The svelte and raven-tressed Crystal Gayle is “a country music queen who has captured the pop audience with breakneck speed,” to quote Country Music contributor Laura Eipper. Having long ago outgrown the image of “Loretta Lynn’s younger sister,” Gayle today enjoys enormous popularity with country and mainstream audiences alike, in venues as varied as Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. Her repertoire spans an unusually wide range, from straight country tunes to seductive blues ballads to soft pop-rock aimed at Top 40 audiences. Unifying all these elements, however, is Gayle’s natural vocal ability, honed over the years without formal training. In High Fidelity, Sam Graham praises Gayle’s voice: “An often surprisingly big sound for a woman of such diminutive proportions, her instrument is both sultry and ingenuous-sounding, warm and playful. This voice could charm the truth out of Richard Nixon or seduce a eunuch. It could sing the Congressional Record in Pig Latin and melt your heart.”
Gayle’s career includes several notable achievements that even eclipse those of her elder sister. She has been the first female artist to see an album, We Must Believe in Magic, go platinum, and she was the first woman entertainer to visit the People’s Republic of China after the re-establishment of cordial diplomatic relations. These “firsts” illustrate an essential element of Gayle’s success: she has experimented constantly, never contenting herself with a single recognizable sound or image. As Craig Waters notes in the Saturday Evening Post, Gayle “has grown from girl to woman, from honky-tonk singer to international star, without sacrificing what she is.”
Crystal Gayle was born Brenda Gail Webb in Paintsville, Kentucky, on January 9, 1951. She is the youngest daughter of Melvin Ted and Clara Marie Webb, who raised eight children on a meager coal miner’s salary. By the time Gayle was born, her sister Loretta, sixteen years older, had married and moved away. Gayle grew up in Wabash, Indiana, in a community of retired coal miners. The Webb family was somewhat more comfortable during Gayle’s childhood than it had been during Loretta Lynn’s. Crystal owned a guitar and listened to an eclectic variety of vocal music, including country stars such as Patsy Cline, folk artists Peter, Paul, and Mary, blues singer Billie Holiday, and Broadway show tunes of the period.
Like many other people, Gayle became a fan of her sister’s when Lynn began to build her country music career in the 1960s. As early as 1967, while she was still in high school, Gayle began to tour part time with Lynn. Her stage name derives from a “Krystal” chain of hamburger stands in the Nashville area; Lynn coined
Full name, Crystal Gayle Gatzimos; name originally Brenda Gail Webb; born January 9, 1951, in Paintsville, Ky.; daughter of Melvin Ted (a coal miner) and Clara Marie (Ramey) Webb; married Vassilios Gatzimos (an attorney and entertainment manager), June 3, 1971; children: Catherine Claire, Christos James. Education: Graduated from high school in Wabash, Ind. Politics: Republican.
Toured with her sister Loretta Lynn in the late 1960s; began recording 1970; has toured as a headliner throughout the United States; television appearances include “The Grand Ole Opry,” “Country Place,” and “Hee Haw,” as well as “The Crystal Gayle Special,” 1979, “Crystal,” 1980, and “Crystal Gayle in Concert,” 1982. Spokesperson for American Lung Association, 1982, and Tennessee Department of Health and Environment, 1983-84.
Awards: Named most promising female vocalist by Academy of Country Music, 1975; named outstanding female vocalist by Academy of Country Music, 1977, 1978, and 1980; named best female singer by Country Music Association, 1977 and 1978; Grammy Award for outstanding country female vocalist, 1978; AMOA Jukebox Award, 1978; AMOA Awards, 1979, 1980, and 1986; award for most played country female artist, 1979; named one of America’s ten most beautiful women by Harper’s Bazaar, 1983.
Addresses: Home —Nashville, TN. Agent —Shefrin Co., 800 South Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035.
the name for her, and she liked it. In 1970 Gayle recorded her first single with Decca, her sister’s label. The song, “I’ve Cried the Blue Right Out of My Eyes,” climbed to number twenty-three on the Billboard country charts. The next year Gayle married her high school sweetheart, Vassilios Gatzimos, who has served as her manager.
