Country to Her Core

Crystal Gayle’s latest album comes with just about everything she loves in this life.
From her choice of songs with memories attached, to performing some of the songs with family members and producing the record with her son, this all-inclusive collection is Gayle to the core.
You Don’t Know Me — Crystal Gayle Sings Classic Country has been in the works and on the back burner for a long while. It seems that there were all kinds of obstacles in the way — touring schedules, the right timing, family needs — but the album is finished and it has been released.
Co-produced, recorded and mixed by Gayle’s son Christos Gatzimos, the album is full of traditional country songs from legends such as George Jones, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens and Eddy Arnold.
While some might think the album, her first in 16 years, is different from what Gayle would normally record, the songs are part and parcel to who she is. Her brand of country music was certainly a more sophisticated contemporary flavored sound because of her incredible vocal range, but she was personally familiar with country standards her entire life.
“This wasn’t a stretch at all,” Gayle said. “This project is a labor of love that my son, Christos, and I produced together. It is filled with country classics that I grew up singing. They are very much a part of my history and I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. I feel very lucky to have known and worked with many of the artists who had the original hits.”
Each of the selections was chosen because it played a role in her musical development. Two of them point to the importance that her family had in bringing her to fame.
The first track, “Ribbon Of Darkness,” was a song originally written by Gordon Lightfoot, and released in 1965 as a single by Marty Robbins. It became his 11th No. 1 hit. The song holds a special place in Crystal’s heart.
“This was the first song I ever sang on the Grand Ole Opry. I was 16,” Gayle said. “Loretta was sick. Mooney (Lynn’s husband) did something; I don’t know what. But they let me sing in her place. In my early years in Nashville, when I was on Decca, I opened for Marty Robbins. So I’ve heard him sing this many times. Connie Smith also had a hit with it. So the night I was inducted into the Opry cast in 2017, I asked Connie if it was okay with her that I sing ‘Ribbon of Darkness.’
Another popular classic country hit on the album is “Crying Time,” a song originally written and recorded by Bakersfield sound pioneer Buck Owens. The song was also recorded by Ray Charles, who’s version won two Grammy Awards in 1967.
“I do a medley of Buck Owens songs in my shows,” she said. “When I was a kid, he worked Buck Lake Ranch in Indiana. I would go whenever he was playing there, and he’d let me sing on his show. When I was 16, he wanted me to become a regular on his TV show. He asked me, but it didn’t work out.”
The last track created a new memory for Gayle, because her sisters, Peggy Sue Wright and country icon Loretta Lynn recorded the song with her — it was their first-ever recording of the trio together. The song was co-written by another country legend, Dolly Parton.
“Loretta and Peggy made this album very special by singing ‘Put It Off Until Tomorrow’ with me. It is a song that we have performed together throughout the years,” Gayle said. “This is the one and only trio performance on record. We’ve done the Boston Pops together. We performed together in Lake Tahoe and Reno and a few things like that. But we’ve never actually made a record together. Peggy Sue still comes out on the road with me, singing backup harmonies.
“I recorded the track, then Patsy, Loretta’s daughter, asked her to sing on my album. Loretta is such an incredible singer. She got through the song right away and then went, ‘What’s next?’ We should have recorded the whole album together. Loretta had her stroke not long after we recorded this.”
Gayle became a member of the Grand Ole Opry about three years ago, with Lynn being the one to induct her, and boy has she come a long way in the 50-plus years since her debut.
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.
The awards, the career and the appearances on national TV followed. She continued to record over the intervening years and continues to record today.
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.
These include, but are 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.
It doesn’t matter how far Crystal Gayle has come in her lengthy career with multiple hit records and awards for her music, or the miles she’s logged traveling the planet performing for fans, she is still that same down-to-earth girl with strong family values looking back at her in the mirror.
Gayle also measures success a little differently than some artists. For her, it’s always been about the journey, not so much the destination.
Her greatest achievements aren’t the statues and awards.
“That’s always a hard question in the sense of awards I have won — I think it’s all the friends I’ve made really,” she said. “I look back and I love that I won the Female Vocalist and all the different categories of things out there — the CMAs, the Academy of Country Music. But when you’re in the top five, we’re all winners.
“I always thought we were all winners in terms of all the things music has given me,” she added. “I’ve gotten to go to the White House, I got to travel around Europe, my music was played all over the world — that all means a lot. Having a song like ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,’ has opened up so many doors, and I could walk through all of them.”
Gayle was the first person to record a performance on the Great Wall of China.
“Yes, I was,” she said. “I went over with Bob Hope, and that was such a special trip and such an honor that he asked us to be a part of that. We were all over there together for at least two weeks and it was like a big family.
“I also did a show for one of the basic military bases in Alabama or Florida with Bob. We did comedy together, and he’d have to tell me, ‘OK, you have to pause here, or you have to do this or that.’ He taught me comedy. I’d never done that.
“It’s the people I’ve met — those are the highlights — the people that I’ve gotten to be a part of their life for a little bit,” she added. “From the very beginning, I got to work with String Bean, Grandpa Jones, and all these people. When I talk about the places we worked, sometimes it would be in little barns and we’re all in one big room as a dressing room, everybody together. And it was so much fun and those were the good days.”
One of Gayle’s favorite places to perform is in Don’s Celebrity Theatre where she makes stops about this time every year.
“I like the laid-back atmosphere, and it’s a good place to be,” she said. “I’m happy my career lets me do that. I can go in and play different places without having hit records on the radio. I love playing Laughlin.
“The part of the business we miss is the warmth of country music, like when I do the Opry. It’s family there performing and family with the people coming to the shows. I don’t want to lose that warmth or the sound with the new this and the new that.”
She said the music business is about doing something you love to do, a belief and a standard Gayle set for herself a long time ago.
“I think that comes from having good parents with morals and high standards, even though we didn’t have much,” she said. “Mother never thought we were poor, she never saw that. She wasn’t materialistic. It’s not about clothes, cars and houses. I think she took her mindset from her heritage and she was also proud of her Indian heritage — the earth was and is to be respected and we should take care of it. When they hunted, it was for food, not to put something on the wall. Today, what would we do without our Walmart and Target?”


CRYSTAL GAYLE

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 13-16 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info