Gary James' Interview With
Crystal Gayle

She became the first female artist in Country music history to achieve Platinum album sales. She appeared in Bob Hope's NBC-TV special On The Road To China. She hosted the American Music Awards and the Academy Of Country Music Awards. In fact, she received not one, but three American Music Awards as America's Favorite Female Artist. She was voted CMA's (Country Music Association) Female Vocalist Of The Year for two years in a row and won a Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Performance. She's toured all over the U.S., Japan, England, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Holland and Australia. Her recording of "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" was heralded as one of the ten most performed songs of the 20th century according to ASCAP. We are speaking of course about Crystal Gayle.

Q - Crystal, I tried to interview you way back in August of 1979. You were appearing at the Grandstand at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. I was told you weren't feeling well, so you were asleep on the bus.

A - Had to have that rest I guess. (laughs)

Q - Right, and this brings up a very important question, how does a singer stay healthy on the road when you're expected to do in-store appearances, after show meet and greets, radio and print interviews and who knows what else?

A - Oh, it's not really easy to be on the road and stay real healthy. You've got to watch what you eat. When restaurants are closed at night and you're starving, (laughs) you find what's available. It just depends what kind of tour you're on, how long you're gonna be out. We did tours in the past that would have, when I worked with Kenny Rogers, catering. They would ask you what you would want to eat. I was pretty picky with how I ate at that point, until I got pregnant with my kids (laughs). Then it was like, "I want food!" (laughs) I would eat anything then. You wanted to stay as healthy as you could on the road without getting the flu, without getting food poisoning, which I've have my fair share of on the road.

Q - Food poisoning? That means you went to a restaurant.

A - Oh, yes. I've been in very fancy restaurants where I've had food poisoning. One was in Beverly Hills. I think I've had food poisoning twice in L.A. that I can recall. I stayed in because I was doing the Grammys and I ate in and it got me where I almost didn't make the Grammys. So, you have to be careful with all that. Knock on wood, I have not cancelled that many shows through the years from being sick like a lot of people have.

Q - Are you still touring these days?

A - I do some touring. We do forty to fifty dates a year. That's plenty.

Q - And today no doubt it's probably all catered food.

A - We have catering come in. It just depends on where you're going. Sometimes I work the casinos and they have the restaurant there. You just have to know what you're doing. You have your set time you eat. You just hope for the best when you're out.

Q - Why did you want to be a singer? Was there ever a time when something wasn't what you expected it to be and you wanted to pursue something else?

A - You know, my mother said I could sing before I could walk, so music has been in my genes for a long time. (laughs) And of course, growing up and going to school, we'd have career day and you'd have to write about what things you want to do. I always wanted to be something different, like an archaeologist or maybe an F.B.I. agent. (laughs) Those were things that appealed to me. But of course I knew I was going to be a singer.

Q - Now, because you had such a famous sister (Loretta Lynn) does that mean celebrities would come over to your home when you were growing up?

A - No, because I'm the last out of eight children and Loretta is the second. My brother Junior is the first in the family and there's almost nineteen years between Loretta and I. So she was already out of the house. She married at about sixteen and had four kids by twenty-one or twenty-two. She had two kids older than me and two kids younger or four kids younger 'cause she's got the twins. So, it wasn't like I grew up with my sister.

Q - Who approached you about recording "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"?

A - I was very lucky to be put with a great producer. His name is Alan Reynolds. You might have heard of Alan through Garth Brooks. He did all his major songs. Alan was with United Artists Records and they put me together with him. He's just a great producer, a great song man. He knows a hit when he hears it. He had brought to me my very first number one which was "I'll Get Over You". That was written by Richard Lee, who also wrote "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue". In between the time that song had come out, he hadn't had a whole lot of cuts. So he went in feeling real chipper and Alan said "OK, I'll come over and listen to some of your songs." So, he went to listen and he played him a few songs and he said "Do you have anything else?" And he played him a song that he said he was going to ship to someone in California on Monday. This was on a weekend. When Alan heard the song, he said "You're not going to ship that song anywhere." He played it for me and I just loved it. It was a very first take in the studio. When the red light went on and the machine turned on, that is what you hear, that went down that first time.

Q - Had you heard the song first, you would have come to the same conclusion as your producer then?

A - Oh, I loved it. I really like listening to Richard Lee's own recordings that he makes of himself and I've always loved his voice. I mean, he's such a great songwriter. I've always loved the way his style fit mine. Of course I would have said yes, I want that song.

Q - Do people bypass a record producer to get a song to you? Or is that not allowed?

A - I think it would have to be the person the songwriter is pitching the song to. For me, if someone had a song and said "Here," I'd say "Yeah, give it to me. Let me listen to it." I've received so many songs through the mail, through the internet, just the songwriters that are in town. Nashville is full of so many great writers.

