Thursday, October 25, 2012

Celebrity Encounters #1: Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers

Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers - circa 1970s
I was sharing some stories recently with my Lady about some of the crazy celebrity encounters I've had over the years, and thought it might make for a fun blog series.

Having spent many years of my youth, and some as an adult, growing up in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Hollywood area, I've often found myself in some interesting situations with the celebrity type; some more interesting than others. Some you may not know. Others you will instantly recognize. Either way, I hope you will find them equally entertaining.

I did a quick scan of my brain the other day -didn't take long - and I came up with a list of 20 or so people I've encountered over the years that I would say fit the celebrity status, or, at least, did at some point in their careers. I’m going to attempt to lay them out in chronological order, but to be honest that function of my brain is a bit faulty, so please bear with me.


In 1981, I was living in Vegas with my parents. We lived in a small studio apartment tucked behind Bonanza - The World’s Largest Gift Shop. If you've been to Las Vegas, then you've likely driven by it, shopped it, or if not, seen it in a plethora of TV shows and movies. If you have been there, you probably noted how run down the area is around and behind the shop. Well, not much has changed in the thirty-one years since I lived there.

I was in the 7th grade and attending my second year at Faith Lutheran. Faith Lutheran was, back then, a very small private school. When I say small, I mean less than 100 students across four grade levels (6th through 9th). When I started in 6th grade, we were located in a small office building of the 2nd Baptist Church with three classrooms. Each year they would add a grade, and when I graduated in 1987, our graduation class had only 23 or so students. Now Faith has grown, according to Wikipedia, into the largest Lutheran school in the United States and the largest private school in Nevada. Crazy.

Faith Lutheran Middle & High School now... just a tad larger campus than when I attended.

As I've mentioned a few times before, we were poor. Yet, my parents insisted that I get a good education, and thus sacrificed a lot to send me to Faith. Since Faith was obviously a Christian school, we obviously had a choir. A small choir, but a solid one, led at the time by Mrs. Walton. I joined, mostly because back then I was enthusiastic about my faith, but also because outside of soccer (which I also joined), choir was one of the few extracurricular activities our small school had to offer.

This will come to a shock to most people who know me, but I’m not a good singer. Never have been, unless I’m alone in the shower or when the radio is turned up really loud. Then I sound damn good. In 1981, my voice was going through some very awkward changes, along with other parts of my twelve year old adolescent body, which made for some interesting pitch swings in my voice. Luckily for me the only requirements for joining the Faith Lutheran Choir back then were to have a voice (any will do) and a pulse.

Check! Nailed it!

In the beginning we mostly sang during chapel service and the occasional choir concert. Then, as we improved, we started singing at malls and other public venues. My voice never really improved, for obvious reasons, but the rest of the group did. I don’t know how she did it, but Mrs. Walton really made us into a well-oiled singing troupe.

Then something magical happened.

I don’t know how, or who pulled the strings, but out of the blue one day Mrs. Walton told us that we would be singing on stage at the Sahara Hotel & Casino with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers for a Christmas concert special.

Sahara Hotel & Casino - How it looked in 1981 - Photo by UNLV Digital Collections
How it looks now. Sadly, this Vegas icon closed its doors in May of 2011.
Some of the biggest names in show business once graced its billboard.

Are you kidding me? Our tiny, no-name choir… on the Sahara stage... singing with Larry Gatlin? 

This was huge!

Some of you are staring blank-eyed at the screen right now - minds blown. Others are staring blank-eyed at the screen right now with giant question marks hovering over your heads. You see, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were kings of the radio. Particularly, the country radio stations. They had quite a few hit singles, but the one they were most famous for was, “All the Gold in California.” And I knew all of the words.


This was (wasn’t) the big break I needed to launch my singing career (no chance in hell). Hell, even I could sound good singing next to Larry Gatlin. Whoever heard of a three person band anyway? What they really needed was me to complete them. You know… make them into a quartet. Everyone knows that a quartet is how you really become famous. Just look at KISS, the Beatles, the Oakridge Boys, the Spice Girls, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and the Four Lads…

Istanbul by The Four Lads

Know what they all have in common? Aside from fame, fortune, and class, they all have four members in their band. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were soon to be Larry Gatlin, the Gatlin Brothers, and the Kid with a squirrely voice.

What? A kid can dream…

The night finally arrived. We were all dressed in our best outfits and matching choir accents. I remember them huddling us backstage upon our arrival, as I nervously anticipated meeting Larry Gatlin and his brothers. We never saw them.

Then they ushered us on stage for rehearsals before the big event. I kept waiting for Larry and the boys to come out and sing with us, but they never did. My heart was crushed.

At some point I needed to go to the bathroom, so I made my way backstage and started walking down this long, well-lit hallway. Although my mood was a tad tempered by disappointment, I was still a bit overwhelmed and excited by the whole experience. I had never been on stage before, aside from when I played The Spider in a kindergarten play “Little Miss Muffet” (a story for another time), let alone being involved with something so spectacular.

Larry Gatlin by Gerry Weintz
As I walked the lonely, quiet hall, I looked up from my reverie to see Larry Gatlin walking out of a room… and headed straight toward me. It was just me and him. There was a good thirty to forty feet separating us, which lent plenty of time for my nerves to accelerate towards DEFCON 5. Time slowed to a dead crawl as my little heart thumped against my chest and my mind frantically raced towards a decision on what I was going to do.

Do I just walk by and pretend like I don’t know him? Do I wave hello? Do I ask for his autograph? Was this a good time to broach the topic of a quartet?

All of these things bounced undeterred through my brain as he approached. Then he smiled at me, and before I knew it he had knelt down, shook my hand, exchanged a pleasant conversation with me, and was on his way.

It all happened so quickly. After my encounter I remember thinking 1) he smelled good 2) his hand was cold and clammy, and 3) I couldn't wait to tell my parents what had happened.


The rest of the evening was a total blur. I remember we sang a few songs on stage by ourselves. I remember the lights and the cameras. I remember there being hundreds of people in the audience, and wishing my parents were among them to see me. And, I remember in the closing ceremonies of the concert being on stage with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, singing right along with them.

"All the Gold in California" by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers

For the closer we sang, “All the Gold in California.” Other than Larry and the boys, I think I was the only person on stage that knew all the words. I sang my heart out. In my mind, it was just me and the Gatlin Brothers - on stage in Vegas - at the Sahara Hotel & Casino – singing to our adoring fans – and my voice was pitch perfect.

Sometimes dreams do come true.

So whatever happened to Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers? Well, we never did form that quartet. Sad really, because after that fateful 1981 December night, they sort of disappeared into obscurity. I think they, along with me, peaked that night and never really amounted to anything...

Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers - ACM Honors

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What celebrities have you met? Any interesting stories to share?

Celebrity Encounters #2: Stallone, Nielsen, and Zsa Zsa Gabor

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 
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