a musician.
Indeed, Gayle began her career in the 1960s performing in the background of her siblings' bands and it was actually Loretta who helped her sign a recording contract with Decca Records in 1970. Having minor success, she was encouraged to develop her own musical identity.
That same year, Decca Records released Gayle’s first single, 'I've Cried (The Blues Right Out of My Eyes),' a traditional country song written by Loretta that landed in the Top 40 on the country chart.
The label was more than happy to have Gayle follow in her sister’s famous footsteps, and they released three more singles over the next three years, all of which helped Gayle get some footing with listeners.
But Gayle decided early on in her career that she wanted to make a name for herself on her own terms, and so she left Decca for United Artists in 1974.
There, Gayle was set free musically, and her first, and self-titled album, Crystal Gayle, was released that same year. 'Wrong Road Again' became her first bona fide hit, finding a spot in the Top 10 on the country chart.
In 1976 she landed her first No. 1 hit with 'Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,' a song that would soon make Gayle a crossover superstar, hitting No. 1 on the country chart and No. 2 on the pop chart.
The album from which the hit came, We Must Believe in Magic, helped earn Gayle her first Grammy, for Best Female Country Vocal, and she became the first female country artist to go platinum.
That smash led to several others, and Grammy and CMA awards followed Gayle throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
The 1970s were a career-making decade for Gayle, and the success she found with 'Brown Eyes' continued with several more No. 1 country hits, including 'You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)' and 'Talking in Your Sleep' (also a hit on the pop chart).
In 1980, she landed at the top of the charts again with 'If You Ever Change Your Mind' and 'It's Like We Never Said Goodbye.' In 1981, 'You and I,' a duet with Eddie Rabbitt, was another crossover hit, and she made it to No. 1 five more times over the next few years.
While Gayle continued to record sporadically in the 1990s and 2000s, her last album (and her first in 16 years) was the highly well received You Don't Know Me: Classic Country (2019); which saw Gayle cover versions of classic country songs and which also features collaborations with other artists.
Chatting with her today, she is as lovely, as soothing a country voice as I could have ever hoped for on the other end of the phone. Talking about things both old and new, I first pondered that whenever I heard her name, it felt like I’d heard it being lauded forever. So, were there times for her when she looked back through her own history that she ever felt like time had stood still, perhaps? "When I look at it, wow, where did the time go? I look at my career and I have done so many things, been so many places and so sometimes it's like, Wow, I did all that?", she laughs.
"You look at it all … and I think what made me start thinking about all this is was when I did the Country Music Hall of Fame where they had a showing of my career. And so I'm going through my things, full stage wear to all these different things they were looking for and I'm thinking, I don't remember wearing this or doing that! Did I do that?", she laughs again.
Being that I'm British, what was it like for you touring in the UK back in the '70s and '80s? "It was incredible. I always felt very lucky to be over there and especially in London. Whenever I would play over there, I loved it when I walked down the streets and I heard my songs coming out from the shops. I mean, here too, but going abroad and having your music played in a different country was incredible."
Over the years you have won Grammys, CMA’s, ACM’s, AMA’s, have your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and so much more, and was also rightly inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2017. So, and whether it be from those achievements or another one not mentioned, which achievement do you personally hold the dearest to your heart today? "I look at my awards in different ways. Of course, my main award was the Grammy although at that time it was looked at differently that I'm sure it's looked at now. But I'm still glad I had a Grammy at that time, of course."
"But now there are just so many award shows. It's like they come on every month. From music to movies, it's like Wow, give me a break," she laughs. "But I always felt in my heart that when you've made the top 5 in that category, you were all winners."
"But, yeah, they always have to pick one winner, but sometimes it's hard in a certain year to say that person did the greatest. There's so much out there. I mean, Conway Twitty, when I look back in the past, he had 15 number ones, but did he ever win one award? Not that I know of. He was overlooked and I cannot understand that."
Did you get to work with him "Oh, I loved Conway and yes, I got to work with Conway and even open for him."
"So I look back at the past and see all of this and I remember when Olivia Newton-John won for Female Vocalist of the Year and people were upset, but she had a great year and her songs were playing on country radio it was a big shift. But you're always going to have the people that complain no matter what."
When people think of you, they immediately think of your luscious floor-length hair, but do you still have it that long today? "Well it's not floor length as I've started cutting it back, but it's still below my knees."
"You know, it's just something that's so hard to get rid of and every time I think about cutting it I think of my mother who, when my hair was real long, I had come home and had my hair tucked inside my jacket and she just acted like she was going to have a heart attack right there! Because she thought I had cut my hair!"
"So, there's that, but yeah, I definitely need to cut it and do whatever everybody else does and wear the wigs," she laughs. "It's just easier with wigs. You can have them sent off to be done and then just put them on your head afterward!"
Also, as there has always been conflicting reports, when did Brenda Gail Webb become Crystal Gayle, and why? "I had to change my name because I was on Decca Records with Brenda Lee! I would have continued with Brenda, but they didn't want two Brenda's on the label and I understood that."
"That was just something at that time and I didn't really care what they called me," she laughs, "but my sister, Loretta Lynn saw the name Crystal and that was that."
