The Gatlin Brothers may currently reside in Tennessee, but Odessa will always be their home.
They’ll get a chance to finally come back and perform in the Permian Basin with a show on Aug. 20 titled “An Evening with the Gatlin Brothers” at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center in Midland.
While it’s certainly not the first time they’ve taken center stage at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, it’ll be The Gatlin Brothers’ first time back in the Permian Basin in a couple of years.
The Gatlin Brothers (made up of Larry, Steve and Rudy) are a Grammy award-winning group that has dazzled audiences for more than six decades and have accrued a lifetime of noteworthy achievements in their storybook career.
They’ve had the honor of playing at many different famous stages across the country from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. to Carnegie Hall in New York City.
But for the Gatlin Brothers, nothing beats getting to come home to the Permian Basin.
“It’s good to be coming home,” Larry said. “It’s good to be at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. It’s one of our favorite places. It’s state of the art. It’s a comfortable, warm, friendly place to play. I’m going to see a bunch of old friends and maybe play some golf at Midland Country Club.”
Rudy and Steve echoed those thoughts.
“We have a lot of friends out there and (the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center) is a beautiful theater,” Rudy said. “We’ve performed in beautiful theaters all over the country. It’s a beautiful theater and I’m not just saying that because it’s our home. It’s a great size. The acoustics are good. We’ve done a couple of concerts there throughout the years. It’s good to come home and see the home folks. We’ve worked rodeos and fairs. We’ve worked all kinds of venues and symphonies. It’s great coming home.”
For Steve, it’s not only going to be good to be back home but it also felt great to get back to performing on a regular basis after COVID brought everything to a standstill last year.
“It’s a wonderful place and it’s a wonderful time to be back out in West Texas,” Steve said. “We’ve been pretty isolated. We’ve done about 10 or 15 shows in the last 18 months and most of them were before everything shut down last year.”
Since then, the Gatlin Brothers’ schedule has picked up.
They’ll perform at the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam in Nashville on Aug. 18 before arriving in the Lone Star State for a show at the Hippodrome Theatre in Waco on Aug. 19 right before they come to Midland.
“We’re going to have a nice last half of the year,” Steve said of this year. “We have a nice Texas swing. We’ll be in Waco before going to the Permian Basin. The Wagner Noël is a wonderful place to perform. From the time that you go backstage to the time you walk out the front door, the folks are great and treat us well and the sound is good.”
Among the many awards that the Gatlin Brothers have received include: a Grammy for Best Country Song (for “Broken Lady”), three American Country Music awards for Single of the Year (“All The Gold in California”) and Album of the Year for “Straight Ahead.”
Their chart-topping single “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You)” is ranked among Billboard’s Greatest of All-time Hot Country Songs.
The brothers have also accumulated seven number one singles, 32 Top 40 records as well as more than 20 studio albums and five BMI “Million-Air” Awards.
All three brothers graduated from Odessa High with Larry in 1966 followed by Steve in 1969 and Rudy in 1970.
They all played baseball growing up and Larry played football for the Odessa High Bronchos, serving as quarterback and helping the team to a district title in 1964 with a 6-4-1 overall record during his junior year and claiming the bragging rights against his crosstown rivals Permian.
“When we tell people we’re from Odessa, they say ‘Mojo!’”, Larry said. “You can talk about Mojo all you want but I went 2-1 against them.”
Larry went to the University of Houston where he studied English and law.
“A lot of the guys I played football and baseball with, I lost touch with some of them but I’ve also seen some of them again. … We had our 50th reunion a few years ago. When I play golf and I knock the ball in the sand trap, I don’t worry about it. I’m a good sand trap player because I was raised around sand traps in West Texas.”
The Gatlin Brothers’ musical career actually began in 1955 in Abilene (just a few years before moving to Odessa) when Larry was 6, Steve was 4 and Rudy was 2.
The brothers grew up singing gospel music while listening to James Blackwood and the Blackwood Brothers, Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet, as well as other accomplished gospel artists.
“That’s how it got started,” Rudy said. “Mom and dad took us to those concerts. Statesmen, the Blackwood Brothers would come through town and sing at churches or the auditoriums of the high schools. Mom and dad would take us to those concerts and then buy the records and go home and put them on the hi-fi and we’d learn (the songs). Mom would play the piano and we’d grab a part and start singing and before you know it, everyone heard about us and we won a talent show for it in Abilene. Slim Willet heard it and soon put us on his television and radio in Abilene on KBRC-TV. Then we moved to Odessa in 1957.”
As children, the brothers would sing for anyone who would listen.
