She had an older sister that was already a country legend by the time she was ready to pursue her musical dream, but Crystal Gayle followed big sister Loretta Lynn’s advice to form her own distinctive style, and she ended up an enormous star in her own right.
Loretta had already married and moved to Washington when Brenda Gail Webb was born. When Brenda was only four, the family moved to Indiana, a good distance away from the Butcher Holler home of her older sister. When Loretta became a star, young Brenda was inspired to follow in her footsteps. She learned guitar, taught herself folk songs and went out on the road with Loretta during her summer breaks from school.
Upon graduation, she signed with Decca Records. They already had Brenda Lee on their label, so they asked Brenda Gail to change her name. Her fondness for Krystal Hamburgers led to her stage name, Crystal Gayle. Loretta wrote her first single “I’ve Cried the Blue (Right Out of My Eyes),” and Gayle performed it in a similar style to hers as well. The song was a modest hit, but future singles fared poorly. The label insisted that Gayle sing like her older sister, which pigeonholed her as an artist.
Frustrated, she received good advice from Loretta, who told her she wouldn’t make a name for herself unless she created her own style. Gayle exited Decca and signed with United Artists, where she began to find her own voice. Working with producer Allen Reynolds, she developed a smooth singing style with a pop flavor. By 1976, it was paying dividends. She scored two #1 hits that year, “I’ll Get Over You” and “You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye),” and was named the ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist.
The following year, she recorded her signature song, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” The gold-selling single topped the country charts for four weeks, crossed over to pop and won her a Grammy. The accompanying album, We Must Believe in Magic, was the first female country album to be certified platinum. Her label took the unconventional step of going back to her previous album, 1976’s Crystal, to follow up the mega-hit, resulting in another chart-topper, “Ready For the Times to Get Better”, which Gayle still cites as one of her favorite songs she’s ever recorded.
Thus began a hit run that would go on for more than a decade, and make Gayle a major presence on the adult contemporary charts as well. For three consecutive years, she was nominated for ACM Single of the Year, for “Brown Eyes,” “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Half the Way.” Her albums regularly went gold, and she dominated the Female Vocalist races, winning the CMA twice and the ACM three times.
One of the reasons that she was so successful was that she didn’t release sound-alike singles. She experimented with different sounds and themes, making her an unpredictable artist. For example, in 1982, her collaboration with Eddie Rabbitt “You and I” was a crossover pop smash, but she followed it with a tender cover of the Rodney Crowell composition “Till I Gain Control Again,” which had been previously cut by Emmylou Harris.
By the time her hit run slowed down, she had accumulated an astonishing eighteen No.1 hits, two more than her older sister had under her belt, and fourth among all women in country music history, behind Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and Tammy Wynette. She was famous enough to command her own network special, guest starred on shows ranging from Another World to Sesame Street, and became nearly as widely known for her floor-length hair as for her deep catalog of hits.
In recent years, Gayle has continued to tour and record, and has remained eclectic in her endeavors. The nineties and beyond have brought two live albums, a gospel album, a children’s album, a standards collection, and a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. She recently received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she operates her own specialty store in Nashville, Crystal’s for Fine Gifts and Jewelry.
- “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” 1977
- “Ready For the Times to Get Better,” 1978
- “Talking in Your Sleep,” 1978
- “Half the Way,” 1979
- “You and I” (with Eddie Rabbitt), 1982
- “‘Til I Gain Control Again,” 1982
- We Must Believe in Magic, 1977
- When I Dream, 1978
- Miss the Mississippi, 1979
- These Days, 1980
- Cage the Songbird, 1983
- ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist, 1976
- ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1977, 1978 & 1980
- CMA Female Vocalist, 1977 & 1978
- Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”), 1978