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Larry Gatlin: From Rock Bottom to the Top

By Jay Edgerton with Scott Ross
The 700 Club

CBN.comIn the 1970s and '80s, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were one of the hottest acts in country music. The Texas natives took Nashville by storm and landed 33 Top 40 singles. Some of the band’s biggest hits include Grammy-winner “Broken Lady”, “All the Gold in California” and “Houston”, just to name a few.  Now after nearly two decades, Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers return with their new album The Pilgrimage, which includes an unusual tribute song to Johnny Cash. I recently talked with Larry about his faith, his new project, and his missteps along the path of stardom.

Scott Ross: You started way back when you and your brothers were kids?

Larry Gatlin: Little boys.

Ross: Country music, gospel music?

Gatlin: No, gospel music. I was six and a half, almost seven. Steve was four and Rudy was two. We won a little talent contest in Abilene, Texas, singing gospel music, and we were big fans of the Blackwood Brothers, the Statemen's Quartet, the Spear Family and people like that. J.D. Sumner, all those guys. So we loved gospel music. We learned to sing in the church. Up until the time all this Nashville thing happened back in '71, '72 when I met Dottie West, all I had ever wanted to be was a gospel singer.

Ross: Dottie West opened the door for you in many many ways, didn't she? What was your first big hit?

Gatlin: Dottie loved songs. One night I drove into Dottie's house about 7:30 at night, and Kris Kristopherson was asleep on the couch. Roger Miller was asleep on the floor, and Willie was scrambling eggs in the kitchen. That's where the songwriters in Nashville used to hang out was at Dottie's place

Ross: What song broke it open for you?

Gatlin:  “Sweet Becky Walker” was the first top 20 record we had. The first real giant hit was “Broken Lady” in 1975, won a Grammy for that [in] '75, '76. We've had a great life. I'm grateful for it. I never planned it that way, but like I say it was a bigger plan than mine. God laughs at men’s plans.

Ross: Your success eventually overtook you, didn't it?

Gatlin: I was 22, 23 years old, started making some money. We had a lot of time on our hands, the kind of money that a driller's kid from West Texas would never have dreamed of. My end was taking lint out of the carpet thinking it was cocaine, snorting lint. That's my low. I wasn't exactly eating the husk of corn that the pigs wouldn't eat, but that's pretty good bottom. I crawled in the bathroom, looked in the mirror and saw the devil. It was me. I don't know whether he has horns, a pitch fork and a red suit, but I saw an image in the mirror that I did not recognize. Appropriately enough, I crawled in there on my hands and knees, and I said, “God, if You don't help me, I'm going to die.”

Ross: Do you see where you veered off the road? Did you know God had been a part of your life early on?

Gatlin: He was always a part of my life. I became a Christian when I was a little six-year-old boy. We've got to remember the Book says the devil "walketh about the earth to and fro seeking who he may devour", and he nearly got me and he had me for a while. It didn't mean that I was no longer a Christian or that God had disowned me. See, the biggest mistake I ever made was snorting cocaine. The second biggest mistake was I didn't realize that show business was two words. I took care of the show, I didn't take very good care of the business.

Now after nearly two decades, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers return to Nashville to produce their new album, The Pilgrimmage. And on the project Larry wrote a tribute song to Johnny Cash.

Ross: "Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down?"

Gatlin: It’s true, and do you have a problem with that?

Ross: Well, with Johnny Cash being dead, I do.

Gatlin: You've got to realize the world will never be the same. Nashville will never be the same. Country music will never be the same. After all, Johnny Cash is dead and his house burned down.

Ross: How do you keep balance now and the perspective and the journey you've been on between the spiritual Gatlin and the man that's in this business, the husband, the father?

Gatlin: They can't be different men. They have to be the same man. They have to be the spiritual man. It has to come from that. Thank God I have the things that my mother and father taught me, the things that I’ve learned from pastors and spiritual teachers and the books that I read. Without fail, the days that I start off the right way with a little devotional time and putting God first. Those days are really good days. I’ve been successful, and I’m grateful for that. I want to make a difference. I decided that I'm not going to pound my fist anymore at those folks and at laws that I can't change. I'm going to try to take a loving look at the situation and do what God gave me the ability to do, and He'll bless it.

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