They say good things come to those who wait. Well Crystal Gayle fans have been waiting 16 years for new music from the iconic singer, and their patience has been rewarded with the release of You Don’t Know Me, an album of country classics that features her first ever recording with her legendary sister Loretta Lynn.
“I grew up singing these songs. A lot of people wouldn’t think that because of the way I recorded and the hits I had were a little more MOR—middle of the road—but this was my life growing up listening to these artists,” Gayle tells Sounds Like Nashville, looking radiant sitting in a conference room at her Music Row office.
Gayle credits her sister with steering her toward a more modern sound early in her career. “The reason I did change [from traditional country music] was because of my sister Loretta who told me to not sing anything that she would sing,” says Gayle, who was born Brenda Gail Webb, the youngest of eight children. “Loretta told me to go MOR. She said, ‘You will only be compared,’ and that was great advice. I had people coming up saying, ‘You can’t be her sister. You don’t sound like her,’ but I am. We’re family. She always said, ‘Blood is thicker than water.’”
On You Don’t Know Me Gayle gets a chance to pay homage to her country roots by recording such beloved classics as Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Marty Robbins’ “Ribbon of Darkness” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls.” “I picked songs that meant something to me, songs that I’ve loved,” says the Grammy, CMA and ACM Award winning singer. “I could still see myself singing ‘Please Help Me I’m Falling’ out in the backyard when I was probably in second grade. ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ was the first song I sang on the Opry. I love ‘Hello Walls.’ I opened a few shows for Faron and I remember him having me come over and rehearsing with his band. He was just a gentleman. He was very respectful. I found that too when I worked with Conway Twitty. It was nice to see I was being protected and looked after by all these people when I went out there.”
“Put It Off Until Tomorrow” features Gayle singing with her sisters—Loretta and Peggy Sue. “We decided on ‘Put It Off’ because we’d been doing that in concerts,” says Gayle, who invited her sisters to sing on the song. “Loretta doesn’t like headphones so my son Chris, who helped produce and did the mixing and recording, he set the speaker up for her and recorded her voice. So she sang in the mic with the speaker playing. He knew how to do it and she just did it. That was the year before she had her stroke.”
When asked how her sister is doing these days, Gayle responds, “She’s doing good. She’s 87, and she’s a strong lady. She did a lot of shows. It’s time to put her feet up if she wants.”
Having both her sisters on the album is special to Gayle. “That’s the first time we’ve ever recorded together. We’ve just sung on stage here and there,” she says. “Through the years we kept talking, saying, ‘We’re going to go in and do an album.’ We almost did it a couple of times and always something would happen, some schedule changing or things. We just never did it.”
Another track on the album that holds a special place in her heart is “You Never Were Mine,” a song written by her brother the late Jay Lee Webb. “It is a great song. I’ve always loved it. I wish I would have recorded it earlier so he would have heard it,” she says, noting that he passed away in 1996 after battling pancreatic cancer. “He was a great writer and a great entertainer. Some people probably don’t realize that he started out with Loretta when she first started. He fronted her show and then they’d get in the car and drive to the next. I don’t know when he slept. He took her everywhere and was right there with her.”
There’s another important family connection on You Don’t Know Me. Gayle co-produced the album with her son Christos Gatzimos. “I wanted him to hear what I grew up singing as well as what I’d done through the years,” she says of her choice of songs for the album. “It was nice because he brought in a little modern touch to it. I like a clean sound and that’s what I wanted. You can take a song—and I’ve seen so many people do this—put 20 guitar parts on it and you only need one. I wanted it clean and pure.”
Gayle admits during her career peak, she had always recorded with radio in mind, and in recent years she was hesitant to make an album knowing that airplay wasn’t likely. However her fans changed her mind about recording. “Because the music changing, it wasn’t going to be played on radio and that’s what I did my albums for was radio,” she says. “But I’d get people say, ‘We want to hear you.’ I had just really started it for myself and when people said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’d tell them, they’d say, ‘You’ve got to put it out there!’’
Now it’s unlikely fans will have to wait another 16 years. “I probably have a volume two,” she says with a smile and toss of that trademark mane. “Actually I have recorded some different things while working on this, doing extra songs. There are so many great songs in the past. The songbooks are just incredible.”