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STAR Views: Crystal Gayle

By: Estella Pan

Crystal Gayle's nearly four-decade career continues to span across various musical markets, and she has garnered audiences from all walks of life. In this interview from Country Radio Seminar-36, she shares stories about recording her current album All My Tomorrows, supporting the overseas troops and other memorable moments, and gives us the scoop on upcoming projects.

Crystal Gayle

Estella: All My Tomorrows is your current album. Was it your intention to do a whole album of American standards?
Crystal: It was my intention to do an album just filled with all these great American standard songs that I love to sing! On "What'll I Do?," I love the lilting [sings What’ll I do?...] There are just so many wonderful songs written in the past and they don’t write them quite like that anymore. Like "Rocky Top" – I love that song! To me, it’s great to be able to go into the songbooks, to the old records, to listen to these great recordings which allowed me to do one of these types of albums myself. That type of music fits my voice.

Estella: How are you able to transcend musical genres?
Crystal: I grew up singing all different styles of music. I was in my school choir; on the weekends, sang with my brother in his country band; I'd sing in my friends' bands – my background was full of all different styles. Sometimes, there would just be a piano – someone would play and I would just sing; it was really fun! I'd attribute it to my music teachers, too; they encouraged me to go try everything. When I started recording music, I didn't think I had to stop doing different styles. I think that's why it's easy for me to learn all kinds of songs, a lot of them I already knew from listening to them through the years.

Estella: Obviously, Loretta Lynn is your older sister. Was it hard to step out of her shadow?
Crystal: Well, when I first started, I sang every one of my sister's songs. She told me, "Quit singing my songs! Don't record anything like I would. We already have a 'Loretta Lynn'; we don’t need another one." She said that I would only be compared, which is true. It was the best advice I've ever gotten, because I never would have made it in this business if I’d done exactly what she’d done. I remember she was doing the Indianapolis State Fair and we went down to see her. Jeannie C. Riley was also doing that show, at the time her song "Harper Valley PTA" was out. Well, Loretta was on stage, Jeannie was in the audience, and [Loretta] said, "Jeannie, get up here and sing!" And she wouldn't, so Loretta said, "Ok, Crystal, you get up and sing!" So, I got up and sang "Harper Valley PTA" right in front of Jeannie! It was so fun! I look back, and nowadays, I would never have done that, but I was a kid – I was in high school back then – and, I had to do what my big sister said! But, [Loretta] knew I was going to have to not sing in or like her style, in order to make it. And you know, these new artists on the radio, when I hear them sounding like [this or that artist], I think, You know, you really need to change that. Look at Linda Davis, who sounded so much like Reba. Recording a duet with Reba was great for her [NOTE: Linda and Reba earned a smash hit with "Does He Love You?"], but it was probably the worst thing for her, too. She's a wonderful singer, but everyone just thinks, "Oh, she sounds like Reba." It's the way this business is. If you sound like somebody and they've already got that somebody, they don’t really want that. You have to find your own niche.

Estella: When you go to look for songs for any given project, what kinds of songs grab your attention?
Crystal: Melody has always been the first thing that I hear; when that can grab me, I listen to the lyrics really closely. I will listen to the lyrics, of course, but the melody definitely has to hit me first. When I recorded the Hoagy Carmichael album, just singing "Stardust," I knew that song was written to be an instrumental. It had to be, because that melody goes every which direction, and I knew that could not have been written for a singer! And, in researching the song, I found that was exactly the case; it was an instrumental first, then the lyrics were put in later.

Estella: Do you have any projects that are in the works?
Crystal: There are several things I'm doing. For this year, I'm getting ready to do some touring with Lee Greenwood. I'm also getting into the studio to record another album. This one will be a little more "roots." And, when I say "roots," I don't mean in the sense of Kentucky. Mentally, I want to go back to incorporate my Cherokee and Scot-Irish heritages – [I want the album] to have that feeling of a little more folk or country.

Crystal Gayle

Estella: You recorded a song called "You Don't Even Know My Name" to support the troops. What compelled you to record that song?
Crystal: That song, when I heard it, I loved what it said. It's not a preaching song; it's just giving a tribute, thanking our military. They're helping us, and we need to be there for them. It doesn't matter if you do not like the reason we're [at war], you still have to support the men and women out there. You have to give them moral support; you can't let them down, because they're doing what they're instructed to do – they're serving our country.

Estella: For the last several years, you've done your annual Christmas tour. What inspired you to put one together?
Crystal: For many years, I didn't do Christmas concerts. I wanted to be home, didn't want to be gone during that time. Finally, somebody talked me into doing it, so I said, "I'll try it." And, I loved it! It was just fun, because it was different than regular touring. I could do all these songs that were a big part of my childhood.

Estella: With your extensive career, do you have a favorite project?
Crystal: I enjoy doing it all, from television to videos. Of course, when you’re in the studio, you’re creating. When you're performing, you’re right there; you can not stop the tape and start over. Well, I guess you can – I’ve probably done that a few times! I remember in Tahoe, Nevada, I was working at Harrah's! out there and we were working with an orchestra. On "Talkin' in Your Sleep," it starts out with the strings. Well, the conductor starts the orchestra, and out came the weirdest chord you ever heard! There was a string player who read the music wrong. I think we must have started the song at least twice before the poor string player realized what was happening. Here I was about to start this song, and you know, it's a very dramatic song! I think I almost started laughing one of the times, because the scene was just so funny!

Estella: When you perform, you seem like you're having fun. Do you ever get nervous doing a show?
Crystal: I'm [on stage] to have fun, but I want everyone to have fun, too! I don't want to be uptight. When I look back to when I first started out, I'm sure there was a lot of shows where I was uptight, because I was so nervous! Once you get past that in your career, then you can go out there and everything just flows. In Tahoe again – when I worked there, it was two weeks at a time doing two shows a night; it was grueling. I remember one time, I was thanking everyone and in the process, I completely forgot the name of the orchestra! Keep in mind, by then, I'd been working with them for about a week. So, I wound up saying something like, "And thank you to these wonderful musicians!" I probably should have turned around and asked, “What's your orchestra's name?" But, at that time, I was just so nervous!

Estella: When did you start up your store Crystal's, and what inspired you to get into that franchise?
Crystal: I'm trying to think of the year we started; I believe it's sixteen years now. I always wanted to have my own little crystal shop, because I love giving crystals as presents, and I could never find any good ones in Nashville. My little shop has turned into a larger shop, but it's fun! It's a lot of hard work; we have a lot of great people who manage and take care of it. But, I have a lot of respect for retailers. We have things from all price ranges, and I try to keep it that way.

Estella: Do you have a favorite career moment?
Crystal: When I look back, going to China with Bob Hope. It was not only incredible to go there, but to go there with one of the greats; we were like a family there. I look back on moments like that – being able to sleep in the White House and invited there to sing for all the governors for Former President Bush, Sr. I think one of the main things with my career is all the traveling I've been able to do; I've been able to see some great places I never would have without being in this business. I’ve made many wonderful friends through the years. There are so many highlights; I love it all!

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