Nashville star Larry Gatlin bound for Irish Country Music Awards in Armagh
Ahead of his appearance at this month's Irish Country Music Awards, Jenny Lee chats to Nashville veteran Larry Gatlin about inspiring Kris Kristofferson, his love of Irish literature and his advice for young songwriters
HE HAS written songs for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Barbara Streisand and Tom Jones but Nashville Hall of Fame legend Larry Gatlin credits some of Irish literature greats as being the secret of his success.
Grammy-winner Gatlin, who also won acclaim for his singing, both solo and with his brothers, has throughout his career been insistent about writing his own music and not doing covers.
"I've never had writers block in my life. I believe that God has put in me a good ear for the melodies and the main thing I tell young songwriters is that if you want to write, you need to read. I've read Ulysees, The Dubliners, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw," says the 68-year-old, who majored in literature at college.
"I've had great teachers and when I came to Nashville I was thrown into the presence of greats such as Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Willie Nelson – some of the greatest songwriters in the history of the world. I'm a very blessed creature.”
Although he began performing in Abilene, Texas in 1955 at the age of six, alongside his brothers Steve and Rudy, Gatlin's big break came through an audition for Elvis Presley's Imperials and a spiritual awakening for Kris Kristofferson, as he explains.
"The Imperials, Elvis Presley and Jimmy Dean's back-up group needed a permanent baritone singer and I went to audition for the group. I didn't get the job, but country queen Dottie West brought me to Nashville, where I started writing.
“I sang my song Help Me one morning in a church service, in which Kris Kristofferson was present. He's been very open in talking about the impact the song had on him and on his way home from church he wrote Why Me Lord. He came over to my house that evening and taught me the harmony and we sang it on The Grand Ole Opry that Friday night".
The song Help Me went on to be recorded by Elvis, who also sang another Gatlin song – Better They Are Harder They Fall. This is one of a number of songs that current Irish country music star Jimmy Buckley has recorded. Most recently Buckley contacted Gatlin about going back on his Grammy-winning Broken Lady, which he first penned in 1976, and writing additional lyrics.
"I've had people ask to put different lyrics to my songs and I don't let them do that. But I was very glad to add to it. I wrote it in about 30 minutes and sang it into my cell phone and sent it to Jimmy."
Gatlin has also enjoyed conversations with Irish country star Nathan Carter and is looking forward to catching up with them and others in person as he makes a guest appearance at this year's Irish TV Country Music Awards in Armagh later this month.
"To continue my Irish literature journey to Armagh city and to see and play with all those wonderful Irish musicians is just the thrill of my life," says Gatlin who plans to sing I've Done Enough Dying, Broken Lady and The Heart.
And his advice to our young country stars? "Give yourself a certain amount of time and do the music for one reason only – because you love to sing and play the music. Then after your set period if you haven't made it, you have loved the experience and it's not been a waste of time."
Also jetting in from Tennesee to perform at the awards is Nashville superstar in the making Mo Pitney, who will perform alongside a host of Irish country stars including Philomena Begley, Lee Matthews, Johnny Brady and Mary Duff.
:: The Irish TV Country Music Awards are on Thursday May 19 at the Armagh City Hotel. For tickets telephone 028 3751 8888. The event will be broadcast live on Irish TV from 8pm. Fans can vote for their favourite acts online at www.irishtv.ie vote until May 13.