Country music star Larry Gatlin will open the Grand Theatre’s 2014-15 performance season at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Gatlin has left an indelible mark on country music as a composer, as lead vocalist with The Gatlin Brothers and as a solo artist.
Music was an important part of family life growing up in West Texas, Gatlin said in a recent telephone interview.
His mother played piano in church, and he and his brothers Steve and Rudy performed gospel music on an Abilene television program at an early age.
Love of reading spurred songwriting
After graduating from high school, Gatlin went to college at the University of Houston, where he majored in English.
Studying literature provided an excellent background for his future songwriting.
“I love language,” Gatlin said. “I make my living with words, so I’m an avid reader.”
He occasionally teaches a songwriting master class. “I once asked, ‘How many of you want to be a songwriter? If you do, what are you reading? If you want to be a writer, you need to read.’”
His literary background gave him a solid grounding in conveying thoughts concisely.
Referring to the length of a typical hit record, he said, “The old saying is that you’re only as hot as your last two minutes and 30 seconds.”
Many successful performers have a mentor and supporter in their backgrounds, and Gatlin is no exception. Country music legend Dottie West heard Gatlin singing backup in a club, and became an advocate.
She even bankrolled his move to Nashville to jump-start his career as a singer/songwriter.
“Dottie was a great champion for me,” he said. “She saw me working as a singer and she sent me a plane ticket to Nashville.”
Songwriter for the stars
Gatlin took full advantage of the opportunity. He began writing for some of the biggest names in and out of country music.
He named a few: “Johnny Cash, Elvis, Roy Orbison, Barbara Streisand, The Oak Ridge Boys, Judy Collins. I’ve been very blessed.”
While establishing himself as a songwriter, Gatlin also recorded two successful albums backed with vocals by his brothers.
He scored a No. 1 hit in 1976 with the Grammy Award-winning song “Broken Lady.”
In 1979, Larry and his brothers decided to make their collaboration official by forming The Gatlin Brothers and signing a record deal with Columbia Records.
Larry’s memorable songs and the brothers’ distinctive harmonies laid the groundwork for a string of hits.
Songs such as “Denver,” “She Used to be Somebody’s Baby,” and “Statues without Hearts” thrilled fans.
Asked to choose a favorite, Gatlin said with a chuckle, “My banker likes ‘All the Gold in California,’” a huge hit for the group.
By the early 1990s, The Gatlin Brothers had decided to stop touring. Larry branched out by appearing in the hit Broadway show “The Will Rogers Follies.”
In the ensuing years, Gatlin continues to be active performing and recording. Occasionally, The Gatlin Brothers still perform together.
One constant over the years has been Gatlin’s remarkable, soaring tenor voice. He continues to perform songs in their original keys, without losing his upper range.
He credits his vocal abilities to sessions with a New York voice coach who taught him about proper technique.
At the upcoming appearance at the Grand, fans can expect a relaxed evening with Gatlin accompanying himself on guitar.
His typical set list contains many of the hits that made The Gatlin Brothers famous.
His goal for every concert is the same. “If they go away smiling and entertained, then I’ve done my job.”
Tickets for Larry Gatlin are $20, $30 and $35 and may be purchased online at the Grand Theatre website, www.grandtheatrefrankfort.org, or by visiting the ticket office, 312 W. Main St., weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The phone number is 502-352-7469. Gatlin’s appearance is sponsored by radio station Froggy 104.9.
The historic Grand Theatre on St. Clair Street reopened as a performance venue in the fall of 2009 after a $5 million restoration spearheaded by the non-profit organization Save the Grand Theatre Inc. The Grand opened in 1911 as a vaudeville house and later became a movie theater before it closed in 1966. With its resurrection, the Grand is a 428-seat performing and visual arts theatre featuring state-of-the-art facilities. The Grand also hosts social, educational and civic events.