My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Crystal Gayle

600x600For someone who had three siblings who were country performers, Crystal Gayle isn’t all that country. That shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, because by the time Brenda Gail Webb arrived into the Webb family on January 9, 1951, the family’s circumstances had changed. Very shortly thereafter the family would relocate to Wabash, Indiana, a long way from the coal mines of Kentucky.

Consequently, Brenda was raised in the city, unlike the upbringing of her singing siblings Loretta (b. 1934), Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and Peggy Sue Wright (b. 1943). Like her siblings, Brenda (renamed Crystal Gayle at the suggestion of her sister Loretta) got her start with Decca/MCA records. Unlike her siblings, who were hardcore country singers, Crystal was more pop-oriented. Although Decca pushed her to be a Loretta Lynn clone, Loretta recognized that Crystal could not (and should not) be a Loretta Lynn clone.

I first saw Crystal in 1970 on a package show. At the time she was working her first hit “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)”, which just missed the top twenty. Although I enjoyed her singing, I felt that she was miscast as a hard country singer.

Although her first hit was written by Loretta, Crystal accent was far less rural than Loretta’s, and Crystal’s vocals were not too convincing on her follow up singles for Decca. Encouraged by Loretta to seek her own style, Crystal left Decca for United Artists where her run of success began in earnest.

Crystal’s first United Artist single “Restless”, barely broke the top thirty, but after two more singles just cracked the top thirty, the fourth single “Wrong Road Again” got to #8, followed by her first #1 in 1976, “I’ll Get Over You”.

After that the Crystal Gayle express moved into high gear racking up nineteen songs that reached #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World. Her biggest hit, of course was 1977’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” which spent four weeks at number 1 (and three weeks at #2 on the pop charts). Through 1990 she charted fifty-two singles.

Crystal’s run of top ten singles ran from 1975 through 1987. She changed labels several times along the way, making it difficult to collect all of her hits, but it is worth the effort

I could describe Crystal Gayle as pop-country, middle of the road, pop standards, straight Adult Contemporary or Nashville sound, but whatever the description or verbiage used to describe her, Crystal Gayle is an exquisite singer whose every song was tackled with intelligence and great thought given to song selections and the musical accompaniment and the arrangements.

All of her albums contain strong material. We hope you enjoy our review of the career of our January Spotlight Artist Crystal Gayle, one of the finest female vocalists of the last fifty years, and as of January 21st, the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.

16 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Crystal Gayle

  1. Luckyoldsun January 2, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Back in 1977, I woke up to “Rambling With Gambling,” the legendary morning drive radio show on WOR in NYC–after getting a traffic report, host John Gambling said, “Here’s Crystal Gayle”–and played “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”–the whole song.
    The reason it stood out was that WOR was an “information station” and Gambling did not normally play music, let alone country music. In fact, that’s the only time I ever recall hearing him spin a record. Maybe, John just had a personal emergency, but the record was that big!

  2. Razor X January 3, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Back in the 70s it was rare to have radio stations that were completely devoted to country music if you were outside of the south. The ones that had crossover hits were the only ones I had access to back in those days. Crystal Gayle was one of the first ones that I became interested in. Later, when the Urban Cowboy craze began we finally had access to a country station and that’s when I seriously began to get into country music. I was also a big Loretta Lynn fan but I had no idea that she and Crystal Gayle were sisters. I was quite surprised when I found out; their styles are so very different I would never have thought they were related.

    • Ken January 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Sorry to hear that you grew up in a country radio desert. But I respectfully disagree that in the 1970’s full-time country stations were rare outside of the south. Although I would agree they were not as numerous as other formats throughout the U.S. full-time country outlets could be found in most large and medium size cities or in nearby suburbs. Certainly in small towns there may not have been a local country outlet but in most cases there was a receivable signal from a regional country station available. The proliferation of country formats especially outside of the south began to grow quickly in the mid-late 1960’s and accelerated in the 1970’s led by iconic stations like WWVA Wheeling, WJJD Chicago & WEEP Pittsburgh [1965], WRCP Philadelphia [1967] WHN New York [1973], WHK Cleveland [1974] and WMAQ Chicago [1975] to name a few. In southern markets where country music was more popular often a second country station debuted during that period. High-powered AM stations like WWVA in Wheeling, WSM Nashville and WWL New Orleans had night time signals that covered much of the eastern seaboard and brought country music to travelers and overnight listeners when their daytime-only AM country outlet was off the air.

      I would agree that FM country stations did not proliferate until the 1980’s as the trend toward FM music listening surpassed AM in most areas during that decade.

      • Razor X January 4, 2017 at 12:58 pm

        We had nothing, zero zilch nada, aside from WDSD 94.7FM in Dover, Delaware, which veryoccasionally could be picked up but usually the signal was too weak to listen to. I would listen to it in the summer while vacationing at the Delaware shore. Then around 1980 when Urban Cowboy came out, there was a proliferation of country stations on both AM and FM. For a brief period there were two or three available but once the trend was over most of them changed formats. When I was in high school there was period of several months when there were no country stations at all in the area until WXTU 92.5FM in Philadelphia went on the air in 1984. I listened to that until about ten years ago when I got too fed up with the direction that country radio was heading in. Nowadays it is Sirius XM or my own iTunes collection.

