Published on December 15, 2013 by Amy
Crystal Gayle (born Brenda Gail Webb on January 9, 1951) is an award-winning American country music singer. Best known for her 1977 country-pop crossover hit song, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, she accumulated 20 number one country hits during the 1970s and 1980s (18 on Billboard and 2 on Cashbox) with six albums certified Gold by the RIAA. Crystal Gayle became the first female artist in country music history to reach Platinum sales with her 1977 album, “We Must Believe in Magic”. Also famous for her nearly floor-length hair, she was voted one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People Magazine in 1983. She is the youngest sister (by 19 years) of singer Loretta Lynn and a distant cousin of singer Patty Loveless. Crystal Gayle has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, near Loretta Lynn’s star.
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Brenda Gail Webb was born in Paintsville, Kentucky, to Melvin “Ted” Webb (1906–1959) and Clara Marie (Ramey) Webb (1912–1981). The youngest of eight children of a poor family, she was the only child born in a hospital. Her family moved north to Wabash, Indiana, when she was four. She would sing along with country and pop songs on the radio, and though a shy child, she was encouraged by her mother to sing for visitors to the house. Inspired by her sister Loretta Lynn’s success, she learned to play the guitar and sing backup in her brothers’ folk band. While still in high school, she began to tour with her sister for a few weeks each summer.
After graduating from Wabash High School, Brenda Webb signed with Decca Records, her sister’s label. However, since there was already a singer named “Brenda Lee” with Decca Records, she was asked to change her first name. Loretta Lynn suggested the name ‘Crystal’, after seeing a sign for the Krystal hamburger restaurant chain. Brenda Gail Webb thus became ‘Crystal Gayle’.
Gayle’s debut single, “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)”, was released in 1970 and peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Country singles chart. Written by Loretta Lynn, it was performed in a style similar to that of her sister. Decca asked for more records like Lynn’s, who wrote more of her early singles. This approach failed to establish Gayle, despite regular appearances on Blake Emmons’ television show The Country Place. She did not reappear in the Country Top 40 until the 1974 release “Restless” (No. 39).
Frustrated, she left Decca and signed with United Artists, where she teamed with producer Allen Reynolds. Reynolds offered her the creative freedom she wanted and helped her develop her own style and phrasing. The first album, Crystal Gayle, was released in 1974 and produced her first Top Ten country hit, “Wrong Road Again” (No. 6). By 1976, she had scored the first of her 20 Number One country singles with “I’ll Get Over You”, which also became her first single on Billboard’s Hot 100 (No. 71) and Adult Contemporary chart (No. 40). The following year, she had two more Top 2 country hits, “You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)” (No. 1) and “I’ll Do It All Over Again” (No. 2), before achieving her greatest success. Gayle recalled what her sister Loretta Lynn had said: “‘You record what I couldn’t record – you do MOR, middle of the road’, “and that was the best advice I could get. I don’t think I ever would have made it if I went down the road and did the music my sister did. I would only have been compared to her.”
Believing Gayle was poised for a larger breakthrough, Reynolds encouraged her to record the jazz-flavored ballad, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. The song became the most successful of Gayle’s career, spending four weeks atop the country chart. The song became her biggest hit on the Hot 100 (No. 2), peaked at No. 4 AC and gained considerable airplay worldwide. Gayle earned a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and the song also earned a Grammy as Country Song of the Year for its writer, Richard Leigh.
The song helped her album, We Must Believe in Magic, become the first by a female country artist to be certified platinum. She toured worldwide, including Britain with Kenny Rogers and China with Bob Hope, where she became the first person to tape a performance on the Great Wall of China.
After the success of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, Gayle and her record producers leaned more toward crossover music with each new release. For the next ten years, she would have her greatest success. Gayle was awarded “Female Vocalist of the Year” for two years by the Country Music Association Awards (1977 and 1978) and for three years by the Academy of Country Music (1976–1977 and 1979).
Gayle remade a previously recorded track from her Crystal album, Ready for the Times to Get Better, as her first single after “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. Although the single became her fourth No. 1 Country hit, it failed to reach the Pop Top 40 (No. 52). Gayle’s next album, When I Dream, yielded three Top 3 Country hits – the No. 1 songs “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” as well as the No. 3 title track. “Talking In Your Sleep” returned Gayle to the Pop Top 20 (No. 18). Gayle left United Artists for Columbia Records in 1979 for her next album, Miss the Mississippi. She returned again to the Pop Top 20 with that album’s first single, “Half the Way” (No. 15 Pop, No. 2 Country, No. 9 AC) which became her last solo Top 20 Pop hit. Gayle had also appeared in the second episode of the fourth season of The Muppet Show.