Q - Why to you think so many people like "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"? What do people tell you about that song?

A - I've had a lot of people write me letters at that time saying they never listened to Country music until they heard that song 'cause that song actually was universal. It went everywhere. It was on the Pop charts. It think it hit number two. What made it not go number one was "You Light Up My Life". (laughs) It was right on the tail of that one.

Q - That Debby!

A - I know. That Debby! (laughs) It's a beautiful song and she sang it great. It was just a song that I always say, says so much in so little. The emotion in the lyrics. It didn't have to be this long-winded song, if you understand what I'm talking about. It's just there with the emotion, with the melody, with what it says. "Tell me no secrets. Tell me no lies."

Q - Today, on the TV shows like The X-Factor or American Idol, it's expected that singers will have this three octave range. They're not looking at a singer with a good song anymore.

A - That's what the TV wants. And that's not really what I think the public wants. I mean, they like it and they'll take it, but I think it's like you said, they're looking for a good song. And they are few and far between. You can get these songs that go every which direction, but do you remember them? To me, that's what a song like "Brown Eyes" is. It doesn't come around too often and I'm so glad I got that.

Q - I suppose after "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" hit it big, your producer wanted a follow-up that was just like it.

A - Well, I got a lot of songs with "Eyes" in it, (laughs) pitched to me.

Q - You and your husband were asked by he first President Bush and his wife Barbara to go on a cruise with them. Is President Bush interested in show business people?

A - He loves music and he loves Country music and so does Barbara. My sister Loretta and my sister Peggy Sue and myself actually campaigned for President Bush Sr. We just had such a wonderful time and we don't give our endorsements out lightly. It was just a great time being with them and being there and knowing that we believed in him. We'd been to The White House several times during his time there and performed and been a part of a lot of the festivals that have been on with his career in politics. They're just wonderful people. To be asked to be a part of their family cruise, which was mostly family and friends, Larry Gatlin came at some point... I don't actually play piano or guitar to accompany myself, alone I will where no one hears me. (laughs) But I do not do it onstage, so I would sing a capella for everybody and I had a ball doing it. Larry Gatlin came and he would play the guitar and we'd sing some songs together. He's a great guy.

Q - I imagine you could spend a lot of time with the President and Mrs. Bush.

A - Oh, yes.

Q - What would you talk about? He probably could ask some of the same questions I'm asking, but could you ask him questions about being President?

A - We really wouldn't talk politics on the trip. It was more like being there as friends and talk about anything and everything as we would do with family members. We were just on that ship, having a great time. It was great food. We'd stop off at the Islands. It was just a great time. He has a wonderful family. His children, other relatives, they're just wonderful people.

Q - How long of a cruise was it?

A - It was at least three days.

Q - You also have a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

A - Yes.

Q - Does something like that do anything for your career?

A - Well, I think it does more for me as far as knowing that your music and you life in show business has crossed a lot of boundaries. Where I ended up is right there with my sister, with her star. There's one in-between.

Q - Who's in-between?

A - I'll have to find out for you. Through the years, people will ask how many albums do have out? And I'll say I don't know. I just sing. I love music. I don't really count or know and to this day I really couldn't tell you.

Q - When you're not on the road, what do you do at home? Are you still recording?

A - Well actually, I am in the studio working on a couple of projects. One is actually doing all these wonderful Country songs that I grew up singing that when I started recording I couldn't sing anymore. I do enjoy being in the studio and I'm actually in there with my son Chris who went to Belmont University (in Nashville) for music business as well as engineering. So he knows the Pro-Tools, in and out and backwards. He's very good at it. He's working on his own music as well. So, I enjoy doing that. Of course I have my grandson who I spend quite a bit of time with. Elijah is his name.

Q - People will say "Oh, Crystal Gayle, the Country singer." But wouldn't the term Popular singer be more appropriate?

A - I always say to people, how do you label your music, are you Country? Pop? I'm just a singer, a singer of songs. That's how I've labeled myself. When I started recording, I didn't think I had to stop singing songs that I loved to sing and that was a little bit of everything.

Q - Have you been ripped off along the way by record companies?

A - I'm sure I have at one point or another. If you don't check that close, maybe you have been. It's been good to have a lawyer being there because contracts say one thing and it means another. A lot of people are taken advantage of. In this day and age you want to do it so badly, people sign anything because they can record.

Q - It's not enough anymore to be just a singer, you have to know the business.

A - Nowadays in Nashville, what I see a lot of, the singers and entertainers that are coming along, record companies, and there are not as many, they want you to be ready out of the box. They want the music, they want you to be able to hit the stage, do the moves, do everything right away. When I started, I'm glad they didn't want that because I probably wouldn't have made it!

© Gary James. All rights reserved.