Odessa, TX – Odessa’s Ector Theatre played host to an evening of song and stories from one of its own, country singer/songwriter Larry Gatlin on Tuesday. The performance was part of the Odessa College Music Master Series, a group of free shows for the community as OC celebrates 75 years of its existence.
Aside from singing with his brothers, one of Larry Gatlin’s favorite things to do is pass on his knowledge to aspiring songwriters. Gatlin is a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member and has penned each hit scored by the Gatlin Brothers. The trio’s chart-topping single “Houston” is still ranked among Billboard’s 100 Greatest Country Songs of All-Time. The oldest of the three brothers, Gatlin spent part of Tuesday afternoon on the college campus visiting with several of its music students.
Through the two-hour music presentation, the evening was filled with a combination of video clips and live renditions of many of Gatlin’s songlist of hits. The former Odessan took the sold-out capacity crowd down memory lane. On several occasions, Gatlin reminded and acknowledged that while now residing in Nashville, he and wife Janis still have fond memories and always call Odessa home. According to Gatlin, “We have taken a piece of Odessa with us to every place we have played over the many years”.
Known for his tenor voice and for the country songs he wrote and recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, some of Gatlin’s biggest hits include “She’s A Broken Lady”, “All the Gold in California”, “She Used to Be Somebody’s Baby”, and “Night Time Magic”. Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers came into prominence and enjoyed their greatest success during this period with hit singles that showcased their rich gospel-inflected harmonies and poetic lyrics. Through the years, the oldest Gatlin has had four vocal cord surgeries – one was considered serious and the others were “just little tweaks”.
Grammy-winning country singer Larry Gatlin was born the son of a driller in the oil field. By the age of six, he was accompanying younger brothers Steve and Rudy in singing at family and church events. After attending and graduating from Odessa High School in 1964, Gatlin led the Bronchos to a victory over crosstown rival Odessa Permian, of which would be the last win for OHS in some 34 consecutive years that followed. Larry went to play collegiate ball on a football scholarship. He attended the University of Houston as a wide receiver, where he majored in English and developed “a love affair with the English language” that later served him well in his songwriting. Gatlin has the distinct honor to not only perform on the rodeo stage but also catch a touchdown pass in the Houston Astrodome.
He later auditioned for the Gospel music group ‘The Imperials’. They went on to perform in Las Vegas in January 1971 at Jimmy Dean’s Las Vegas Revue. While walking through the showroom, he caught country singer Dottie West’s attention. West soon met Gatlin and was impressed with his songwriting skills. She recorded two of Gatlin’s compositions, “You’re the Other Half of Me” and “Once You Were Mine”. West also passed one of Gatlin’s demo tapes around Nashville and even arranged for him to relocate there. West later recorded other compositions by Gatlin that would later become hits for him, including “Broken Lady”, which was put on West’s 1978 album, Dottie. Gatlin soon found work in Nashville as a background singer for Kris Kristofferson. In 1973, Gatlin landed a solo recording contract with Monument Records.
In December 1973, Gatlin released his first album, ‘The Pilgrim’. Two singles were released from the album: “Sweet Becky Walker” and “Bigger They Are, Harder They Fall”. The latter was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1976. He had also recorded Gatlin’s “Help Me” in 1973. Gatlin had his first major hit with his composition “Broken Lady”, which reached No. 5 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 1976. Gatlin won a Grammy Award for the song in 1977 for ‘Best Country Song’. Brothers Steve and Rudy made their first appearance on Larry’s 1976 album ‘Larry Gatlin with Family & Friends’. Gatlin continued his success as a solo artist until 1978, when he released his last solo album ‘Oh! Brother’, which featured the Top 10 hits “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today” and “Night Time Magic”, the latter of which also made an entry into the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
In 1979, when Gatlin signed with Columbia Records, he decided to officially have his brothers billed on his singles and on his albums. That year, their name became officially “Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers”. In October, they released the album ‘Straight Ahead’. It spawned the classic single “All the Gold in California”, which became their biggest hit together, reaching No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs list. This led to his being awarded “Top Male Vocalist of the Year” by the Academy of Country Music. On June 6, 1980, ‘Straight Ahead’ was certified gold. In 1983, the group had their third No. 1 hit, “Houston”. On January 19, 1985, the Gatlin Brothers sang “All the Gold in California” at the nationally televised 50th Inaugural Gala, the day before the second inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. Larry, Steve and Rudy, have been Grand Ole Opry members for 45 years and have played at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium nine separate times.
In 1989, the Gatlin Brothers sang National Anthem before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Gatlin has written songs that were later recorded by Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Barry Gibb, Ray Price, Tom Jones, Roy Orbison, Johnny Mathis, and Dottie West. In 1995, he played himself in the TV movie about West’s life, ‘Big Dreams & Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story’. Gatlin took the lead role on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical “The Will Rogers Follies.” The musical then toured throughout the nation to rave reviews. Throughout the next decade he would go on to write an autobiography ‘All The Gold In California’, record a solo album ‘In My Life’, and occasionally tour solo shows.
In the early 2000’s, the brothers reunited for selective road dates, and in 2008, recorded their first album in nearly two decades ‘Pilgrimage’. In 2015, the brothers celebrated 60 years of making music together and released a new album ‘The Gospel According to Gatlin’. During 2017, Larry brought his 30-year musical to life in Dallas. He wrote and starred in “Quanah,” the story of Quanah Parker, the last Comanche Indian chief. In October 2019, he was inducted into the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Gatlin has been married to Janis for more than 40 years. They are the proud parents of two children, Josh and Kristin.
Look for Larry to appear alongside former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in an upcoming TV commercial of ‘Relaxium Sleep’. The ad campaign is set to begin airing in mid-May.