Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers
Fame is fleeting. At least the “on- everybody’s-lips” type of fame. And this is because everybody’s lips—and fingers with tweets—are fickle friends. They always have to move on to who and what is “cool” at the particular moment—with those moments shorter and shorter, and coming ever and ever so closer together. The lips and fingers do so to make sure that their owners remain “cool”, too.
But which would you rather have? Fame or true talent? If you went with true talent, good choice. True talent can bring fame but will ultimately outshine it and live on and on.
Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers have true talent. And they don’t hurt for things to do. They may not be in the recording studio as much as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they’re all about going fishing (well, Larry Gatlin does like his golf). They continue to be in demand all around the country. It doesn’t matter that Larry, Rudy and Steve don’t have songs on the radio anymore. They are entertainers, first and foremost, and bring more to a live show than a huge stockpile of hit songs. They share stories, banter with each other, give a little history lesson and throw in some comedy…and, oh yeah, sing their blended signature harmonies that only brothers can accomplish. They know how to hold a crowd in the palms of their hands.
While this is a brother act, Larry Gatlin is the operative brother. It is his songwriting ability that set the path he and his brothers, Steve and Rudy, traveled to success.
When Larry Gatlin left his hometown of Abilene, Texas, for Nashville, armed with self-penned songs was an unknown. He soon made some powerful friends early on when he wrote songs for artists like Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones and Elvis Presley. When he started recording his own hits, he could have found back-up singers and musicians on any street corner to round out his sound. He could have left his roots back there in Texas and made it to the top of the charts on his own. But that’s not the way Larry Gatlin rolls. His family ties run a little deeper than that. Besides, he also knew his brothers had talent to burn when it came to music, so he invited them up to Nashville to sing back-up on his first two albums—The Pilgrim (1974) and Rain Rainbow (1975). The Pilgrim landed the first hit with “Sweet Becky Walker,” and then “broke through” to No. 1 on the charts the next year with “Broken Lady,” a song that earned a Grammy in ’76. That same year, the Gatlins were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Larry Gatlin penned every one of the hits he recorded with his brothers. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, these included “I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love,” “Denver,” “Houston (Means That I’m One Day Closer To You),” “Midnight Choir (Mogen David),” “I Don’t Want To Cry,” “Statues Without Hearts,” “All the Gold (In California)”, “Take Me To Your Lovin’ Place” and more.
They received their 9th Grammy nomination for their Family Gospel Favorites album recorded in December 2005.
Thinking of Lonesome George..
Some of this past year has been spent the same as a lot of country music’s elite, mourning the loss of good friend and neighbor, George Jones, who passed away in April.
And there is a Gatlin connection still at play. At Jones’ request, Larry Gatlin had written a song called “Time” that would have been part of a new album Jones was excited about recording but didn’t get the chance. In an impromptu, intimate “memorial service” conducted at the home of friend and fellow songwriter John Rich (of the country duo, Big & Rich), where whiskey and orange juice toasts, cigars, and story telling was the order of the day—Larry sang that song.
Of John Rich, Gatlin said, “I call him ‘little brother.’ I met him about four years ago at The Palm in Nashville. Leslie Satcher, Terry Choate, and some friends at the Opry had been talking to me about coming back to Nashville and doing some writing. I really didn’t think anybody cared about my songs anymore.
“I wasn’t being ‘Oh, poor me,’ but I had made a philosophical decision that our time was over, and just move on. I saw John, went over and stuck my hand out and said ‘You and your partner kind of shook things up around here,’ and he looked at me in the eye and said, ‘Yeah, but you and your partners did, too.’
“I was dumbstruck by that, and we became friends. Maybe a year or so later, we did something at the Ryman, and after, backstage we had a little guitar pull and sang a couple of songs. He loved this song I wrote, and a couple of weeks later, he called and asked ‘When can you come write with me?’ I said ‘tomorrow.’
“We have some of the same demons, faith in God, song ability, and we both love to honor the tradition.”
And Larry and his brothers aren’t about letting tragedy keep a good song down, and it’s a safe bet that the guys might see fit to add “Time” to the repertoire during their upcoming series of shows at the Riverside Resort—maybe with some encouragement from the audience thrown in for good measure.
The following is from a phone an interview we conducted with Rudy Gatlin during a previous stop at the Riverside Resort.
How do you hope the Gatlins’ music makes people feel?
GATLIN: Inspired—touched in some way. I hope it makes them smile—makes them think. We try to move people, to take them someplace where they experience something through song. A lot of songs don’t connect with people on a personal level so I hope our music will strike a chord…to borrow that old line…within all of us. If it doesn’t, well, we as singers and artists, missed it.
There are old songs that when you listen to, still resonate within us. I should hope ours resonate with people, making them think, cry, wonder—hoping it hits all kinds of emotions—that they’re feeling the music, real music and that’s the difference. There’s stuff, and then there’s music.
GATLIN: It’s frustrating. Why do they do that? (misinterpret songs) Because, they’re not listening. Good God, why won’t they listen. If they hear it different, that’s one thing, but some people don’t really listen and then they’re asking themselves, “what did he just get through saying?”
With the song “Midnight Choir (Mogen David)”, it was about a wino talking to God, wondering if there was Mogen David in heaven and if there wasn’t, who wants to go. People got bent out of shape with that. Some listeners didn’t understand that the Gatlins were singing about a group of drunks who were singing that verse. Some took the tune literally, thinking the Gatlins were praising alcohol over religion. They got it all screwed up and it got taken off the radio because of that. And what do they replace it with? Kenny Rogers’ song “Coward of the County”! And what was that about? Gang rape and triple murder. They weren’t listening to that one either.
The art of building a Gatlin song…
GATLIN: Songs are songs, and you can do any number of them with whatever kind of instrumentation you want. We used to do that when we’d work on a song for the first time. We’d start with the Gatlin harmony and then we’d say, “we’ve got to have a fiddle here, a guitar here or a piano there. We’d let the song dictate the direction.
Then when we got into the studio, we’d add the steel guitar, or the banjo or the fiddle.
It was cool to watch the evolution of a song. That was the beauty and the wonderfulness of making records. At least, it was at the time, when we had all the freedom to make the music we wanted within the spectrum of country music—which was pretty broad in those days. We had everything from Anne Murray to Charlie Daniels and it all fit under country music. It was a fun time to make records back then. We got to do the same things at Curb Records when we recorded Pilgrimage.
Technical aspect of music
GATLIN: It was a tedious process before computers. We got the first computer board in Nashville in 1979. It’s archaic now. Things we used to dream about can now be done on a computer. Some people argue technology takes the warmth out of a song. In some respects that’s true.
Technology lets you take the crappy part out of a song, to take the mistakes out of a song. But now songs sound too perfect. It’s too easy to fix everything and have no imperfections…no mistakes…and, in my opinion, no warmth.
In some respects I wish we would have had the digital instead of analog back then because the songs could all use a little more bass instrumentation. The singing and playing were darn good—good and strong enough to stand the test of time.
The technology today allows you to make pristine, perfect records, but it still boils down to a good song is a good song. And they’re not cutting as great a songs as we did in the ’70s. The songs are out there, but they’re just not cutting them. It starts with a good song, good playing and good singing—or nothin’s gonna fix it.
LARRY GATLIN & THE GATLIN BROTHERS
Riverside Resort, Don’s Celebrity Theatre
Wednesday-Sunday, November 27-December 1. 7 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)