SHIPPENSBURG - You could say that Larry, Rudy and Steve Gatlin cut their teeth on gospel music. The brothers began singing in their hometown of Abilene, Texas, entertaining church audiences. By the age of 2, 4 and 6, they were endearing listeners on both radio and television.
In a recent telephone interview, Larry said, “My folks took us to those old-fashioned, Southern-style quartet concerts and it was love at first sound.” From that moment on, he knew he wanted to be a singer for the rest of his life.
After high school, Larry attended the University of Houston on a football scholarship, majoring in English. His self-described “love affair” with the English language enabled him to pen songs that touched the hearts of many throughout the years. Luminaries like Johnny Cash, Tom Jones and even Elvis Presley were eager to entertain their audiences with his prolific prose.
In 1972, Larry combined his songwriting ability with his vocal talent to land a deal with Monument Records and invited his brothers to sing backup on his first two albums, The Pilgrim" and "Rain’s Rainbow." The song "Broken Lady," on "The Pilgrim" shot to Number 1 and earned him a Grammy in 1976, the same year that all three brothers were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Fast forward decades later and the brothers are still in tune with what delights crowds. “I’d say we offer up a good time musically, but we also like to touch their funny bone and their hearts and make them think a little bit,” said Rudy.
The group will be bringing their blend of neo-traditional country and gospel to Shippensburg’s H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. April 21 as part of their “Never Ending Reunion Tour.” The group will be singing both old hits and newer songs from their most recent album, “The Gospel According to Gatlin,” which includes a patriotic punch at Isis titled "An American with a Remington."
“We think that’s pretty much gospel too,” quips Rudy, adding, “People think that this country is being torn apart. We certainly have our own take on things. I embrace the controversy because it shows what we’re made of and in the end, we’ll get it all worked out.”
Craig Nye of Mechanicsburg said he enjoyed a Gatlin Brothers concert when they took the stage in Lancaster two years ago. His favorite Gatlin Brothers’ song is "I Don’t Wanna Cry." “My favorite line from that song is ‘So lay back down and love me and leave the leavin’ ‘til later on,’" Nye said, adding that he enjoyed it when the brothers walked back and forth across the stage prior to the beginning of the concert. “They posed so everyone could have their photo ops,” he said with a chuckle.
Sue Outlaw from Champaign, Illinois, said she recently saw the Gatlin Brothers at the famous Ryman Theatre in Nashville on March 24. “Larry Gatlin was the host of the Opry Country Classics Show and was full of energy, jokes, and talent! He talked to and engaged the audience and then they played some of their great hits like 'Houston' and 'All the Gold in California.' Their music is just a lot of fun and we really enjoyed it,” she said.
Rudy said the audience will also learn some of the stories behind the songs when they perform at the Luhrs Center. “When they leave, we hope they’ll feel uplifted. We think they’ll believe they’ve spent their entertainment dollar wisely,” he said.
When you go:
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers
8 p.m. Thursday, April 21
H. Ric Luhrs Perfoming Arts Center at Shippensburg University
475 Lancaster Drive, Shippensburg
$42, $37 and $29; call 717-477-7469 or visit Luhrscenter.com