Where did she see the name Crystal? "Well, we have the Krystal Hamburger chain here in Tennessee," she laughs, "so I'm sure that's where she saw it. They loved the name, and it obviously stuck out to her, but she always said it was chosen because the name was bright and shiny."
"And Gail is my middle name, but we changed it to Gayle because of the Y in Crystal. So that's what you look at, because it's artistic that way."
Does anybody call you Brenda today, perhaps? "Oh, every now and then by family members. Or I'll be somewhere in a store and someone will call out Brenda and I'll answer," she again laughs.
"It was something though at one time when I started that I thought I would like to have my own name again, and I was actually going to put it back to Brenda. But you can't do that when you start being known as one name you can't change it back."
Your latest album, You Don’t Know Me was released last year and featured a musical direction back toward classic country music, away from your uptown sound, so to speak. Did this come to be for you, personally, to reacquaint yourself with your roots, or simply because you felt some of your newer fans didn’t know this earlier era of yours, perhaps? "Well, yeah, there's something in that, because when I started the project it was mainly to have my son, who I was in the studio working with, hear the songs that I grew up singing."
"The type of country music that he was not familiar with I wanted him to feel that, to hear it and just to be a part of that. And then I was playing it to a few people and they said you've got to release this … and you've probably got enough songs for a second album too," she laughs."
"It was just so much fun and it came together like a little autobiography of my growing up with music. They were songs that I would sing as a child. 'Ribbon of Darkness' was a Marty Robbins song, and was the very first song that I sang on the Grand Ole Opry, when I was 17 or so."
"When you look back I also opened for Jack Greene, and I still love singing his 'My Love is Everything,' but when I opened for him back then I couldn't sing it, you know," she laughs.
"I also saw Jim Reeves, before he passed away. I was a young girl, but I remember him at the Opry, because I was there roaming the Opry," she laughs again.
Roaming the Opry?! "Yeah, I would roam around the backstage of the Opry with Ernest Tubb's daughter Karen. Loretta and Ernest had kids together, and they also recorded, so when he was there with his family, Karen and I would go into places backstage that I'm sure they didn't want us to ... as kids do," she laughs.
On that album is the track 'Put It Off Until Tomorrow' that features you singing with your sisters, Loretta Lynn and Peggy Sue. So was that the very first time you three had come together to record, perhaps? "It was the first time we had ever been in the studio recording together. We had talked about for many, many moons and it just never happened."
"We'd get together, we'd rehearse, but it just didn't come to be. We did some shows on the road together and always had fun, and I asked Loretta and then picked this song."
"Because it was a song we had already done on the road. So I knew she knew it and so did Peggy, and she was just so gracious to come in and sing on it."
What can you tell me about what went on behind-the-scenes of that recording session? "Well, Loretta doesn't like headphones so she sings it with the speaker and it just worked as she sang it great."
"Peggy actually came in later and I was in there with Loretta and we did sing together some, but to make the track beat, the part of it that I know nothing about, I would tell her to sing certain parts by herself."
Your new tour kicks off in Georgia on March 21st, 2020 and runs through to Waco, TX on October 17th, 2020, so what can fans look forward to experiencing on this tour when they come to see you? "Well, of course you have to do songs that they know, a few that they hopefully remember, and then you do the new songs from the album."
"You know, we have fun and I've always said that's the most important part. You're there to lift people … we don't talk about politics or anything going on in the world, even though we could," she laughs. "But we just don't do that. They are there to forget that, you know. They are there to just have fun so that's what we do."
Is there a storytelling aspect to the show for some of the songs? "We do some of that, we do a little comedy, we do a little of everything! I'm not the comedian, because I always spoil the joke before it's finished," she laughs. "I'm that type of person, but my sister, Peggy Sue actually travels with me and she is such a great comedian. She should have had her own comedy CD. I've been telling her to do that for years!"
Given that you mentioned you recorded a lot of extra tracks for your last album, are there plans for a new album to come out this year? "I think I am going to have another album come out, but I have been recording different styles and there's just so many directions you can take. Even if we just put it out digitally, streaming is a new option. We can just do things that we want now."
"Also, I have some of my catalogue that's going to be coming out as well, that has not been on the streaming platforms ever before. They are albums that I own that were never put out there and never thought about before," she gently laughs. "And so it's time for the people who like to do that to hear the songs streaming for the first time."
So, is there anything else you would like to add as we bring this interview to a close, perhaps? "We love the music business, and yeah, country music is changing, but there's room for it all."
"We don't want to forget what country music is all about, but we also embrace what is going on now. When people love country it's always a good thing."
"And Nashville is growing so much that people are now moving here constantly, so much so it's like Wait a minute! What happened to this smaller town?" she laughs. "But that's what happens … the secret got out about Nashville being such a great place."
Lastly, and we ask this of every celebrity we interview, as we are putting together a children's book for the Alzheimer's Association about penguins, did you yourself ever have any run in's with penguins growing up, perhaps? "When I look back, and I hate to say no, but there was more of the rabbits and cats and the dogs. Actually, cats were a big part of my growing up. I love cats."
Was there one cat that you still today fondly think of? "Oh my, Rooney. Yeah, Rooney was THE cat," she heartily laughs, one last time.
Interview by: Russell A. Trunk
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