SINCE coming to prominence in the early 1970s, Crystal Gayle has won over fans in countries where her country-pop sound is
widely popular. For her Jamaican debut at this month’s Jamaica Jazz Festival, however, she does not know what to expect.
“I just hope the people know my songs,” she said, laughing.
Gayle, 63, will be surprised that some of her songs are staples in reggae land. Her 1974 breakout hit, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, got the ball rolling but it was in the 1980s that hits like Long and Lasting Love, Nobody Should Have to Love This Way and You And I (with Eddie Rabbitt) took off on local radio.
Country music has had a big following in Jamaica since the 1960s. Singers Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Skeeter Davis enjoyed considerable airplay and influenced some of the country’s leading artistes.
That trend continued over the next 20 years with Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Gayle, who successfully made the transition from traditional country to pop. For Gayle, the younger sister of country legend Loretta Lynn, she always yearned for a wider audience.
“Because my sound is different than my sister’s I think that’s why I have done well. I’ve always tried to do songs that have a broad appeal,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
Gayle was born Brenda Gail Webb in Kentucky, a state with a massive country music base. She grew up in nearby Indiana where the musical tastes are more eclectic. Her influences include country singers Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline as well as jazz stylist Billie Holliday.
She made her mark on country charts a decade after Lynn became a country star. While early songs like When I Dream and I’ll Get Over You were hits in the South and Midwest, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue became a massive pop hit and earned Gayle a 1977 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performer.
It set the tone for her work with record companies including Columbia, Warner Bros and Elektra Records which made major inroads into the increasingly lucrative pop-country market during the 1980s.
Gayle, Rogers and Parton paved the way for Shania Twain, the
Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift who have sold millions of albums by blending old-style country with mainstream sounds.
The Nashville, Tennessee-based Gayle is a big fan of Toby Keith who emerged in the 1990s. Of country’s new wave, she has high marks for Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban.
Crystal Gayle is scheduled to perform on February 1 at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium.