Crystal Gayle, The 'Brown Eyes Blue' Country Star, Then And Now

Icons | January 9, 2020

Crystal Gayle performs onstage at the Volunteer Jam , Nashville, Tennessee, January 30, 1982. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Whether you know Crystal Gayle from her hits like “Talking In Your Sleep” or “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” or if you just remember the floor-length hair that she tended to like a Nashville Rapunzel, this crossover hitmaker sticks in your mind. She grew up the sister of Loretta Lynn but their relationship was never necessary to her success. Crystal Gayle did things her way.

She started as a respectable country singer in the 1970s but by the ‘80s she transitioned into a full on pop star while managing to keep her country soul. Crystal Gayle has done it all, she’s been to the top of the charts, toured with country luminaries, and she’s even a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Gayle Grew Up In The Shadow Of Loretta Lynn

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Coming out of the hills of Paintsville, Kentucky in 1951, Crystal Gayle was born Brenda Gail Webb. The young Webb moved with her family to Wabash, Indiana at a young age where she started sining in church and touring with a folk band during the summer break from high school. After graduating high school in 1969 she was offered a recording contract with Decca Records. Smartly, she and her famous sister decided to change things up for Brenda Webb. When Loretta saw a sign for the Krystal restaurant chain she swapped out the K for a C and dubbed her sister Crystal Gayle. In 1970, a year after graduating high school, Gayle recorded her hit song, "I've Cried the Blue (Right Out of My Eyes).”

Her Famously Long Hair Has Created A Lot Of Problems For Her

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Even if you don’t know any of Gayle’s songs -- which is wild, go listen to “Talking In Your Sleep” right now -- you know her legendarily long hair. How long, you ask? There was a stretch of time in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it reached to the floor. As you might guess, having hair that dragged along the floor isn’t the most comfortable style choice, and while speaking with the LA Times in 1990 she admitted that the gravitational pressure from the length gave her headaches. Aside from causing physical pain, her hair was annoying to manage - it took up to five hours to completely dry because she didn’t like to use a hair dryer. 

Her Early Singles Were For The Country Community

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Welcome to Hitsville, population Crystal Gayle. In the 1970s she was on top of the country music charts regularly, although her singles got off to a slow start. As great as "I've Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)" is it only went to number 23 on the charts at the time of its release. She wouldn’t hit number one until 1975 with "I'll Get Over You,” and she did it a year later with "You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye).”

Even though she was at the top of the country charts crossover success proved to be elusive. It wasn’t until she changed her tune (barely) that she finally conquered the charts at the end of the decade and into the ‘80s.

In The Late '70s She Found Crossover Success

source: wikipedia

With the monster hit "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" Gayle, not only went to the top of the country chart in 1977, but hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart (behind Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life") and topped the Cashbox chart. The song drove sales of We Must Believe In Magic, which became her first gold record. While speaking with Rolling Stone she said that she crossed over because the register of her voice allows her music to appeal to a broad base of listeners. There was, of course, the backlash from the strict country community, but Gayle says that it never really bothered her:

The only backlash I would get is every once in while you would see an article and it would say “slick country.” Kenny [Rogers] would get locked into that as well. But we’re more country now than anything being played [on country radio]. I went middle-of-the-road because Loretta said, Don’t sing my songs and don’t sing anything I would sing, because you’ll be compared. She was right. I wouldn’t have made it if I had just done that. But I love those songs.

She And Loretta Never Had A Rivalry… Well, There Was That One Time

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You’d think that with two country superstars in the family that Crystal and Loretta would be sniping at one another like they were in a regional performance of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but Gayle says that just isn’t the case. Although, she admits, that some members of the press tried to stir the pot with their relationship more than once. She told Rolling Stone:

She probably stayed on the road 10 times more than I would. She was constantly gone. We never had time to have problems. But I would read about it all the time that we’re fighting over this or that. She would do Ralph Emery’s TV show and say, ‘Crystal is mad at me because I recorded this album with Tammy and Dolly.’
I would say, ‘Hey, Loretta, what did you mean by that?’ It happens, were sisters. The only time we ever really had words was when Mom was dying. I think that’s normal because you’ve got so many emotions. But it wasn’t something that stuck with us or anything major. It was just the turmoil of your mother dying. And I’m sure she was laying there saying, ‘I’m gonna spank you both…’

There’s An Exhibit Based Around Her Life

source: youtube

You know you’ve made it when there’s an exhibit dedicated to you at a museum. In 2014 Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened the “Crystal Gayle: When I Dream” exhibit featuring stage costumes, a custom made Barbie Doll, and childhood gifts that she made for her mother - there’s even a photo of Gayle from her days of sporting a short hair cut. How things change.

Following the exhibit's successful run in Nashville, Gayle returned to her roots as a country singer and released a new album in 2019 that’s filled with classic tracks from Buck Owens and Hank Williams. As always, her hair is still a main concern. While promoting the album she told People

It’s hard to get rid of something that’s been around for a while. I keep thinking, when I quit the road, is that when I cut it — or do I cut it before?

Tags: 1970s Country Music | 1970s Hair Styles | Childhood Crushes | Country Music | Crystal Gayle | Ladies | Loretta Lynn

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.