Classic Country

The importance of family was instilled in Crystal Gayle from the very beginning, even if it comes with the stipulation that your own life might be put on hold while tending to the needs of others. That has been the case the last several months especially with her sister Loretta Lynn recuperating from a broken hip and the passing of their brother Donald Webb in the fall of 2017.
With all of that on her plate, she continues to tour and record with a project that’s been on the back-burner for far too long, because that thing called life seems to keep getting in the way.
But the road and the stage is where she finds her strength yet maintains her sense of humor. It is her fans, who have become friends, that feed her spirit and keep her going. Her fans are dedicated to her and she is loyal to them as well — if those long lines after her shows to say hello and get a hug are any indication.
Gayle became an “official” member of the Grand Ole Opry only last year despite her many performances there throughout the years where she was already made to feel like family.
Her easy-going manner and ability to laugh at whatever life tosses at her, has endeared her to everyone she’s met over the years. Sure that powerful voice of hers had a hand in getting everyone’s attention, but it has been her sincerity and genuine demeanor that keeps people returning time and time again to her shows and continuing to buy her music.
She has accomplished a lot since her Opry debut 50 years ago. From humble beginnings to stardom, her journey is part and parcel to who she is. From homemade dresses to Halston gowns; from standing in the shadows of her famous sister to standing ovations in the spotlight, she has earned every bit of her success.
In 1977, her “coming out” party into the light occurred when she struck gold…or platinum is more like it…with her fourth album, We Must Believe in Magic. On that release was the song, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”
Gayle followed that successful album with another platinum album, When I Dream, which contained the song “Talking In Your Sleep,” that became Billboard’s most played country song in 1978.
Her career includes 20 No. 1 hits, six albums certified gold by the RIAA and she is the first female country artist to reach platinum sales with that first album. Her list of platinum and gold was to be matched only by her awards and accolades.
The list of her awards is crazy long. These include, but not limited to CMA’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” for two consecutive years; a Grammy Award winner for “Best Female Vocal Performance” for “Brown Eyes”; three Academy of Country Music Awards as “Top Female Vocalist”; three “American Music Awards”; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and just in 2016, she received the Academy of Country Music’s Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award during the 10th Annual ACM Honors.
We talked with Crystal Gayle via a phone interview last week. Here’s her take…

We have to ask how Loretta is doing?
Any time there’s a fall, it takes a long time, and she has a lot of pain with it, but that’s normal. I’ve had people tell me it takes a year sometimes before trying to get up and walk. But someone is with her constantly. She is strong-willed. I love going and sitting with Loretta, and we talk about different things. It’s great to see the grandkids come in and lift her spirit and it’s neat to see the interaction. Her son Ernie always makes her laugh so I love to see him around.

Is your sister Peggy still touring with you?
Yes, Peggy she’s great, she’s wonderful. We lost our brother Donald this fall, and that’s where I’ve been mentally — in a lot of different places. It’s that time of life when you’ve got a big family and you begin losing family. It’s like that old movie, Our Town. When I saw that as a kid, I was like, “whoa, because it shows life as kids, and all the way to becoming grandparents and it’s over. Life is like Our Town. Death is a part of life…that’s why family is very important.

The fact that you all are in different places all the time, finding time to get together has to be challenging.
We don’t have to be together all the time to still have that love and that feeling of caring — and it’s that way with friends, too. You just pick it back up. I see some families and they’re fighting over this and they’re fighting over that, or someone’s mad because someone said this or didn’t do that, and I’m like, “Come on!” Everybody has their own lives. When you get together, make it happy, make it fun.

What’s new in your world?
It’s time to get back out on the road and get some music goin’. Actually the country album is comin’ on out. I’ve put it back on the burner ’cause of everything going on in the world. It’s all ready to go. Being in the studio with my son Chris and working with him has been really good.

Does the country album have a name yet?
I want it to be Crystal Gayle Sings Classic Country. I figured I wanted to keep it simple so people know what’s on it. I was going to go with one of the song titles, but then I thought, “why don’t I just say what it is?” It’s classic country songs, you know?

What do you see when you look back on your career?
I think where my head has been, it’s just enjoying my life in the sense of what my career has done for me through the years. Everywhere I perform, I see friends that I’ve made, and to me, that really is the most important part. It’s not the accolades. I look back and think, “I did a lot.” I look at the new wave of what country music is and it’s totally different, and I’m happy that I was in a time period that was a little bit more like a family. There was definitely a lot of heart and soul in the past in Nashville that went into making music and putting it out. I’m sure there’s still a lot of that around but it’s just covered with all the business part of Nashville. There used to be producers and musicians that ran the labels and helped with everything. Now it’s a business person saying “I want you to wear this, I want you to record this, you’re gonna do this.” And the artist is like, “okay.” They’re put together, before they hit the road.”

Sounds like a different take on “artist development?”
Yes, but back in the day they didn’t try to paint them into something they weren’t. You have to use what they are as well. I hear from some of the musicians who started the singers and then I’ll see where they’ve actually changed their music. There’s no love of the music and this newer crop is having to do something else — putting those little pop moments in it so they can maybe get played on the radio. But yet, they still love that raw country sound and it’s like okay, but the attitude is “we have to change that if you want to be a star.” They have to have what’s already out there, and there’s so many new artists out there. Someone will ask me if I’ve heard of so and so, and I’m like, “who, what?” I didn’t even know who they were talking about.

Do you think about stopping?
Yes, every now and then I’ll think about it — maybe it’s time to put the feet up. But it’s like I’m still enjoying it, so I still go out there. As long as I can keep my health up, I’ll keep going. My daughter will say, “Mom, quit worrying about this, think about staying healthy.” I look at my sister who’s 19 years older than me and was on the road forever. I don’t know if I’ll do all that but it’s something you need to think of. Then becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry, like I did last January inspired me to keep going. It was very special. When I see all these wonderful artists that still work the ride, that are part of the Opry, it’s in your blood, you don’t want to stop.

Now artists have to have that first song make the top of the charts or they’re pretty much done.
I look back and I’m so glad that the first single out of the box wasn’t a hit, because I was very shy. So when I started out, it took me a while because I wanted to hide behind that microphone. I wanted to sing but I didn’t want anyone to see me. It took just getting out there and then seeing people really listening. It was like, “what’s happening, they’re sitting down at this club, they’re listening to my music, they’re not just dancing.”
Being into the music, wherever you’re at, whatever you’re doing — as long as you can do it and have fun with it and not think of yourself as a failure, that’s the most important thing. I see people who want to be in the business, but it doesn’t work. However do it where you can and have fun with what you’re doing. Don’t let it really take over your life. I was one of the lucky ones, being in the right place at the right time, but you never know.


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 15-18 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets