By: Craig Shelburne on cmt.com
Crystal Gayle entered the country music landscape as a teenager, and now she’s honoring the legends who influenced her with a lovely new album, You Don’t Know Me. In addition to co-producing the project with her son, Christos, Gayle made it a family affair by singing with her sisters, Peggy Sue and Loretta Lynn, and covering a song written and recorded by her late brother, Jay Lee Webb.
Between 1970 and 1990, Gayle won countless awards and charted 52 singles for multiple labels, most notably with 1977’s Grammy Award-winning “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Yet it all started with “I Cried the Blue Right Out of My Eyes” on Decca Records, her first single on the Billboard country chart in 1970. An early demo of that song (written by Loretta Lynn) appears on You Don’t Know Me, along with 14 classic country compositions ranging from Jack Greene’s “There Goes My Everything” to the evergreen title track.
Chatting with CMT.com in her spacious office on Music Row, Gayle explains, “I really started out the project with letting Chris see and hear what country music is really all about.”
CMT: When you are playing this new record for people, what’s been the response?
CG: They’ve loved it. I’ve been sort of surprised, and maybe it’s because I haven’t had anything out in a while, when people say, “I love this style.” Other people have done this type of music and they call it the country classics, and I call mine classic country. I put one of my brother’s songs on there that I love [“You Never Were Mine”]. He had a great recording of it and he had written the song. These are songs that mean something to me. And they are country. They are what I love.
What did you enjoy most about having Chris in the room with you for these sessions?
I trusted him that if I did something he thought sounded weird, he’s going to tell me. “You might’ve been flat on that one.” “OK, let’s redo it.” And that’s what you want. You want someone that’s not going to just say, “Oh, that was great,” and you go back and listen later and it’s like, “Well, I could’ve done better….” So it took a while, too, for him to want to tell me things, but hey, we all want to know.
Did you develop a thick skin pretty early on in your career?
When I first came to Nashville, I believed everything everybody was telling me, and it didn’t take long to know that that was not the truth. And that’s what I tell people when they’re starting out. Hey, don’t be hurt when someone tells you they’re going to do something and they don’t, because that’s just the business. You can say the music business is sort of like politics. They only tell you what you want to hear and then they do what they want.
So that’s how I grew up with it, and I always say there’s as much bull in Nashville as there is in Hollywood. So you have to be true to yourself. You have to know that you’ve got to take those chances, but still don’t let everybody step on you either. Put that fence around you that if they tell you one thing, don’t be so hurt that you want to leave the next day.
Right. You have to let some of that frustration go.
When doing concerts early on, I read my reviews. People would bring them to me. And I’d be panned on a day I thought, “Oh, I was great.” Then the days I thought I did lousy, “Oh, it’s just wonderful, over the moon!” Then there were times in reviews where I had instruments on the stage I never heard of, or I wore something I never had. I don’t know where they were getting that. I think they sent someone that didn’t know what they were doing.
So you get everything. So I said I’m not going to read them anymore. I’m not going to read those reviews because I don’t need that in my life. I’d rather just sing, have a good time, and meet and greet the people that come that love my music or they wouldn’t be there. I call them friends, not fans.
Tell me how the bonus track of “I Cried the Blue (Right Out of My Eyes)” found its way into this recording.
The bonus track is actually a demo that I did of the song before I recorded it. Surefire Music, which was The Wilburn Brothers’ publishing company, would let me come down and do some demos and it was really, I think, to let me see what the studio was all about, and to learn to sing in front of the mic.
This particular song was one of the songs they let me do the demo and, of course, Owen [Bradley at Decca] liked it and wanted to have me record it — but I’m not sure who changed the melody in the beginning of it. It was either Teddy Wilburn or Owen, but what you hear on here is the original one. Just a little bit of difference in the beginning, but … what was I, 15? I was young in there. They didn’t have the big reel-to-reel, it was just the two-track they found, and I said, “Yeah, put it on.”
There’s several more. Some of the tracks were a little wobbly, but there’s some that I’ll turn on to listen, and I’m thinking, “Was that Loretta?” Because I was trying to sing just like her. That’s why she said, “Quit singing my songs. Don’t sing anything I would.” She said, “You’ll only be compared” and I would have been.
Speaking of Loretta, she’s on here with Peggy Sue, and you’re all singing “Put It Off Until Tomorrow.” What goes through your mind when you hear that song now, and those three voices at the same time?
A lot of different emotions. I wish we could have done an album together, but also I wish we could have performed more shows together. We had actually been talking about doing a family show before her stroke. You know, we always have fun together. We have fun on stage and just rehearsing. We’re sisters. She says blood is thicker than water. So, we can argue amongst each other, but someone else gets onto us, we’re going to stick up for each other!
“You Don’t Know Me” is like a movie in three minutes — somebody drifts by, you can’t tell them you’re in love with them, then they drift away again.
“You Don’t Know Me.” If you only knew…. Cindy Walker was the writer on there with Eddy Arnold. Cindy had recorded it and I listened to her version and I chose the lyrics that she put in her version. Some people do the one that Eddy would sing but a couple of lines are different. I’ve had a few people say, “Well, that’s not the line.” I said, “That’s what’s Cindy wrote. I’m singing it!”
Why did you choose to include “There Goes My Everything”?
When I was on the road opening for Jack, my husband would be upset because I couldn’t sing it then. [laughs] Because he loved the song. So, he said, “You have to put that on this album!” Of course I would, because I love the song and it was an honor to open for Jack Greene. Incredible singer. I love it when I look back on all the people that I’ve known and I’ve seen, and it’s just good memories.
You knew them as people, more than just entertainers. That’s the wonderful part of this.
I would be backstage when I was working with them and usually there weren’t separate dressing rooms. So the women would go in the bathroom and change, and you’d still be in the room where everybody was tuning their guitar or their banjo or their fiddle. It was fun!
Did it strike you then how incredible of an experience you were having at that moment? Or was it just, “Well, this is my career”?
It was incredible to me to be around that type of musicians because I think I felt intimidated. I grew up singing folk music in school, and country, but I’d just play a little guitar and sing. When I started recording, I put the guitar down as far as accompanying myself. I think one of the reasons was because Loretta had, because she used to play all the time. But it was seeing these people and what they could do — and they were all supportive of me. They had always the pat on the back of, “I wish you best.” And I love that.