Even on Christmas, if it falls on a Saturday, the Grand Ole Opry hosts a live show on its iconic stage in Nashville. It’s what has made the Opry the longest running consecutive radio show in the world (since 1925). There will be a show this year, and there was one on Christmas night 45 years ago when the Gatlin Brothers were inducted as members.
Larry Gatlin says it’s still pretty incredible to think about.
“It really is. That circle is a sacred place and I speak for the brothers, Steve and Rudy, when I say that. To have been ushered into that family and that tradition, it’s the greatest honor that has ever been bestowed upon us in the entertainment business.”
The Gatlin Brothers are a GRAMMY-winning trio best known for hits like “Broken Lady,” “All the Gold in California” and “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You).” They grew up in Texas, part of a close-knit, family with an extremely strong faith. So, it’s interesting that a day so full of meaning to Christians became special to the Gatlins for something else, as well. Larry talks about how his family has always celebrated holiday.
“Our mom passed away five years ago,” Larry says. (Their father died in November of 2020.) “This past Wednesday would have been our mother and father’s 75th wedding anniversary. And when we were kids, before we started unwrapping presents, and dad if he wasn’t working because he was a driller in the oil field and he worked eight hours a day, seven days a week, he would open up the Bible, and read the Christmas story.”
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Larry says he and his wife have continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren, and will do it again this year.
“We’re going to sit those little ones down and tell them a little bit about what Christmas is all about and then we’ll open gifts. So, that Christmas night 45 years ago was a real blessing to the Gatlins, the greatest, of course, being the birth of the Christ child.”
More than four decades after their induction, the Gatlins play the Opry on a pretty regular basis. And Larry often takes on hosting duties whether for an Opry show during the week, or special shows like Opry Country Classics at the Ryman on Thursday nights during the spring and fall months. While regular Opry shows feature a blend of younger and older artists and a mix of musical styles, the Country Classic shows tend to highlight more traditional artists.
“They came to me about 10 years ago and said we’re going to feature the classics, the old-time country music,” Larry explains. “And I like the new stuff, I’m glad those kids’ dreams are coming true, but I love the steel guitar and the fiddle, I’m more of a traditionalist. So, they let me host the full two hours of those Country Classic shows.”
As a host, he’s proven himself to be quite the entertainer. People seeing him in that role for the first time are often surprised by his sense of humor and the way he interacts with, and engages people.
“I love it,” he says. “I’m good with the crowd, I like to poke fun at myself, and at them. The simple fact is we live in a serious world, even more so during the last two years, so if you can walk on stage and make people forget about the daily grind and laugh a little bit, chuckle a little bit, maybe even cry a little bit during some old sad country song, then I believe we’ve done what God put us here to do.”
He says the thing about making music is you never really know its full impact. He shares a story about a John Deere tractor salesman who ran into his wife and when he discovered she was a Gatlin, told her about meeting a man in Bulgaria during a sales trip many years ago. The Bulgarian spoke excellent English, so the tractor salesman asked him where he learned it, especially because the Bulgarian told him that at the time, they weren’t allowed to have books.
“It was still behind the Iron Curtain,” Larry explains, “and out of the man’s mouth came these words, ‘I learned to speak English listening to the Gatlin Brothers’ albums that were smuggled onto Radio Free Europe.’ Isn’t that amazing? He could have said anybody in the world.”
Larry goes on to point out that his story is not specifically about him or Steve or Rudy.
“We’ll never know this side of heaven what influence we may have had. I have other friends in the entertainment business, Duane Allen with the Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, Lorrie Morgan, T.G. Sheppard, and others, and we all have stories about people and how our music has gone far beyond singing our hits on stage. So, this is not about us, it’s about God taking what you do and making people’s lives better.”
After so many years of performing, the Gatlin Brothers music, and signature harmony, remains as beautiful as ever.
“We can still hit the notes,” Larry says. “I’ve had four vocal cord surgeries and Rudy’s had a couple. It’s a miracle of God. Every now and then, I’ll get a little laryngitis or something, but I’m doubly, triply, quadruply blessed.”
So, he and his brothers have no plans to slow down any time soon.
“What would I do?” he asks.“You know how they say the man who loves his job is always on vacation? The other thing is if a person has something to get up for every morning, they’ll probably get up for it. So, we enjoy this.”
So, the Gatlin Brothers will continue to perform as they’ve done for many decades. Only this year, they’ll let others take the stage on Christmas night, and instead reflect back on their memories of what it meant when they did it 45 years ago.