Proud UH Alum Larry Gatlin: If You Don't Like His Songs, "I Still Wrote Them"

Rocks Off reached native West Texan and proud UH alumnus Larry Gatlin, of 97.1 Country Legends mainstays Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers Band, first by phone at his hotel in Colorado, then again by phone the next day in San Antonio. Gatlin plays the Dosey Doe's "Big Barn" in The Woodlands Sunday evening.

Rocks Off: I saw that you played football at UH. Do you still follow UH Football? Any thoughts on how what it'll take to get them back to where they were with Case Keenum and Coach Sumlin?

Larry Gatlin: Football is very cyclical. For ten years Notre Dame couldn't beat anybody. [In] three or four different coaches... UH will be fine. Keenums and Sumlins don't come along every day. Coach Levine will do a great job. The Cougars will be back!

RO: Besides getting bigger, how has Houston changed since you were at UH?

LG: It's a world-class city now. It's one of the most important cities in the world because of the petrochemical industry, oil, MD Anderson, University of Houston, great symphony, great opera. It is much larger. What is it, the fourth- or fifth-biggest city in America?

RO: Yes. Who are your favorite artists from Houston?

LG: ZZ Top, of course. Lyle Lovett is great. Lyle is a great writer, a great artist and a really nice man. He was inducted into the Texas Songwriter's Hall of Fame. I got to be there for that, and I really enjoyed it.

I just read that you had 5 No. 1 singles and 33 Top 40 hits(!!). How has the music business changed?

Yeah, we actually had 8 No. 1 singles. Whoever wrote that (online) is not right. If you had a No. 1 single in either Billboard, Cashbox, or Record World, it was considered a No. 1 record.

What happened was sometimes it would go to No. 1 on Billboard, but it wouldn't on Cashbox or the other one. But we've had a very good run. We had 8 No. 1s and 33 Top 40s. My old assistant, years ago found something on the Internet that said we had the most Top 40 country hits written by one guy.

That's me. I tell people, if you like them, I wrote them. If you don't like them, I still wrote them.

What has gone wrong with country radio?

LG: There's nothing wrong with country radio. Why would there be something wrong with it? Why don't these kids have the right to do the music the way they feel it? That's how Ernest Tubb did it. That's how Roy Acuff did it. That's how Marty Robbins did it. They weren't all the same.

The Statler Brothers weren't the same as the Carter Family. All these people say "This ain't country music anymore." Well, it is country music. Leave them alone. You know? Does anybody want to have a root canal or open-heart surgery or anything else done like they did it 50 years ago? I don't think so... it's different.

But for anybody to summarily dismiss these people out of hand as there being something wrong with country music is crazy. Cheer for them. Root for them. Why should we be naysayers?

Our editor at the Houston Press is a big fan of Little Big Town.

They're great. They're great, I'm in their video. You know the "Pontoon" video? I'm the guy sitting there in the wife-beater T-shirt, with goggles on, smoking a cigar. I think I'm the reason why the video went No. 1. [Larry Gatlin is our new favorite country artist of all time... ed.]

I saw in your bio that Dottie West discovered you. Did Ms. West think you looked like Mickey Newbury or that you were Mickey Newbury? I'd love to hear that story.

Dottie said, "Larry Gatlin, you look so much like Mickey Newbury, you have to be able to write songs." She was right, I can write songs. Of course, anyone can write a song; not everyone can craft one.

I'm very grateful to Dottie, Mickey, Johnny, Kris, Willie, Roger, and many others for teaching me the art of crafting a song. Don't mean to sound mean, but I do know the difference.

So you're playing Dosey Doe in the Woodlands this Sunday, and I heard you'll appear with Ray Price this Tuesday in Conroe. How do you know Ray Price?

The first time I saw Mr. Price was when I was 16. I had stopped at a gas station on my way home from work at a refinery in Odessa. As I was paying the $3 it took to fill my baby blue Morris Minor convertible, a long black limo pulled into the station to get gas.

When the back door opened, I saw the most elegant, handsome, classy-looking dude I had ever seen climb out of the limo. It was Mr. Ray Price. At 80-plus years old (today), Mr. Price still looks like a movie star. He still sounds like Mr. Ray Price, which means he still sings great. And he is far and away the classiest dude, and one of the nicest gentleman in country music history. [Watch for an interview with Price Monday -- ed.]

We don't really know each other very well, but I have nothing but respect for him. One of the great honors of my life was for Mr. Price to record my song, "Help Me." I don't think I'm singing on his show next week in Conroe. I'm really going to be there to listen to the master, but if Mr. Price says, "Gatlin, get up here and sing," I will sing.

If he says, "Gatlin, sweep up after the show, turn off the lights and lock up," that's what I will do.

Larry Gatlin plays 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Dosey Doe, 25911 I-45 N., The Woodlands, www.doseydoe.com.

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