Crystal Gayle Biography

Brenda Gail Webb, 9 January 1951, Paintsville, Kentucky, USA. Gayle was the last of eight children born to Ted and Clara Webb. Her sister, the country singer Loretta Lynn, had her own story told in the movie The Coal Miner’s Daughter. By the time Gayle was born, her father had lung disease, and he died when she was eight. When Gayle was four, the family moved to Wabash, Indiana, where her mother worked in a nursing home. Clara Webb, who was musical, encouraged Gayle to sing at family gatherings and church socials. Unlike Lynn, her influences came from the Beatles and Peter, Paul And Mary. In the late 60s, after graduation, she signed with her sister’s recording label, Decca Records. As the label already had Brenda Lee, a change of name was needed and, when they drove past a sign for Krystal hamburgers, Lynn said, ‘That’s your name. Crystals are bright and shiny, like you.’ At first, she was managed by Lynn’s husband, Mooney, and she was part of her stage show. She established herself with regular appearances on Jim Ed Brown’s television show The Country Place. Lynn wrote some of her first records (‘Sparklin’ Look Of Love’, ‘Mama, It’s Different This Time’) and therein lay the problem - Crystal Gayle sounded like Loretta Lynn.

Gayle first entered the US country charts in 1970 with the Top 30 hit, ‘I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes)’, which was followed by ‘Everybody Oughta Cry’ and ‘I Hope You’re Havin’ Better Luck Than Me’. There was nothing original about the records and Gayle, wanting a say in what she recorded, left the label. She joined United Artists Records and was teamed with producer Allen Reynolds, who was having success with Don Williams. Her first records had the easy-going charm of Williams’ records, but her 1974 Top 10 country hit, ‘Wrong Road Again’, hinted at the dynamics in her voice. Reynolds, who wrote the song, did not have enough time to devote to composing but nurtured several songwriters (including Richard Leigh and Bob McDill) who supplied Gayle with excellent songs. Gayle also had a Top 30 country hit with ‘Beyond You’, co-written with her lawyer/manager/husband Vassilios ‘Bill’ Gatzimos. Gayle returned to the country Top 10 with the title song from Somebody Loves You, and followed it with her first number 1 country single, ‘I’ll Get Over You’, written by Leigh. In 1976, Gayle was voted Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music, but Reynolds knew there was a bigger market than merely country fans for her records. He seized the opportunity when Leigh wrote the jazz-tinged ballad ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’, although United Artists had reservations. ‘They thought it was a mistake’, said Reynolds. ‘It was gimmickless, straight ahead, soulful and classy, but that’s all it takes.’ The public found ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ irresistible and in 1977 it went to number 2 in the US pop charts and reached number 5 in the UK. It also won Grammy awards for the Best Female Country Vocal Performance and for the Best Country Song. The album on which it appeared, We Must Believe In Magic, became the first album by a female country artist to sell over a million copies.

Gayle, who was Female Vocalist of the Year for both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, said, ‘There is no rivalry between me and Loretta and if there is, it is on a friendly basis. I know that Loretta voted for me at the CMA awards in Nashville.’ In 1979, she became the first US country artist to perform in China. Although petite in stature, her stage act is mesmerizing. She stands with her back to the audience, who watch her luxurious hair sway back and forth. Gayle grows her hair to three inches off the floor: ‘If it’s on the ground, I find I step on it on stage. When you’ve hair like this, you cannot plan anything other than washing your hair and doing your concert.’ Her fifth album, again produced by Reynolds, When I Dream, included the credit, ‘Suggestions: Crystal’. It was a lavish production with 50 musicians being credited, including such established Nashville names as Pig Robbins, Lloyd Green, Bob Moore and Kenny Malone. The title track, a torch ballad, brought out the best in Gayle’s voice. The British writer Roger Cook, who had settled in Nashville, gave her a soulful ballad touching on the paranoia some lovers feel, ‘Talking In Your Sleep’. Released as a single, it reached number 11 in the UK and number 18 in the USA, as well topping the US country chart. Another popular single was ‘Why Have You Left The One You Left Me For?’, which also topped the country charts. In 1979, Gayle released her final album for United Artists, ironically called We Should Be Together. It included two more country hits with the ballads ‘Your Kisses Will’ and ‘Your Old Cold Shoulder’. In an impressive chart run, Gayle had enjoyed 6 chart-topping country singles during her time with United Artists, with ‘You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)’ (1976) and ‘Ready For The Times To Get Better’ (1978) completing the list. She also hosted two prime time television specials, the Crystal Gayle Special and Crystal.

In 1980, Gayle joined Columbia Records and enjoyed a US Top 20 pop hit with ‘Half The Way’. Gayle had three country chart-toppers for Columbia, ‘It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye’, ‘If You Ever Change Your Mind’, and ‘Too Many Lovers’. She recorded an excellent version of Neil Sedaka’s ‘The Other Side Of Me’ and surprised many fans by reviving an early country record, Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘Miss The Mississippi And You’. In 1982, she moved to Elektra Records and worked on the soundtrack of the Francis Ford Coppola movie, One From The Heart, with Tom Waits. The same year’s duet with Eddie Rabbitt (‘You And I’) topped the country chart and broke into the pop Top 10. Her string of country hits for Elektra/ Warner Brothers Records included eight chart-topping singles; ‘’Til I Gain Control Again’ (1982), ‘Our Love Is On The Faultline’, ‘Baby, What About You’, ‘The Sound Of Goodbye’ (all 1983), ‘Turning Away’ (1984), ‘Makin’ Up For Lost Time (The Dallas Lovers’ Song)’ (1985), a revival of Johnnie Ray’s ‘Cry’, and ‘Straight To The Heart’ (both 1986). She also recorded a duet album with Gary Morris, which included the theme song from the television soap opera Another World, in which Gayle made several guest appearances. Despite joining Capitol Records at the turn of the decade, Gayle’s commercial profile has declined in recent years. Ain’t Gonna Worry reunited her with Reynolds, while Buzz Stone produced 1992’s Three Good Reasons, a heartening return to her country roots. In the latter part of the decade, Gayle recorded two inspirational albums and a collection of Hoagy Carmichael songs, and began the new millennium with her first-ever album for children. In 2005 she moved to singing songbook standards.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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