Gayle was grateful for her sister’s help at the outset of her career, but the young singer soon wanted to set her own direction. She left MCA Records (formerly Decca) in 1973 and signed with United Artists. There she was fortuitiously teamed with producer-songwriter Allen Reynolds, an astute artist who maximized her vocal potential. Reynolds explained his producing strategy in High Fidelity: “I’ve always tried to get a good feeling around [Crystal], whatever will help her perform the song…. I like a cleanness and a presence. I don’t like to use an excess of limiters and equalization, because I’d rather get that real honest presence, that warmth…. If you keep the performance as simple as possible, I think it will last longer.”
With Reynolds’s assistance, Gayle became recognized in 1975 as a promising country vocalist, based on the strength of her first two albums, Crystal Gayle and Somebody Loves You. Then she and Reynolds began to experiment with music outside the realm of pure country, using instrumentation from mainstream and pop sources. The resulting sound caused a surge in Gayle’s popularity; in 1978 she recorded her first platinum album, We Must Believe in Magic, with its crossover Grammy Award-winning single “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Thereafter, Gayle’s albums often contained a blend of country, blues, and pop music, sung in a “rich, soothing voice” that seemed “like a cold milkshake made with lots of ice cream,” according to Blanche McCrary Boyd in the Village Voice.
Throughout the 1980s Gayle has remained in demand for appearances on television and in person. Her singles and albums continue to be well-represented on the country charts, and she is admired for her exceptionally long hair and tastefully-presented beauty. Gayle is unusual in her devotion to home and family—she gives only 80 to 100 performances per year—and in her outspoken espousal of good health, especially for expectant mothers. A mother of two young children herself, she served as spokesperson for Tennessee’s “Healthy Children Initiative” and is credited with expanding prenatal care in that state tenfold. In 1988, Gayle took an active role in politics, stumping on the campaign trail for George Bush throughout the South. Ordinarily, however, she is a quiet and unassuming performer who lives with her family in a modest home near Nashville. Graham writes of her: “One finds no sensationalistic copy in Crystal Gayle, to be sure—none of Patti Smith’s pseudo-politic ramblings, Linda Ronstadt’s Cub Scout coyness, or Bette Midler’s outrageous brazeness. No National Enquirer material here…. Simply one of the loveliest voices and smoothest styles around. Here is one case where it is truly the music that does the talking.”
Crystal Gayle, United Artists, 1975.
Somebody Loves You, United Artists, 1975.
Crystal, United Artists, 1976.
We Must Believe in Magic, United Artists, 1977.
When I Dream, United Artists, 1978.
Classic Crystal, United Artists, 1979.
Miss the Mississippi, Columbia, 1979.
We Should Be Together, Columbia, 1979.
A Woman’s Heart, United Artists, 1980.
These Days, Columbia, 1980.
Favorites, Columbia, 1980.
Hollywood, Tennessee, Columbia, 1981.
True Love, Elektra, 1982.
Cage the Songbird, Warner Brothers, 1983.
Nobody Wants to Be Alone, Warner Brothers, 1986.
Straight to the Heart, Warner Brothers, 1986.
Crystal Christmas, Warner Brothers, 1986.
Country Pure, Warner Brothers, 1986.
The Best of Crystal Gayle, Warner Brothers, 1987.
What If We Fall in Love? (with Gary Morris), Warner Brothers, 1987.
Also recorded Greatest Hits, Musical Jewels, and, with Tom Waits, One from the Heart, 1982.
Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1981; October 11-13, 1985.
Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1978.
Country Music, March, 1980.
High Fidelity, November, 1978.
Newsweek, April 17, 1978.
People, June 5, 1978.
Redbook, May, 1980.
Rolling Stone, May 19, 1977.
Saturday Evening Post, May-June, 1985.
Seventeen, March, 1981.
Village Voice, July 24, 1978.
Washington Post, July 19, 1978.
—Anne Janette Johnson