Country star Crystal Gayle survived a ‘humble’ childhood through singing | Music | Entertainment

Crystal Gayle reveals she started singing before she could walk (Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty)

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but people came to hear us sing in the living room,” she recalls. Three of his siblings became country singers, including famous honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn. “I was the only one born in a hospital,” Crystal says, adding with a chuckle. “I was the accident.”

The shy, soft-spoken singer, best known here for classic hits like Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue and Talking In Your Sleep, was just nine years old when her big sister Loretta shot to fame.

“I always knew I was going to sing,” Crystal recalls. “I sang in the church choir, and with swing bands, and with my brother’s band on weekends. I sang for fun and to be part of it all.

But with her elegant delivery and that warm, velvety voice, dubbed “a diamond in a world of rhinestones”, young Brenda Gail Webb was still destined for international fame.

She was only sixteen when she debuted on Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry stage, replacing an ailing Loretta. She sang Ribbon Of Darkness by Marty Robbins.

“I was scared to death but it was amazing,” she says. “I still have the shiny little silver dress I used to wear. Mom made it for me. Fifty years later, Loretta inducted her into the Opry.

Before that, the closest she had been to the hallowed stage was watching her from the rafters above with the children of Ernest Tubb, known as the Texas Troubadour.

“We were going around the back hallways and climbing up to the rafters and watching Jim Reeves…all the places we weren’t supposed to go…”

Crystal started playing in clubs while she was still in school. “I opened for Tex Ritter and I was so impressed. I had seen all of his movies. Just being in his presence was special.

“I loved playing rodeos and outdoor dates under the stars, I still do.”

Her eyes are blue, not brown, but in all other aspects, Crystal is exactly as you would expect. Her voice is soft and friendly, her knee-length hair would make Rapunzel jealous and if her 52 years of fame have gone to her head she hides it incredibly well.

Loretta helped convince Decca Records to sign her and wrote her first US hit, I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes) from the 1970s. The label changed its name.

“I would have been Brenda Gayle, but they already had Brenda Lee and didn’t want two Brenda,” she said with a smile.

Loretta suggested the stage name Crystal, inspired by a Krystal Hamburger restaurant sign.

Gayle only came out of her older sister’s shadow when Lynn told her to stop trying to be her.

Loretta “got my foot in the door,” Crystal says. “But I soon realized I had to do it myself. She gave me the best advice. She said, ‘Stop singing my songs and don’t sing anything that I would sing because we already have a Loretta and we don’t need another; go your way, go middle of the road.”

“And she was right, I had to do my own thing and go another way.”

Crystal reveals she grew up with seven siblings without much money

Crystal reveals she grew up with seven siblings without much money (Image: Crystal Gayle)

The move made Gayle one of the most successful crossover artists of the late 70s and 80s. In addition to Brown Eyes, she landed 20 American Number Ones, a Grammy, a wagon full of prestigious awards, a custom-made Barbie doll and a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

However, his feet remain firmly anchored to the ground. As Loretta’s famous song goes, Gayle is proud to be a miner’s daughter. Unfortunately, their father Melvin, known as Ted, a subsistence farmer as well as a miner, developed black lung disease.

The mines closed when she was four and the family moved to Wabash, Indiana. His mother, Clara, worked in a restaurant, before qualifying as a nurse.

“Dad died four years later; Mom stayed strong for us. She did two jobs to keep food on the table.

His passing hit young Brenda hard. “I developed a nervous habit and went into a shell. I didn’t sit and cry, it was more internal. My mother took me to a stern German doctor who told me to stop …and I quit. I think I needed that father figure to say it.

“Dad was shy and quiet; I looked a lot like him.

Crystal Gayle is a singer from Nashville

Crystal Gayle is a singer from Nashville (Photo: Mark Reinstein/Getty)

Another sister, Peggy Sue Wright, became a ’60s country star, and her brother Willie “Jay” Lee Webb was briefly signed to Sun Records. But after Loretta, it was Crystal who had the most success.

She was 19 when I Cried (The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes) charted. “The first time I heard it on the radio, I was driving around Louisville; I wanted to stop and shout ‘Does anyone know this is my song?’ she laughs.

The move to United Artists made her even more successful. “They paired me with Allen Reynolds, the greatest producer of all time. He wrote my first Top Ten hit, Wrong Road Again,” which ironically turned out to be the right road.

The blows kept coming. 1977 Grammy winner, doesn’t that make your brown eyes blue? was the most impressive, sophisticated and mature, with a half-whispering, half-sobbing voice and jazz piano phrasing.

The song was composed by Richard Leigh who originally intended it for Dame Shirley Bassey.

The album from which it is taken, We Must Believe In Magic, was the first LP by a female country artist to sell over one million copies; and Gayle’s follow-up single Talking In Your Sleep was equally successful.

After Brown Eyes, Crystal became a TV regular, appearing in Dean Martin’s Christmas In California before touring with Bob Hope and having her own TV specials.

“I went to China with Bob,” she recalls. “He was adorable, we were like a family. We played in Beijing and Shanghai.

Crystal’s smile widens as she recalls another career highlight working with an equally respected American star.

“Kermit the Frog! I did the Muppet Show in London, it was so much fun. My mum was so excited that I decided to take her with me, she wanted to meet Miss Piggy. In the script of the series , Miss Piggy was jealous of me and didn’t want to meet me, but she came to the set and met my mom!

Crystal’s fame is not tarnished by controversy. She is still happily married to her childhood sweetheart Bill Gatzimos – father of her two children and her longtime manager. The only time the police got into his story was in 2007, when his 45-foot-long tour bus was stolen by an escaped convict.

“We had parked it in the bus company parking lot in Nashville because we were flying to the next shows. Luckily we had removed most of the equipment. They weren’t supposed to give anyone the key, but that he was a good crook, he had escaped from a prisoner transport van and fled to Tennessee.

Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle

Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle (Photo: Beth Gwinn)

Crystal has worked with Swedish rock star Soren “Sulo” Karlsson of the Diamond Dogs and British rock band The Crunch. The duo released their first collaboration Lonely Street Choir last year.

“Sulo contacted me during the pandemic. I loved his music and writing and had a feeling it would be fun. The first song was amazing. I loved the feel. There was a 70s rock vibe. We’re working on another single.

She continues, “I’m in the studio working on a few other things. I just had the Covid for the second time and I had to cancel concerts but I want to tour as soon as possible and I plan to do an autobiography but in a different way.

“I’ve had an incredible life. I’m not referring to the fans, for me they are friends and I made a lot of friends all over the world. It was a highlight for me as well as recording some songs and winning awards.

  • Crystal Gayle’s single, Lonely Street Choir, featuring Sulo, is out now. For news see
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About Eileen W. Sudduth

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