Crystal Gayle emerged as a star in the 1970s with several buzz-worthy elements. She had a musical pedigree, as the baby sister of Loretta Lynn. And of course, there was the long dark hair that cascaded down her back. Most important, Gayle owned a distinct, easily recognizable style that combined country with smooth pop stylings in a pleasing hybrid that appealed to fans all across the board.
While she became famous for soft, pop-influenced hits like “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Talking in Your Sleep,” “Half the Way” and others, Gayle always had hard core country in her soul. To showcase that side of her, she tackles some traditional country standards in her brand-new album, “You Don’t Know Me,” set for release on September 6th. Gayle puts her signature touch on such country classics as “Crying Time,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Please Help Me, I’m Falling.” The first single from the album is “Ribbon of Darkness,” written by Gordon Lightfoot, which she notes holds a special, nostalgic place in her heart.
“That was the first song I sang when I played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time,” Gayle recalls from her business office and recording facility on Music Row. “I was 16 years old. Loretta was supposed to play but she got sick and they let me sing in her place. ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ had been a hit for Marty Robbins and I always loved it.” As fate would have it, Gayle got the chance to open for Robbins during her early years in Nashville. “I heard him do ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ many times,” she says. “So, it is a special song for me.”
Gayle can fondly remember listening to that tune and plenty of other country hits growing up in Indiana. “Those songs are a part of my life,” she says, breaking into a smile. “I can still remember sitting in the back yard singing ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling’ at the top of my lungs. There are so many great songs from the past.”
“You Don’t Know Me” marks Gayle’s first studio album since her 2003 effort, “All My Tomorrows.” The record, co-produced and mixed by her son Christos Gatzimos, has been in the works for some time. “It was actually going to come out in the fall of last year,” she reveals. “But Loretta was releasing her album [“Wouldn’t It Be Great”] then, so we waited. I’ve been wanting to do this kind of an album for a long time. My son helped me produce it and he mixed and mastered everything, and I’m so pleased about that.”
The family aspect extends to one of the real treats on the album, “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” featuring the legendary Loretta Lynn and another of their singing siblings, Peggy Sue Wright. It’s the first time that the three have recorded together, although they’ve performed the song onstage several times. As Gayle tells it, they didn’t exactly have to twist Loretta’s arm to come aboard.
“Loretta’s daughter Patsy went to her and said that Crystal’s doing an album and do you want to sing on it,” Gayle recalls. “She said ‘yeah’ right away. When she came in to record the song, she was so easy and it went so perfectly. Then, when we finished that,” Gayle pauses and laughs, “Loretta goes, ‘What’s next?’ I think if I had ten more tracks, she would have done them all.” Not long after the session, Loretta suffered a stroke [May, 2017], but has been recovering and rebounding nicely. “She’s doing good,” Gayle assures “She still has a strong voice and is still so bright about the business.”
Fittingly, “You Don’t Know Me” ends on a full circle note with a bonus track, Gayle’s debut single, “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right out of My Eyes),” which she released in 1970 at the mere age of 19. The version here, however, is not the one that became famous on the radio and peaked at No. 23 on the charts. Gayle explains, “It’s the demo that I sang for [the publisher] when I was on Decca. It has a little bit of a different melody. [That song] was the beginning of my career and I thought it was a nice way to round out the album.”
As many fans may know, “I’ve Cried” was written by Loretta Lynn. Gayle performed it in Loretta’s style but her superstar older sister gave her an important piece of advice that would ultimately change young Gayle’s career. “Loretta told me, ‘Don’t sing any of my songs.’ And she also advised me not to sing anything that she would,” Gayle smiles. Loretta suggested that Gayle seek out “MOR” material, industry slang for “middle of the road.” As Gayle assesses, “I think that’s one of the reasons I succeeded.” It will certainly go down as a wise career move. Gayle scored 18 No. 1 singles and several of her hits, such as “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “Talking in Your Sleep,” crossed over to the pop charts. Among her many honors are back-to-back CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards in 1977 and 1978.
Gayle still maintains an active, though not overwhelming, tour schedule. She has several upcoming dates, including a Grand Ole Opry show on September 6th, the day “You Don’t Know Me” is being released. Gayle was inducted as a member of the Opry in 2017. “I have not quit the road,” she says. “I’m sure we’ll be doing a few concerts with this album in mind, but I don’t know that I’ll be doing a tour just about this album. If I do 40 dates a year, I’m fine,” Gayle adds with a smile.
Down the road, the long-tressed singer – “I still haven’t cut my hair,” she grins – hints at possibly more new projects. “People have always been telling me to make more music,” she says. “I might have enough material for a couple more albums. So – who knows?”
Crystal Gayle’s new album “You Don’t Know Me” will be released September 6th. For more on Crystal, please visit her website and follow her on social media.