Larry Gatlin

Gatlin Brothers member, best selling author, recording artist and Grammy Award Winner
Travels from TX
$16,500

Larry Gatlin’s talent has brought him many rewards: international fame, a Grammy, a truckload of #1 songs, a starring role on Broadway, two films, and an aging, nasty horse named Old Dan. Who was, in fact, the grand prize at the Ector county Jaycees Talent Contest in Odessa, Texas back in 1959.

Eleven-year-old Larry and his younger brothers Steve and Rudy (whose combined ages were probably far less than Old Dan’s) harmonized their way into the Jaycees’ hearts, beating out another promising act from nearby Wink, TX, Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings. Roy, undaunted by the loss, persevered in show biz consoled by his second place booty. “Orbison’s group won dinner for four at the Blue Star Chinese restaurant in Midland, 20 miles away,” drawls Gatlin. “It was a much better prize.” The senior Gatlin kid has been plying his trade since he turned pro at age seven.

The Gatlin boys began singing on a Sunday morning radio show out of Abilene, Texas, for the slight but steady sum of 10 cents per week. But Gatlin wasn’t in it for the bucks, gospel music had been around in his home for as long as he can remember; singing came naturally. “My folks took us to those old Southern style gospel quartet concerts, and I loved it,” he explains. “My first hero was James Blackwood from the Blackwood Brothers Quartet (also a major influence on a young Southern church-goer named Elvis). The music was infectious, inspiring - I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Though Gatlin continued to perform at “little gigs and talent shows,” it wasn’t the full-time life of music that the singer yearned for. In a state of confused resignation, he entered the University of Houston on a football scholarship (playing with future pro Elmo Wright) and eventually entered law school. “I was trying to go to college and trying to be respectable somehow, but I knew that was not what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a musician.” Offers Gatlin. “Also, it’s very difficult to know how to get into the music business. If you want to be a doctor you go to med school, if you want to become a musician, what do you do? So I had started law school, knowing all the time I was going to try and get this other thing going.”

Early 1971 found Gatlin still working on statutes instead of scales when he found out that the gospel group the Imperials were looking for a baritone singer. “I was trying out with the Imperials for a month when they were working for Jimmy Dean and Elvis Presley in Vegas,” Gatlin says. “I didn’t get the job, but that’s when I met Dottie West.” “I made up a song one night and she said, ‘You’re making that up, aren’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ She said ‘Send me some songs and I’ll try to help you.’” West was true to her word, and soon Gatlin - brothers Steve and Rudy were still in college - had the life of a lawyer in his rear view mirror as the Nashville skyline approached. Dottie had sent him a one-way plane ticket to Music City.

Working days as a janitor at the Nashville CBS-TV affiliate, music filled his nights. Gatlin found songwriting “very easy. I was an English major in school, I love to read and write and I just fell into it, just had a knack for it.” He is quick to admit that working with the large hunk of Seventies Music City songwriting muscle helped grease the muse some. “Dottie threw me into the company of folks at Combine Music/Monument Records like Red Lane, Mickey Newbury, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Roger Miller. I met all those guys the first six weeks I was there. So if you have any knack for it at all, being around those guys it has to rub off on you a little bit.”

Gatlin released his maiden album The Pilgram in ‘74, and it hit #1 the next year with Broken Lady, a song that fetched him a Grammy in 1976. In the middle of the decade, the Gatlin boys once again joined forces. Armed with an array of college degrees, life experience, and in the studio little sister LaDonna (who, along with Rudy and Steve had been opening for Tammy Wynette), the hits started flowing.

In ‘77, the group went to #1 again with I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love. It would happen again in ‘79 with All The Gold In California. But a Gatlin show was not merely a chance to witness some of the finest singing and songwriting around, Larry explains that he and his brothers were steeped in the tradition of Entertaining. “That really came natural. We’re just full of good West Texas b.s., and we don’t mind sharing it with the folks. One of my great influences was Jimmy Dean. That man knows how to entertain, and I got to see him for that month I was trying out for the Imperials in Vegas. He was wonderful, he knew how to work an audience.” Elvis’s act also impressed Gatlin - who is about as plain and open as a Texas prairie - with one exception. “I never did think Elvis was the greatest singer of his generation. After all, I grew up listening to and working with Roy Orbison who I think was the best singer. Elvis was a good singer, but he was a great entertainer,” says Gatlin. “And after all, he was Elvis!!!”

Consummate, too, was the legend who never met a man he didn’t like, and brother Larry took to the Broadway stage in 1993 too portray him. Gatlin starred in a seven-month run in the title role of the Tony-awarded musical The Will Rogers Follies. And, as gospel beget country, golf beget Broadway. “I was playing golf with Frank Gifford, and he asked me to have dinner with him and Kathie Lee,” explains Gatlin. “I said, ‘I’d love to, but I’m taking my wife Janis to see Will Rogers Follies.’ He said, ‘Man, you’d be great in that role, Keith Carradine’s leaving.’ So he takes his cellular phone out of the golf bag and says, ‘Get Gatlin an audition.’ This was at the time that my brothers and I were doing our last big tour anyway, so it all just worked out. Go through life, do your deal, have a little faith.”

Faith and an attraction to golf; Gatlin has a passion for the clubs in spades. But it’s not just a game “It really is a metaphor fro life,” he says. “All your good shots don’t go in the hole and all your bad shots don’t go out of bounds. It’s that simple. I used to love golf and I was miserable, now I just like it and It’s a lot better.”

Early in ‘94, Larry starred in the national road tour of Follies. Later that same year, he took two months off to go to Bristol, PA, to launch Alive and Well, a musical he had written and scored. Back on the boards in ‘98, Larry premiered his second musical Texas Flyer in Bristol, followed by another successful engagement in Houston. Beginning in 1993, Gatlin spent part of four successive Christmas holidays entertaining military personnel via USO tours. Those treks took him literally around the world, making stops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and Japan. In ‘94, Larry’s trip to Haiti made him the first American entertainer to travel for the USO to visit troops on that island. “American men and women are sometimes put in harm’s way to try to do some good for the world,” Gatlin commented, “and if they’re willing to go, so am I. I don’t care if it’s Bosnia or the backside of the moon.”

1998 couldn’t have been busier for Gatlin, as his hardback autobiography All The Gold In California (Thomas Nelson Publishers) was in bookstores around the nation in mid-summer. In it, Gatlin gives a “warts and all” account of his addiction and the love that saved his life. Larry also saw his first album for Spring Hill Music Group released in July; from aggressive country flavor to acoustic gospel sounds the ten-songs on the In My Life CD were all penned by Gatlin.

Larry continues to make speaking engagements - particularly before groups of young people - on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse, a subject that he lived for over a decade. “With the help of God and some mighty strong friends, I left that life behind me for good.” Gatlin believes that everything that’s come his way has been a gift from his maker, whether it was what he prayed for or now. “I’m busy, I love being involved in lots of different things, I do the best I can, same as the next person, and I believe that if I persist, I will succeed. “After all, like I wrote in my song One Dream Per Customer, you’re allowed all you’ve dared to dream.”