Larry Gatlin: Q & A

CW caught up with Larry in Branson, Mo.

In the Jan. 26 issue of Country Weekly you’ll find an interview with Larry Gatlin in which the country legend discusses his life, his career and his return with brothers Steve and Rudy to the Nashville music business after a long break. Here are a few Internet-only exclusive outtakes from our chat with Larry, available only her at countryweekly.com.

CW
You and your brothers are returning to Nashville for the first time in 16 years to release an album. What took you so long?
LG
Well, you know Mark Twain said many years ago, “It’s amazing how stupid my father was when I was 13 and how he smart he’d become by the time I was 21.” It’s amazing how confused I was at 44 and how much wiser I am at 60. What I realize now is no matter what walk of life you’re in, almost without question, your life and your career are kind of a bell curve. It starts down here at the bottom and it goes up and then you reach the top and you’re there for a while and sooner or later that bell curve starts down the other side. When I was there in Nashville, I thought it was going to last forever. And when it started down the other side of that bell curve, I just decided to take my ball and go home. So I left Nashville with some pretty ill will, some bad feelings. I went home to Texas and decided to do some other things. I went to Broadway and did that. I did solo work. About eight or 10 months ago, I was in Oklahoma City in a bathtub when I had this revelation from God. And the revelation was, “Hey, dummy! It’s not their fault. Nashville was great to you. Nashville helped your dreams come true.” Nashville afforded me a wonderful way of life, and what I didn’t realize was that you go up and you stay there for a while and then it goes down. So my friend Terry Choate, my wonderful friend Leslie Satcher and some other new friends in that town convinced me that I should come back, we should take another shot, that people in Nashville love our music and love my songwriting and love our harmony. So that is a very long story. I wrote a little song in that bathtub. I won’t sing it for you, but I’ll recite it for you. I think it is the crux of what I feel about the relationship. Let me give you the words to this song:
“I thought I was mad at Nashville, I was really just mad at me
I’d worn out my welcome in Nashville, my career wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be
So I moved back home to Texas, and I’ve loved every minute
But I’ve got a little thing here called a heart, and it’s got a lot of Nashville in it

“So can I come home to my home away from home?
Will there be any open arms for me, to rock my soul in the bosom of Tennessee;
Can I come home to good old Music City U.S.A.
Can I come home to my home away from home
Say, Nashville, what do you say?”