Gayle started the 1980s with another No. 1 country hit, “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye” (No. 63 Pop, No. 17 AC). This song led a historic Top 5 on the Billboard Country Singles chart on which the Top 5 positions were all held by women:
When her 1980 song “If You Ever Change Your Mind” was Grammy-nominated in the Best Country Vocal Performance category, the singer found herself competing in the same category with Sissy Spacek who was nominated for title song from Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), the acclaimed biopic in which Spacek portrayed Gayle’s real-life sister Loretta Lynn. Gayle’s next album, Hollywood, Tennessee, was her most blatant attempt at country crossover. The album’s A-side, “Hollywood”, was pop while the album’s B-side, “Tennessee”, was country. The album’s three singles all reached the Country Top 10, but only the first single, “The Woman In Me,” reached the Hot 100 (No. 76). Gayle’s singles, however, frequently charted Top 20 on the AC chart throughout the 1980s.
In 1982, Gayle worked on the Francis Ford Coppola film, One from the Heart, recording songs for the movie’s soundtrack with Tom Waits. She then switched record labels again to Elektra Records. She recorded a duet, “You and I”, with Elektra labelmate Eddie Rabbitt for his Radio Romance album. The duet quickly ascended to No. 1 on the Country charts, returned Gayle to the Pop Top 10 (No. 7) and became her biggest AC hit ever (No. 2). Her first Elektra album, True Love, surprisingly excluded this duet. It did produce three more No. 1 country hits — “Til I Gain Control Again”, “Our Love Is On The Faultline” (No. 23 AC) and “Baby, What About You” (No. 83 Pop, No. 9 AC).
After Elektra Records was folded into Warner Bros. Records in 1983, Gayle released her next album, Cage the Songbird, which spawned two more No. 1 Country hits — “The Sound of Goodbye” and “Turning Away” — and two other Top 5 Country hits — “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” (No. 2) and “Me Against The Night” (No. 4). “The Sound of Goodbye” became her final entry on the Hot 100 (No. 84) and Top 10 AC hit (No. 10) to date. In 1985, she released her next album, Nobody Wants to Be Alone, which contained two Top 5 Country hits – the title track (No. 3) and “A Long and Lasting Love” (No. 5). Later that year, she teamed with Gary Morris to record a duet for the soundtrack to the television series Dallas. The song, “Makin’ Up For Lost Time (The Dallas Lovers’ Song)”, reached No. 1 Country, but became Gayle’s last AC chart appearance (No. 36) to date.
Her 1986 album, Straight to the Heart, began promisingly with two more No. 1 Country singles — “Cry” (a remake of the Johnnie Ray classic) and the title track. However, these songs would become the last of Gayle’s 18 No. 1 Country singles. She reunited with Gary Morris in 1987 to record the album, What If We Fall In Love, which would yield another theme from a television soap opera, Another World (No. 4). Gayle guest-starred on the show as herself, a friend of the character Felicia Gallant, who was menaced by a serial killer known as the “Sin Stalker.” Gayle and Morris performed the theme at the Daytime Emmy Awards and the song was used as the show’s theme until March 1996.
“Another World” became Gayle’s last Top 10 Country hit to date. As traditional Country singers such as Randy Travis and the Judds began to dominate the country airwaves in the late 1980s, the success of crossover artists like Gayle began to wane. Gayle’s last charted single was 1990′s “Never Ending Song of Love” (No. 72). Crystal Gayle also sang the theme song for the short-lived 1983 television series Masquerade, the theme song having the same title as the series.
Gayle released two more studio albums during the 1990s: Ain’t Gonna Worry (1990) produced by Allen Reynolds and Three Good Reasons (1992). Both albums failed to chart and their singles all failed to reestablish Gayle at country radio. Gayle subsequently recorded several specialty projects. She released two gospel albums – Someday (1995) and He Is Beautiful (1997). In 1999, she released the tribute album, Crystal Gayle Sings the Heart and Soul of Hoagy Carmichael. Gayle released a children’s album, In My Arms, in 2000. Her most recent studio album was the 2003 standards collection, All My Tomorrows. Gayle has since released two live albums, Crystal Gayle in Concert (2005) and Live! An Evening with Crystal Gayle (2007).
In the early years of the new millennium, Gayle co-wrote and recorded “Midnight in the Desert”, a haunting Southwestern song for late-night radio host Art Bell. Bell featured “Midnight in the Desert” as the closing theme song on both his Coast to Coast AM and Art Bell’s Dark Matter radio programs.
In January 2007, fugitive Christopher Daniel Gay escaped from custody at an Interstate 95 welcome center near Hardeeville, South Carolina, and made his way to Tennessee where he stole Gayle’s tour bus. Gay drove the bus from Whites Creek, Tennessee, to the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, parking the bus in a VIP spot next to NASCAR Nextel Cup driver Jeff Gordon. Gay was arrested the following day and the bus was returned to Gayle.
Gayle was ranked No. 33 in a 2002 CMT countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music. She was awarded “Best Female Entertainer” in 2007 by the Second Annual American Entertainment Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards as she continues to regularly tour the globe. In February 2008, Crystal was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. On October 2, 2009, Gayle received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during a ceremony in Hollywood, California. Crystal Gayle continues to perform and tour.