Down to Earth
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.
The importance of family was instilled in her from the very beginning — something she continues to believe in, even if it means putting their needs above her own.
When her sister, Loretta Lynn, was recovering from a broken hip last year, Gayle put a recording project on hold. Since then, Lynn has been busy in the studio, recording her new album, so once again, Gayle is postponing the release date of her project until spring.
“Everything’s good,” Gayle said. “We’re getting ready to do that album. I put mine off because I knew Loretta was having one come out. Hers came out in the fall, so I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll give a little leeway.’ It’s all done and ready to be released. It’s going be out this spring.”
The album will be titled, “Crystal Gayle Sings Classic Country.”
“I figured I wanted to keep it simple so people know what’s on it,” she said. “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?
“But other than that, we’re just doing concerts and having fun and doing a few different things,” she added. “We’re trying to get back from the freeze and the winter months. We’re going to have to get the gears going.
“This past fall, we had a family vacation in England. I hadn’t done that in a long, long time,” she said. “Normally when I go over, it’s work, work, work, so this was a nice time.
We took our grandson and it was fun. We’re also doing some more recording beyond the classic country album and also just having fun.”
And, why not enjoy a little time off? Gayle has certainly earned it.
She became a member of the Grand Ole Opry a couple of years ago, accomplishing a lot in the 50 years since her first Opry 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.
The list of her awards is crazy long. These include, but are not limited to CMA’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” for two consecutive years; a Grammy Award 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.
With all of that living, and performing and traveling comes stories of the road, and in spite of it all Gayle has maintained her sense of humor about all her years living out of a suitcase.
“In a way, it is second nature in terms of living out of a suitcase,” she said. “When I go into a hotel, even for a week or two, I’m still living out of a suitcase, where a lot of people would put things away. I’m not taking things out, I’m so used to being in hotel rooms for a day, so then I don’t want to hang anything up, unless I’m wearing it.
“But that’s just part of being on the road,” she added. “Knowing how to pack, of course, I always take more than I should, just little things. All the entertainers who’ve been out there on the road probably could write a good travel book for people on how to pack and the best steamers.
“My book could be on backstage dressing rooms,” she said with a laugh. “Some are better than others. My Lysol travels with me.”
So what would qualify as the worst dressing room?
“Oh, gosh, I never thought about the worst…let me think,” she said. “Well, you know there’s been places where there’s not really a dressing room and it’s helpful if you have a bus, but if you’re flying, that’s a different situation.
“Fairs used to be the worst, but they’re better now. It also depends on what type of fair you’re at. Some have trailers, which are good,” she said. “I like Laughlin because they have a nice dressing room, and they have a mirror, you can see yourself. I don’t have to ask someone, ‘is everything even?’ Sometimes there’s no mirror around, but this tiny little oval thing.
“Oh, I’ve dressed in caves and yeah, I’ve performed in caves. We’ve performed everywhere.”
Caves also are on Gayle’s list of strangest places she never thought she would perform.
“I do several venues in caves,” she said. “Certain things in my mind, if they were bad, I block it. I don’t want to think about it. Definitely when you first start, you work anything and everything.
“I remember working a cruise in the early ’70s, and that’s before the boats got really stable,” she added. “You’re standing in the middle of the stage, and you’d hit a wave and you’d be going from one side of the stage to the other, trying to sing and keep your balance.
“I love working over in Ireland and England, and some of the little places we work,” she said. “Working the little clubs there is just like here. You go to the Bluebird in Nashville, and they’re just fun and people just love it. But it’s neat to be in those places.”
Of all the accolades, achievements and awards, what is the one thing Gayle is most proud of in her career?
“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. Sometimes, yes, there is one that stands out because they had all that success that one year, but other years they really did not — but somebody always wins.
“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 remember he took us all out to a restaurant, and they were serving Peking duck, the whole meal was Peking duck, it wasn’t anything else. It was good,” she said. “It was fun to be over there because (Hope) was so fantastic.
“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 and the dressing rooms, 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.”
When young Gayle first came to Nashville, she was paired with producer Allen Reynolds who turned out to be her saving grace, when it came to helping Gayle find her style, her voice, and her direction.
“Allen was great,” she said. “When I went to United Artists, I was to work with Larry Butler. He did ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head,’ producing B.J. Thomas, so he didn’t have time to produce me. But he put me with Allen and Allen was someone I never thought I would find in Nashville. In a way, I was a little bit like Allen in the sense that Allen doesn’t like the limelight. He never liked to go out to any of those things and here I am the singer trying to go on stage and I’m still shy. But Allen definitely helped my music. He’s such a great writer and a great person to pick songs and knowing what songs would work for me.”
The songs not only worked, they continue to sustain a career that feeds her soul, allowing Gayle the freedom to visit her millions of fans all around the world, including the Riverside Resort where she makes regular appearances year after 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. 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 that. Please always leave that core sound.”
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 a whole different ball game now. It’s not about clothes, cars and houses. I think she took 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?”
On that rare occasion when Gayle is home, what does she like to do to relax?
“It’s relaxing to me to just go through closets. I’m thinking if I could get one leg in that pair of jeans, I’d be happy,” she said with a laugh. “It’s really about having fun and doing things like that — giving things away to some of my relatives they will fit. But it’s fun just being with family — the part of being home and catching up with friends that you haven’t seen for a while because you’ve been on the road so much. It’s good when I’m not doing quite as many concerts a year. I have a little more time for myself.”