CW
You sang that on the Crook & Chase show last spring, didn’t you?
LG
That’s right. My old and good friend Ray Stevens was sitting in the front row and he looked up at me and said, “Hoss, that’s a great song.” Well, coming from Ray Stevens, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of our business, that was a great compliment, and I appreciated his feeling for that. So my problems with Nashville, those were problems of a young man growing up who had too much money, too much free time, too much fame, too much fortune—like a bunch of us had. And I made some bad choices and through all of that the fans had remained with us. Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad, I am very blessed that it happened exactly the way it happened. We have enjoyed living back in Austin, Texas. We love it, and that is always going to be my home. I am a Texan. I love Austin, Texas. That’s where we’re going to have our main domicile, but my home away from home is Nashville, Tenn. I’m really grateful for the 16 years that we’ve been away, because it has given me time to mature, to grow up and to put the whole Nashville deal into perspective and to learn to appreciate what happened there. Good lord, I got to sit around a hotel room with Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, Mickey Newbury, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Cochran, Dottie West and the great, great songwriters and singers of country music, some of the greats of all time, and every one of them took me under their wing and taught me and nurtured me and showed me the craft and what to do. So being away from town has given me a sense of perspective.
CW
What’s the title of your upcoming new album?
LG
Here’s what we did. We asked John Carter Cash to write the liner notes for this new project. Johnny Cash wrote my first liner notes for my very first album. On the back of those liner notes he called me “The Pilgrim.” He said, “Now, along comes this pilgrim, Larry Gatlin,” and he gave me this glowing deal that you should be so lucky that he passes your way. So the first album that I did for Monument Records for Fred Foster was called The Pilgrim. And Johnny Cash wrote the liner notes. So we have asked John Carter Cash to write these liner notes for us coming back to Nashville. And we’re calling the album The Pilgrimage. So from Pilgrim to Pilgrimage, the journey that we’ve taken in these last 30-something years of being in and out of Nashville and being in the music business. John Carter wrote a beautiful, wonderful tribute to the brothers and me, and I’m very humbled by it and grateful for it and for his friendship.
CW
Finish this sentence: I can sing better than . . .
LG
Golly . . . I can sing better than Rosanne Barr. (laughs)
CW
Golf Digest recently named you and your brothers three of the best golfers in music. Could you have been a pro golfer?
LG
I don’t know if we’ve ever been that good, but at 60 years old I can hit it farther than my mama and daddy went on their honeymoon, I know that!
CW
Which of you is the most competitive?
LG
That is a toss-up, because we’re all very competitive. Rudy is the best golfer. When we play golf with each other, we all get pretty serious and try to win. I think we all have a competitive edge.
CW
Who did your mom like best: Steve, Rudy or you?
LG
Rudy asked our mother many years ago, “Mom, do you love me as much as you love Larry?” And she said, “Rudy, I love you just as much as I love Larry. I’ve just loved him longer.”
CW
Which one is the most hard-headed?
LG
Rudy is a little bull-headed, but he’s smart, he’s a good guy, and sometimes he’s right. Sometimes he wins out.
CW
If you could wake up in the body of someone else just for one day, who would you pick?
LG
Tiger Woods would be a good choice. I’d love to be able to hit a golf ball like he does.
CW
What do you think of country music today?
LG
It’s all good. Larry Gatlin is happy for the young kids who are doing it their way. Some of them I really like, some of them can really sing, and then there are some others. Guess what? It’s the same way it was when I was in town 35 years ago: some of them I liked, some of them could really sing, then there were some others. That’s just the way it is. That’s Larry’s opinion. Like Dennis Miller says, “That’s what I think, but I could be wrong.” Sixteen years has given me some distance, it’s given me some maturity and it’s given me the realization that these young kids coming in there have every right to chase and follow their dreams and sing it their way and do the instrumentation their way. No, it doesn’t sound like the country music that I used to know, but guess what? Waylon and Willie didn’t sound like Hank Thompson. Hank Thompson didn’t sound like Jimmie Rodgers. So it’s all good. I’m happy for everyone. I’m grateful to the town that they’ve opened their arms to us. I think I’ve learned a little bit, and when I come back maybe I won’t be as much of a hardass as I used to be.
CW
Have you ever turned down a song that was a hit for someone else?
LG
Well, yeah, I just don’t do that. I have a wonderful friend, a fellow by the name of Mel Tillis. I saw Mel in the drugstore this morning. One night years ago I was riding in his plane. We were talking about song writing. The thing that the Gatlin Brothers did, I wrote all the songs for our group. In our history of 17 or 18 albums, there were only two songs I didn’t write, except for gospel songs. But while we were actively in Nashville pursuing that dream, I wrote the songs for us. So Mel said, “You mean you would not have recorded ‘Wind Beneath My Wings?’” And I said it was a great song, but no, I wouldn’t have done it. He said, “Well, you’re crazy, get out of my plane!” It was 25,000 feet! (laughs) Well, it’s a beautiful song. “Wind Beneath My Wings” is a great song, it is a brilliant song. I wish I had written it. But the brothers and I were not just looking for a hit song, we were looking for a career. We were looking to be a little bit unique, a little bit different, and we felt very strongly that I was the one who was supposed to do that. I don’t know whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong, but it was right for the Gatlin Brothers, and I believe it is one of the things that made us unique. It separated us from some of the other folks. Not that we’re any better or worse, I’m not passing judgment on that, but that’s just the way we did it. People knew I was going to write the songs, so they didn’t really pitch me songs. I would hear songs. [Publisher] Fred Foster was very influential in our career, gave us our first record deal, he is one of the great record producers. He encouraged me to record a few other people’s songs, and we recorded a few of them, but I asked him not to include them on our albums and he honored my wishes, for which I am very grateful. This is how we were going to do it. I never did want to be like everybody else. I’ve always been a little bit of a weird duck, and I got a circle drive and a color TV so I guess it worked out.
CW
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in the music business?
LG
The most difficult part about this business is that you go out there every night and you want to do the very best you can, but it’s like Abraham Lincoln said: “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.” You know there’s always going to be a fan out there [upset because] there’s some song you didn’t sing, or you didn’t mention their home state. You cannot please everyone. You have to find what the music means to you, what the business means to you, and do it with class, style and dignity the very best you can.

For more on Larry Gatlin, check out the Jan. 26 issue of Country Weekly.

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