      • Paul W Dennis January 6, 2017 at 11:17 pm

        After 1970 full-time country radio AM stations were not all that rare, even outside the south and west, but a good many went directional when the sun went down, meaning they basically could be heard for about 20 or 25 miles from the radio tower but no further. At Stetson University , twenty miles west of Daytona Beach and 40 miles northeast of Orlando, there was no radio station I could pull in at night that played country music and there were no FM country stations. Even the clear channel powerhouses like WSM could only be heard if atmospheric conditions were perfect and usually only for a few hours liker midnight to 3 AM

  3. Alan Jobe January 5, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    A lot of people don’t realize that Crystal had more Billboard #1 singles than Loretta – (18 vs. 16) and this includes Loretta’s duets with Conway Twitty. Also, Billboard magazine recently ranked the top 100 all-time country artists. Crystal ranked 32nd overall and was the 5th highest ranked female artist after Reba, Loretta, Dolly, and Tammy.

    • Luckyoldsun January 5, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      Yeah, there’s a decent case to be made for Crystal Gayle to be elected to the Country Music H-o-F, based on those numbers and her general prominence, though her style is not particularly favored now. The number of worthy candidates is so large now that they’d probably need to have another “mass induction” year like they did in 2001 (when nine performers were elected) for her make the cut.

      • Ken January 5, 2017 at 8:48 pm

        Crystal Gayle in the Country Hall Of Fame? I find NO case for that. She’s a fine singer and has recorded some excellent songs but she has not made any significant or lasting contribution to the genre. A long list of hit songs and/or longevity in the format does not automatically earn HOF credentials. At least it shouldn’t although in recent years several artists have been inducted who I thought were not exactly HOF worthy. No offense to her but I can’t recall any of the new generations of female country singers ever citing Crystal Gayle as their influence.

        And there will never be another HOF “mass induction” again. No need. The field of potential candidates has exponentially dwindled.

        • Alan Jobe January 6, 2017 at 10:19 am

          I can understand your feelings about this, Ken, but I think she has made a great contribution. She brought a whole new audience to country music with Brown Eyes and Half The Way. Now Dolly, Kenny, and Eddie Rabbitt also helped with their crossover hits, but Crystal was a big part of that too. Crystal has stated that she has received hundreds of letters over the years from people who said that they started listening to country radio because of her. Now, maybe it wasn’t the audience that country radio was desiring, but she did bring fans over.

          I also think she influenced a lot of the female generations that came after her – whether they choose to name her or not. Maybe the younger ladies may think that fans would recognize the names of Loretta Dolly or Reba more than they would Crystal Gayle (or even Anne Murray). We’ve certainly seen Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini show their love for her in recent months. I think there’s a lot more of them out there than we realize. I believe she definitely deserves to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Got my fingers crossed.

        • Razor X January 6, 2017 at 11:23 am

          “No offense to her but I can’t recall any of the new generations of female country singers ever citing Crystal Gayle as their influence.”

          Point taken but the only influence consistently cited among female country singers of the past 25 years or so is Linda Ronstadt. Occasionally Dolly or Reba are named.

          I don’t know how I feel about a Hall of Fame induction for Crystal Gayle. Your arguments against it are certainly valid, but I wouldn’t be upset if she did get into the HOF someday.

        • Occasional Hope January 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm

          I don’t think she’s ever formally cited her as an influence, but I hear it in Martina McBride.

        • Paul W Dennis January 6, 2017 at 11:27 pm

          I regard Crystal Gayle as I would Anne Murray, as superb MOR singers with appeal to country audiences. Both are borderline CMHOF candidates, but since both were pretty classy individuals, it would not harm the Hall to have either or both enshrined.

          I agree that there is no real need for as mass induction although there will be some stars of the 1930s and 1940s that will never receive their proper acknowledgments (Bradley Kincaid, Jimmie Skinner, The York Brothers, etc)

          Ken – if we are still around, you and I will be blowing our collective gaskets when the CMHOF starts considering (and inducting) the likes of Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift and Montgomery-Gentry. It is probably fortunate that both of us likely will be out of commission when that starts happening

    • Paul W Dennis January 6, 2017 at 12:20 am

      That is true but if you include the Record World and Cashbox charts Loretta had another ten #1 hits , whereas Crystal piled up only another two. Because Loretta was a pioneer and not afraid to tackle controversial subjects, she had several songs banned by just enough radio stations to cost her enough spins to prevent “Wings Upon Your Horns” and “The Pill” from reaching the top. One of Crystal’s chart toppers was a duet with the late great Eddie Rabbitt

      • Luckyoldsun January 6, 2017 at 2:35 am

        Funny, now that you mention it, Paul, I think “The Pill” would have faced even MORE resistance now than it did then. That song came out in the early- mid-’70s, not long after Roe v. Wade, before the evangelical movement became a potent political force and when many Republicans were still pro-choice, and abortion–and even contraception–were not as politicized. It was also before political correctness–on both sides–became so potent. I think “red state” corporate radio stations now would be even more reluctant to play a song where a woman boldly endorses the pill, with no qualms about it.

  4. Pingback: Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Crystal Gayle’ | My Kind of Country

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