Tag Archives: worst gigs

Hanging Out with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers

There’s a little theater/showroom off the beaten path in Weirsdale, Florida, called the Orange Blossom Opry. It’s a small venue that hires a lot of union musicians, including many classic country artists who have had strings of hits throughout the years. Just recently Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, members of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) were on the bill. Theater manager Suzanne Morgan arranged for me to get together with Larry before the Saturday matinee show.

Larry and his brothers, Steve and Rudy, have had a string of hits over the years, including “All the Gold in California,” “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You),” “Broken Lady,” and many others. More than 50 years ago, the Gatlins started singing in their small hometown of Abilene, Texas, and they went on to have successful country music careers. Over the course of four-decades, the Gatlin Brothers have gone from dirty, dusty Texas stages to White House performances, from Broadway to the Grammy Awards and to the top of the country charts. When I asked Larry some questions about his career, I got some interesting answers.

I asked about some of their worst gigs. He says that playing the Jamboree in the Hills in Staunton, Virginia, when the temperature reached 148 degrees, was no picnic. A gig at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary (as a performer, not an inmate) scared the hell out of him. As a young lad, he played a tent revival in Fort Worth, and was told he could have whatever was collected in an offering. The “love offering” amounted to $3.

The Gatlins were raised on gospel music, and began entertaining audiences in churches. They had guest appearances on radio and TV shows, when they were two, four, and six years old. Larry says their history as “gospel music junkies” came from those early roots.

A backstage chat with the Gatlin Brothers: (L to R) Rudy, Bob Popyk, Larry, and Steve, members of Local 257 (Nashville, TN).

A backstage chat with the Gatlin Brothers: (L to R) Rudy, Bob Popyk, Larry, and Steve, members of Local 257 (Nashville, TN).

“My folks took us to those old-fashioned Southern style quartet concerts, and it was love at first sound! My first hero was James Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. I just knew somehow, from that moment, that I wanted to be a singer for the rest of my life,” he says. The early ’70s found Steve and Rudy in college, while Larry moved to Nashville to write songs that were recorded by artists like Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson of Local 257, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, and Elvis Presley.

Larry and his brothers have played for five of the last seven presidents. Larry has stayed overnight at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom. He recalls that he and his wife retired early there one night. They were in bed, with their clothes off, when George Bush came knocking at the door, wanting to show them some artifacts in the historic room. (Larry said that it wasn’t an opportune time, but he let the President in anyway.)

Gatlin is proud to be an AFM member. He says “at this stage of his life” he gets a check every month. Being a union member, he “knows he doesn’t have to play with crappy musicians.”

In Nashville, he became friends with former Local 257 President Harold Bradley. As Larry puts it, Bradley is “a true Southern gentleman, a consummate musician, and a great guitar player, who can read charts like crazy.” He credits Bradley for helping him turn his life around when things weren’t going quite so well. To this day, Larry says he has the utmost appreciation and deepest respect for Harold.

At this stage in their careers, the Gatlin’s have the best of both worlds, families and fans, and plenty of work both as individuals and together. You can tell they love to sing together. I think there’s no harmony quite as pure as family harmony.

I enjoyed meeting Larry, and his brothers. I stayed for the Gatlin Brothers show. Their music certainly screams of love and a lot of living. It’s Americana at its best and their fans love it. They represent the true spirit of the AFM.

Your Best Gig Could Be Your Next Gig

Over the past few columns I’ve talked about crazy, memorable, and terrible gigs. That’s life as a working musician. I appreciate all the letters, calls, and e-mails about out-of-the-ordinary playing jobs. They are too numerous to mention here, but I am retaining many of them for future columns.

Besides just mentioning a highlight or funny story of some careers, three AFM members sent me books they’ve written. They range from “riding the crest of a slump” to looking back on a wonderful career as a union musician.

Hank Doiron of Local 198-457 (Providence, RI) wrote a recap of his more than 70 years as a bass player/vocalist. In his book, Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey, he mentions the hundreds of local AFM buddies he worked with through the years. Doiron is a former secretary of his local, and has had an outstanding career. One of the more unique gigs he played was when he was asked to put together a Dixie trio of bass, banjo, and trumpet. He arrived to find they were playing for a wake and the deceased’s last request was to have live Dixie music play during his calling hours.

I received The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Drummer (available on Amazon) from Troy “Skeet” Seaton of Local 71 (Memphis, TN). It’s his stories from 45 years as a drummer in a number of different bands throughout Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

One of his fun stories was about playing at a bar with a guy who didn’t drink. It was the guy’s first job with the band in a number of years, and Seaton had a tough time even getting him to play the gig. The band was on a break, and someone bought a whole tray of tequila shooters and sent them over to the band. Skeet told one of the guys at a table next to the band that they’d had enough, and that he could drink them all. He promptly grabbed them like they were diamonds and downed them all at once. The guy in the band who didn’t drink came over to see what was going on, and the tequila grabber promptly threw up all over the nondrinking musician’s new cowboy boots. Skeet said all he could say was “welcome to the band.”

Then there was Local 1000 (nongeographic) member Jamie Anderson’s Drive All Night. The liner notes say it’s “in the tradition of the second oldest profession.” She’s been a traveling singer, comic, songwriter, musician, and a few more things beyond that. These are her recollections of grungy lodging, shady producers, half-deaf sound engineers, and miles of highway weariness. She has a very unique niche, and you’ll have to get her book on Amazon to really get a good take on her adventures as a girl with a guitar. She’s opened for major and minor acts, closed a church coffeehouse by uttering names of female parts, and danced with a tornado.

The book is a delightful mix of horror road stories on the touring circuit for her unique audience. It’s very funny in parts, and will make you feel your worst gigs were nothing compared to what she went through—no matter where you played. Her life has always been gigging, writing, networking, recording, and laughing. It’s a not-so-glamorous look at her daily grind.

Once, after slogging through a too-long sound check at a gig in Baltimore, a sound guy groused, “You’ve just never worked with such great equipment before.” She was tempted to answer, “It sounds like you’ve never seen sound equipment before.” Nothing she could do would convince him that her guitar does not usually scream like a jet at O’Hare, and her voice shouldn’t sound like something from an ancient boom box. She says you learn to live with it.

Once she had to sit on the edge of a stage in a huge theater, singing without amplification because no one knew how to adjust the computerized sound system. There was a date in Ohio where the sound equipment was locked in a cabinet for which no one had the key. She still did the gig, but only the folks in the first few rows could really hear her. She still got paid.

You learn to deal with these times, because you know the next gig will be better. Anderson writes in her book: “As long as somebody wants to hear me, I’m there. I’m especially interested in any gig in Hawaii, but Burnt Corn, Alabama, will work too.” She goes on to say, “There is nothing more satisfying than hearing applause when you’ve done a good job.” (It’s really nice when you get well over scale too.) Anderson also says she could never be an accountant because “no one claps when you balance the books.” Amen to that.

Tough gigs are a fact of life. It’s part of what we do. You learn from it. That next gig could be the best one you’ve ever had!