Larry Gatlin’s illustrious career marches on as new opportunities arise
Larry Gatlin is no stranger to the stage. However, the stages have become more varied over the course of his career.
The eldest of the Gatlin Brothers doesn’t just step on the stage to sing, though he still performs a host of dates with his brothers Rudy and Steve.
The Texas native and current Nashville resident is a songwriter, an actor, a political and social contributor, and he has also served as a television host.
However, even with those numerous endeavors, Larry Gatlin’s feet are still firmly entrenched in musical soil.
We recently sat down with Gatlin to talk about his adventurous past, the present journey and what lies in the road ahead. His feedback is as follows …
What’s your current touring schedule like, and do you mix some solo performances along with the performances with your brothers?
People say, ‘why don’t you retire?’ I say, ‘I’ve become real accustomed to eating three meals a day.’ We made a lot of money. We paid our tithes, but we weren’t very good with our money. The good news is we made a lot of money. The bad news is we don’t have a lot left. We still love music. I do some solo performances, and Steve and Rudy also (do select performances without Larry).
Talk about your time with the Imperials, and who were the other group members at that time?
I had known Jim Murray and Armond Morales for many years. I did not know Joe Moscheo. Roger Wiles decided to leave the group. I went to work at Steak and Ale, and I got a call. Armond said, ‘When can you come out here?’ I said, ‘I’ll be out there tomorrow.’ I didn’t really work with Elvis (Presley). What they really needed me for was to work The Jimmy Dean Show. I worked with them. They really wanted to hire Greg Gordon. When Greg flunked his draft physical, they hired him. I worked with them a month. It was wonderful. All I wanted was to be a Gospel singer.
You’ve been fortunate to perform in so many notable venues, win numerous awards and interact with so many musical greats. What are a couple of the highlights that stand out?
Being a member of the Grand Ole Opry, getting to be on Gaither videos, singing at the Ryman Auditorium, signing at Carnegie Hall and playing Will Rogers on Broadway. Every night is a blessing. Every night is a highlight when people come up to pay their hard-earned money to hear you sing.
What was the experience of moving to Nashville in the early 1970’s and working as a backup singer with Kris Kristofferson?
I have an incredible wife (Janis). When the opportunity came, she said, ‘Larry you’ll never be happy if you don’t go try it.’ She’s followed all the way. She’s been an incredible helpmate. It was exciting. It was scary. I hadn’t been (in the Nashville area) 48 hours, I hate to use the word important, but famous people who knew the business said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got it. Keep doing it.’
Many may not be aware of the fact that you were a college football player at the University of Houston, catching passes as a wide receiver. What was your background in athletics? Did you play other sports as well, and did your brothers – Steve and Rudy – also play various sports?
I played everything. I didn’t run track. I wasn’t fast enough. We beat Idaho, 71 to three, and I got to play in that game. The scouting report, one of their team’s players had thrown it down after the game. It had, ‘Gatlin, 5’ 9”, 165 (height and weight) … he has deceptive speed.’ Baseball is my favorite sport, tied with golf. I love a good baseball game. I was the quarterback of the (high-school football) team who won a lot of games, and my old high-school teacher got a job at Houston. I played primarily football and baseball in high school. My brothers played too.
Who inspired you and your brothers to sing together?
Our first heroes were James Blackwood, Jake Hess, Hovie Lister, the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen … the royal guys of Gospel Music.
What made the dynamic of the Gatlin Brothers work so well, and what led to the level of success that you enjoyed?
It was family harmony. A lot of groups sing great family harmony. Our vocal chords vibrate at the same rate.
Have you three always gotten along well?
No. We’re brothers. We’re three different people. I don’t feel the same way about things that they do.
The song, “An American with a Remington” – which you wrote with Billy Dean – made a big splash last fall. How many songs have you written, and how much of a passion is songwriting still?
It’s a thousand. The ones that aren’t hits that don’t wind up on albums are just homework. Every word you need for a song is in the dictionary.
If you could turn back the clock, what’s one song that you would have recorded before another artist did so?
I wouldn’t have.
You have done some acting, served as a political commentator and hosted talk shows in addition to your vast musical experiences. Do you take a lot of pride in being well rounded?
I take a lot of pride in my humility. Pride goeth before fall. I’d rather say that I’m grateful for it. I’ve never been afraid to try something different.
How much Southern Gospel Music are you exposed to currently, and are there any specific groups that you really enjoy?
I love to hang with Gaither (artists). The Gaither Vocal Band is unbelievable. I love the old Imperials. I loved the Weatherfords. I love the Isaacs, the Booth Brothers. I love Gold City. Ernie Haase and that bunch are fabulous. I love to hang with Gaither. We have a ball. It’s not just the harmony. It’s the spirit.
What’s in the works for Larry Gatlin?
The new single, “An American with a Remington,” we put it on a Gospel album. I wrote all of these songs or co-wrote them. We are proud of the album. I’m thankful. I better sing good, because those two cowboys on the left and right are going to sing good. We are the most consistent, in-tune, phrasing-together group that I’ve ever heard.
Editor’s Note: Larry Gatlin attended the National Quartet Convention in September 2015 and SGN Scoops was given the opportunity for a personal interview through the hospitality of Les Butler and the Family Music Group. Larry opened the Wednesday morning showcase with his radio release, “An American With A Remington,” took in some of the Awards ceremony and played his guitar for Eighth Day’s appearance at the showcase.
Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers’ 60th anniversary album, The Gospel According to Gatlin, has just been released by Curb Records.
by Craig Harris
Photographs by Craig Harris and Larry Gatlin
First published by SGNScoops in our November 2015 magazine.