It wasn’t long, however, before they were singing from coast-to-coast and appeared at the World’s Fair in 1964 in New York City.
They recorded four gospel records early in their career.
“Well, we sang gospel music around Odessa and around Texas,” Larry said. “That was our first love, gospel music. We traveled around West Texas and sang on some shows. That was our main thrust.”
In 1971, Larry auditioned for The Imperials, Elvis Presley’s backup group.
Larry didn’t get the job but he met singer/songwriter Dottie West who was the opening act for Jimmy Dean.
Dean would later become one of Larry’s oldest and dearest friends.
West was initially taken with Larry’s resemblance to Nashville songwriter Mickey Newbury.
“She said I looked like Mickey Newberry and I should be able to write a song. So I sent her a few songs and she sent me a plane ticket to Nashville,” Larry said.
Larry and his wife Janice soon moved to Tennessee.
Through West’s friendship, Larry met Kris Kristofferson, who championed his talents as a writer and singer.
Kristofferson’s introduction to Fred Foster at Monument Records resulted in a recording contract with the label and Larry’s first album, “The Pilgrim,” was released soon after.
In 1975, Steve and Rudy, who both went to Texas Tech University, joined up with Larry, moving to Nashville and it wasn’t long before they formed their band and the rest became history.
“We had a van and a trailer and it was very small,” Steve said. “It was the three of us. … In the early 80s, we did a tremendous amount of touring. We were out on the road and work 14 nights and then be off for two weeks and then be back.”
The brothers have performed all over the country, playing gigs at the White House, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Air Force One, Ford’s Theater, Camp David, President George H.W. Bush’s 80th birthday party, West Point, as well as Madison Square Garden, just to name a few.
They have been privileged to grace the stage with legendary entertainers such as Bob Hope, George Burns, Kenny Rogers, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Vince Gill, The Mandrells, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Gaither Vocal Band and many others.
While the Gatlins have appreciated all of their gigs, they all agreed that their personal favorite was appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson multiple times in the late 70s and 80s.
“The Tonight Show was probably the most incredible experience because back when we did it, it was the only entertainment show on television at 10:30 p.m.,” Rudy said. “When you went on and did Carson, you were the only music act on television. Think about it, there was CBS, ABC and NBC. Nobody competed with Carson at 10:30 p.m. That’s when we did it. They were like, ‘good luck, there’s going to be four million people watching you guys’ right before they pulled the curtain. That’ll get your attention.”
Larry has been the songwriter of the group and as a solo writer, he ranks fourth on Billboard’s Top 40 self-penned hits and was recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In addition, he wrote and produced the musical “Quanah” which was performed in April 2017.
Larry owes his talent as a songwriter to his English teachers back at Odessa High.
The influence for the song “All the Gold in California” came from an extra-credit assignment from his high school English class in which he did a report on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
“I got an A, obviously,” Larry said. “That was in 1965. Thirteen years later, in 1978, I was stopped at a red light in a traffic jam in front of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Right in front of me is a Mercury station wagon with an Oklahoma license plate. I said to myself, ‘these poor Okies out here remind me of the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath. They’re going to find out really quick that all the gold in California is in a bank in Beverly Hills with somebody else’s name.’”
Two hours later, after a meeting in Burbank, Larry had a song written.
“The upshot of the story is thank God for my English teachers and for Odessa High School,” Larry said. “We had great teachers because of the oil-based economy that we had. I had more great teachers in high school than I did in college. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the ability to write songs and I’m grateful for my brothers to help me put it out there.”
In 2020, The Gatlin Brothers celebrated their 65th anniversary in the music industry.
They did not think they would make it this long performing.
“A lot of people didn’t think I would live that long,” Larry said. “I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been in great health. My wife and I go to rowing classes for 45 minutes every day. I’m in good shape. I can hit a golf ball as far as I ever could and I can hit it pretty far. I tell people I can do more work on less sleep than any human being. I’m grateful for good health.”
Rudy echoed those thoughts.
“From the get-go, we just wanted to sing and perform,” Rudy said. “We’ve been asked this a lot of times, ‘how much longer are you guys going to do this?’ Or ‘when are you going to retire?’ and you’re not going to run us off that easily. We’ve said we’re going to do this physically until we can’t do it anymore. We’ve had a few throat surgeries. But we’re in pretty good shape. It’s amazing what we can still do at our ages.”
Steve described their careers as a calling.
“I think God has blessed us with three great voices,” Steve said. “People enjoy listening to us. They enjoy hearing our music.”
If you go
- What: An Evening with the Gatlin Brothers.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20.
- Where: Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.
- Tickets: Reserved tickets $40-$70 (plus fees).