Bay Ridge

Legendary singer-songwriter Larry Gatlin brunches in Brooklyn

Country Star Loves the City

July 20, 2016 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Larry Gatlin enjoys brunch at Cebu Bar & Bistro. Eagle photos by John Alexander
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Country superstar and TV news commentator Larry Gatlin stopped by the renowned Cebu Bar & Bistro on Sunday.  In town for a television appearance, Gatlin found time to enjoy Cebu’s signature brunch with an old friend at the Bay Ridge hotspot.

One of country music’s most prolific songwriters, Gatlin, along with his brothers Steve and Rudy, scored 42 charting country hits between 1973 and 1990. His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Ray Price, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones and many other legendary recording artists. In fact, Gatlin is in the Top 5 of all country artists who were the sole writers of all their songs, which also puts him in the Top 10 writers of Top 40 hits of all time.

While it is in fashion for songwriters today to collaborate with one or more co-writers, Gatlin’s entire body of work consists of songs he composed by himself. As he says, “I’m not afraid to be alone in a room with only my own thoughts.” Then he admits with a chuckle, “I stole that line from another songwriter, Chris Gantry.”

Gatlin, Steve and Rudy Gatlin frequented the country charts for nearly two decades. Gatlin was the singular writer of all of their number one hits — “Broken Lady,” “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love,” “Statues Without Hearts,” “Love Is Just a Game, Night Time Magic,” “All the Gold in California,” and “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You).” In fact, the Gatlin Brothers became staples of television variety shows during the ’70s and ’80s.

Gatlin’s career began when country star Dottie West heard a couple of his songs in Las Vegas in 1971.  West said, “Larry, you look enough like [renowned songwriter] Mickey Newbury.  You must be able to write a hit song.” Gatlin returned to Houston. West sent him a plane ticket, and he immediately flew to Nashville.      

A year later, Kris Kristofferson heard Gatlin singing his gospel song “Help Me,” which inspired Kristofferson to write “Why Me Lord?”  Kristofferson asked Gatlin to sing harmony on both songs for his best-selling “Jesus Was a Capricorn” album. Kristofferson introduced Gatlin to Johnny Cash, who took Gatlin under his wing and wrote the liner notes for his first album, “The Pilgrim.”

“Pilgrim” was the nickname Cash gave the talented young songwriter. The name stuck, and his friendship with Cash lasted until Cash’s passing. The Cash family chose Gatlin to be the MC at the great man’s funeral, and he still speaks about “JR” in the present tense.  

“I’m just blessed to have had the career I’ve had, written the songs I’ve written and known the great people I’ve been fortunate enough to know,” Gatlin told the Eagle. “I’m just honored to be in the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame,” he said, before laughing and adding, “Well, I’m really not in either one, but I’ve loaned a lot of money to people who are.” Gatlin admitted that he stole that line from Jethro Burns, of Homer & Jethro fame: “When Gordon Lightfoot asked Jethro, ‘Jethro have you and Homer won any Grammys? I’ve won six,’ Jethro replied, ‘No, we’ve never won any Grammys, but we’ve loaned a lot of money to people who have.’”

Although Gatlin mentions the Halls of Fame in his humorous manor, he certainly should already be in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Of the other nine singer-songwriters in the top ten, who composed their own songs, he’s the only one not in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Gatlin has written songs that have inspired songwriters for decades like the heartbreaking “Penny Annie,” the outstanding ballad “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall” which Elvis recorded, and the harrowing morality saga “Jacob and Marcie.”  Gatlin, an English literature scholar, is a songwriter’s songwriter.  His works are unlike anybody else’s.

And with the incredible body of work he’s produced, from his early classic “The Pilgrim” to his recent career-spanning collection “Pilgrimage,” Gatlin is destined to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Pilgrimage” traces Gatlin’s life from his first meeting Cash and Kristofferson to writing with Roger Miller  to his tongue-in-cheek observation “Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down).”  Gatlin explained that the song was written with love, and with the blessing of Cash’s son, and Gatlin’s good friend, John Carter Cash.

Gatlin still writes songs almost every day and looks forward to what pops into his head every morning after his first cup of coffee. He’s also planning many exciting new projects for the coming year.  One of those projects might include a performance at the Brooklyn Tabernacle on Smith Street, between Livingston and Fulton streets.

Gatlin concluded his brunch at Cebu and expressed his delight with the neighborhood, saying how much he enjoyed visiting Brooklyn.

Indeed, his memories of Brooklyn include the one time he went to Ebbets Field. He remembers yelling out “great catch,” when “Sandy Amoros caught the slicing line drive off the bat of Yogi Berra and then fired the ball to Pee Wee Reese, who relayed it to Gil Hodges at first to double up Gil McDougald and saved the 1955 World Series for Johnny Podres and the ‘bums’… the Brooklyn Dodgers.”


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