With such a long career under her renowned skin, country music icon Crystal Gayle’s little time off since 2020 is just a blip on her touring record. In September, she gave her first three performances since the start of the pandemic and is heading to the Brauntex Theater in New Braunfels for her fourth on Friday, October 1.
“We’re happy things are starting, and I hope we continue to get back to normal,” Gayle told CultureMap. “It’s good to see friends I’ve made over the years. I’ve been in the business, oh, just a few years.
That’s certainly an overstatement, as Gayle began her career decades ago, following in the footsteps of her sister, groundbreaking country star Loretta Lynn. The young singer started out solo without a band, playing hits that house bands already knew how to play.
“I’ve never been a backing vocalist,” Gayle adds. “I read where people wrote that I was in my sister’s band and did backup for her, but I never did. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. not; it just didn’t happen.
With 19 years between the sisters and a totally different upbringing in two states, Gayle had all the groundwork she needed to stand out apart. It was ultimately Lynn who encouraged Gayle to step away from comparisons, stop playing her sister’s music and develop her own style.
“She said, ‘You’ll only be compared to me,’ and that was the truth,” Gayle recalled, no doubt in countless stories during her five decades in the music industry. “At first, so many people said to me, ‘So-and-so tells me you’re Loretta Lynn’s sister, and I say you’re not…because you don’t look like her!'”
Gayle’s style focused more on the blues, with full, smooth vocals and slow instrumentals. Although it remained true to country, it was softened by flowing strings, spacious electric bass and piano arrangements. The style has earned her 18 No. 1 hits, according to Billboard, the fourth-most country singer in 2018. In 2009, her star appeared on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2016, she was officially invited by Carrie Underwood. to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, where she had been singing for decades.
“My sister, Loretta, was actually the one who brought me into the family,” Gayle says of her induction into the Nashville institution. She laughs at her circuitous journey to official membership, a final level of recognition that she is nonetheless still honored to receive. “As I always say, I always thought I was [in the family]. I’ve been on the Opry stage so many times.
Part of developing a strong voice and maintaining it, Gayle says, involved questioning one’s own tastes. She further credits this personal development to producer Allen Reynolds, who encouraged her to listen carefully and develop opinions about the music she should record. Carrying the attitude towards her personal brand outside of music, she turned down endorsements for products she didn’t already use on her famously long hair. Resisting a sale is a timeless concept, but since Gayle started, the industry has changed.
“People ask how to get into the business. Today is so different from when I started,” Gayle told CultureMap. “It’s almost like they put out a record and if you don’t do anything in that first half, you leave the label. There’s a lot of good acts. I just say everybody sing wherever you can.
After an illustrious career, this is where Gayle also settles. She’s again enjoying the trip and tweaking each performance for different moods across the country (and once in a while for a fan or friend who makes a request). Without hesitation, she names the moody, folksy song “Ready for the Times to Get Better” as a song she never tires of performing.
The lyrics to Gayle’s 25 studio albums began to slip away from her, a byproduct of “graduating,” in her own words, from the blowers. But she has not finished expanding her repertoire. Her most recent release, with Swedish rock musician Sulo, is nostalgic and upbeat, and opens up the potential for more recordings together in the future. She travels with her husband, Bill, and occasionally her adult children come to watch. (Sometimes his son, Christos, a studio engineer and producer, comes to help with live mixing, and his grandson, high school student Elijah, helps sell merchandise.)
“When you’re just starting out, you’re looking to have those hit records. You worry about a lot of things,” Gayle explains. “For that time in my career, yeah, I could retire tomorrow if I wanted to. But I like to be out there and keep playing, so, you know, until that moment happens, I’ll be out there.
Crystal Gayle performs at the Brauntex Theater on Friday October 1st. Tickets are available at brauntex.org. She will also visit a few other Texas locations throughout the tour, including Waco on December 2, Corsicana on December 3, Greenville on December 4, The Woodlands on December 12, and Fort Worth on December 13.