It’s not too often that an artist nails a song on the first take. However, that’s exactly what happened in 1977 when Crystal Gayle hit the studio to record the song that would become her signature tune, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” The chart-topper, long regarded as one of Nashville’s finest moments, was a song that the two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year nailed on the first try.
“That was a first take,” she recalled to Billboard. “I did not re-sing it. It just fell into place beginning with Pig Robbins‘ opening work on the piano. It was magic in the studio that day.”
Did she realize just how much magic she had in that 2:37? Not exactly. “I knew it was a special song, but I didn’t know just how special it was. I knew that it was going to touch a lot of people.” She admitted to The 615 that the next few years were a whirlwind. “It opened up so many doors that I couldn’t do everything that was offered for me to do. I was offered so many television specials. I hated turning anything down. It was only me, and I couldn’t do it all. To be in California one night, and they would want you the next night in New York — I couldn’t do that constantly. But I did as much as I could,” she says with a smile.
Many of those opportunities and the songs that brought them to her are documented in the new “When I Dream” exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, which will run through Nov. 3. Taking the title from her 1979 hit single, Gayle says looking back at her career gave her a chance to reflect.
“It was incredible for me to look back onto my career. I saw all the things I’ve done, and I told a few people that it made me really tired,” she joked. “Did I do all that? We went all over the world, and made so many wonderful friends. It seems like it was just yesterday.”
The exhibit contains many of Gayle’s gold and platinum records, her Grammy for “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” and even a Mattel Crystal “Eagle” Gayle Air Force Barbie doll, which commemorated both her 1984 flight aboard an F-16 fighter and the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force. Also included are a couple of mementos that have a direct connection to her mother, Clara, in luding a hand-stitched Valentine’s Day card she made for her mom in the third grade, as well as a dress she wore to one of her first ACM Awards that was a gift from her mother. “She bought it for me. It was over a hundred dollars. It was a Lillie Rubin. I was about to go to Los Angeles for the awards show, and she thought I should have a pretty dress. That has always been special to me.”
Gayle began her chart run in 1970 with the ironically titled “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes),” which peaked at No. 23. What goes through her mind when hearing the Decca Records track today?
“I remember getting in the car and driving around Nashville — just hoping that I would hear it. When I hear it today, I think of doing the demo, and how we changed the melody a little bit. I remember working with Owen Bradley, who produced my first record — a great place to start.”
When she recorded the song, “Crystal Gayle” was still taking some getting used to for the singer, born Brenda Gail Webb. Because of another artist on the roster, the singer had to come up with a new stage name. “I had to change my name because of Brenda Lee. We were both on Decca.” Helping her out was big sister Loretta Lynn, who became inspired when driving around Music City and came upon a famous hamburger chain: Krystal. “Loretta saw the name and said, ‘You know that would be a great name for you. You’re bright and shining.'” Needless to say, the name stuck.
Gayle also gave credit to another key element to her story: her producer for many of her biggest hits, Allen Reynolds. “When I signed with United Artists, they put me with Allen, and he’s such a great producer. He’s also a great songwriter. He wrote ‘Wrong Road Again,’ which was my first single there, and then he also wrote ‘Somebody Loves You,’ which was my second. I was lucky to have a producer that was such a great songwriter.”
Gayle is currently in the studio working on a yet-untitled album of some of her favorite classic country songs of all time. It’s a family affair for the singer, who says, “It’s a lot of fun being in the studio with my son Chris. He went to Belmont University, and he’s really good at engineering. It’s been great to work with him.”