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GATLIN BROTHERS. The Gatlin Brothers—Larry Wayne (born May 2, 1948, in Seminole, Texas), Steven Daryl (born April 4, 1951, Olney, Texas), and Rudy Michael (born August 20, 1952, Olney Texas)—were raised in a musical family, sons of Curley and Billie (Doan) Gatlin. Their father played guitar, and their mother played piano. The gospel harmony singing of the Blackwoods and the Statesmen Quartet were early major influences on the brothers’ singing style.
The Gatlin Brothers made their public debut in the 1955 Cavalcade of Talent at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene when Larry was six, Steve was four, and Rudy was two. They also appeared on the Slim Willet Show on KRBC-TV in Abilene. They often sang in their local church, performed on local radio and television shows, and recorded an album for the gospel label, Sword and Shield. Later the Gatlin trio became a quartet with the addition of their sister, La Donna Gayle Gatlin (born in Abilene, Texas, August 18, 1954).
Larry Gatlin briefly joined the gospel group the Imperials and performed with them in Las Vegas. A fortuitous meeting with Dottie West in Las Vegas set him on his successful solo career as a Nashville recording artist and songwriter. With West’s help and that of Kris Kristofferson, Gatlin secured a contract with Monument Records by 1973. He had his siblings sing backup on his first two albums, The Pilgrim (1974) quickly followed by Rain Rainbow (1974). While Larry worked as a solo artist, his brothers earned degrees at Texas Tech University and pursued their own musical path. With their sister La Donna and her husband, Tim Johnson, they formed Young Country, working with Tammy Wynette and providing background vocals.
Steve, Rudy, and La Donna, made their first appearance on a Larry Gatlin album, Larry Gatlin with Family & Friends, in 1976. Subsequently, they won a Grammy for Best Country Song for “Broken Lady.” All three brothers were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1976. At this point La Donna left the music world and eventually became a Dallas-based motivational speaker.
Larry Gatlin gained another Number 1 hit with "I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love” in 1977. Rudy and Steve were featured on some of Larry's other hits during the late 1970s, notably "I Don't Wanna Cry," "Love Is Just a Game," and "Statues Without Hearts." He continued his successful career until 1978, when he released his last solo album, Oh Brother, which featured the Top 10 hits "I've Done Enough Dyin' Today" and "Night Time Magic."
Larry Gatlin decided to designate his brothers officially part of his band. In 1979 Larry signed with Columbia Records, and his brothers were billed on his singles and on his albums. From then on, they were known variously as Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers, with Larry and Rudy on guitar and Steve on bass.
They recorded an album that same year, Straight Ahead, which went gold. From this collection came the classic single "All the Gold in California," which became their biggest hit as a trio, making the Number 1 spot on the country music charts. Larry Gatlin was awarded Top Male Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music that year. Straight Ahead won Album of the Year, and "All the Gold in California" won Single of the Year.
The group's next big hit, "Take Me to Your Lovin' Place,” peaked at Number 5 in 1980; they followed up with "What Are We Doin' Lonesome," which went to Number 4 in the country charts. They continued getting hits with songs such as "In Like With Each Other" (1981), "She Used to Sing on Sunday" (1981), "Sure Feels Like Love" (1982), "Almost Called Her Baby By Mistake" (1982), and "Denver" (1983). Their successful Houston to Denver album generated another Number 1 hit, "Houston (Means That I'm One Day Closer to You)," in 1983. Their song "She Used to Be Somebody's Baby" went to Number 2 in 1986, and "Talkin' to the Moon" (1987) and "Love of a Lifetime" (1988) both made it to Number 4 on the country charts.
The Gatlin Brothers were also one of the first country groups to make a music video with "The Lady Takes the Cowboy Everytime." Released in June 1984, it was the third single from their album Houston to Denver. The song reached Number 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in October 1984.
In 1989 the Gatlins moved from Columbia Records to Jimmy Bowen’s Universal Records and then followed him to Capitol Records when Bowen took over that company’s country label, Liberty. During their career, the Gatlin Brothers scored more than a dozen Top 40 hits. In 1992 the brothers made the decision to stop touring, and they ended their run with "The Adios Tour," along with an accompanying album release of Adios. However, in the ensuing years, they came out of retirement to play select concert dates and to pursue other entertainment opportunities. In 1994 Gatlin and his brothers opened a 2,000-seat theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Larry Gatlin starred in the Broadway production of The Will Rogers Follies in 1995 and played himself in the television movie about Dottie West's life, Big Dreams & Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story. In 1999 Larry entertained troops of the First Cavalry Division in Bosnia.
During the course of their careers the Gatlin Brothers made numerous television appearances, including their own variety special on ABC in 1981—“Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers.” They performed at the inaugurations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. In 2006 they were inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2009 the brothers released Pilgrimage on Curb Records. Its title was a reference to Larry Gatlin’s first album, The Pilgrim, released in 1974. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were honored with the 2011 Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music. They are also on the West Texas Music Honor Roll in the West Texas Music Hall of Fame.
In the 2010s Larry Gatlin contributed to FOX News and FOX Business Network as a political and social commentator. In the summer of 2010, he was a substitute host for Don Imus on the Imus in the Morning radio show. In 2015 he was in his second year as host of a radio show, The Gospel According to Gatlin, on WSM-AM in Nashville. As of 2015 Larry Gatlin lived in Nashville with his wife Janis. They had two children—Josh (also Larry’s manager) and Kristin.
Steve Gatlin continued on in the music business and produced three major production shows and recorded CD's of big band swing and gospel music. He also produced a children's CD. He was a motivational speaker at churches and at various events and shared his life experiences, focusing on his recovery from clinical depression. Steve and his wife Cynthia resided in Brentwood, Tennessee, and had three daughters—Ashley, Allison, and Aubrie.
Rudy Gatlin was involved with charity golf events throughout the country and also spoke at corporate events and to associations and civic organizations to share his personal experiences as an entertainer. He lived in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Kimberley. They had two children—Austin and Lauren.
In early 2015 the Gatlin Brothers announced the launch of a new tour—the 60th Anniversary Celebration.
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed June 28, 2011. Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Larry Gatlin with Jeff Lenburg, All the Gold in California and Other People, Places, & Things (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998). Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (http://gatlinbrothers.musiccitynetworks.com), accessed November 2, 2015.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Tony Wilson, "GATLIN BROTHERS," accessed January 23, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xgg02.
Uploaded on June 30, 2014. Modified on November 2, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.