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A wealth of talent

Between the two of them they have collected enough gold and platinum to fill Fort Knox. Yet, for Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle, country music has given them so much more than economic wealth.

"I've always thought that my music was the perfect outlet for my spirit," says Gayle. "I enjoy being around people."

Rabbitt echoes that sentiment. "I got into this business because you can get gratification from it the moment you set foot onstage."

For much of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rabbitt and Gayle ruled the country airwaves with a cleverly conceived blend of soft rock and country sounds.

They were considered "crossover" artists, a disparaging word coined by Nashville purists for artists receiving radio airplay on several different formats.

"Nashville was a little uptight back then, a little too protective of its image," says Gayle. "Even Garth Brooks would have gotten a hard time."

But Gayle and Rabbitt were tapping into an audience that wasn't quite ready for weeping steel guitars and cry-in-your-beer lyrics.

Their biggest hits, Rabbitt's I Love A Rainy Night and Gayle's Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, were sappy, low-keyed songs with just a hint of twang.

"I never really had any trouble selling my music to country audiences," says Rabbitt. "They appreciate honest lyrics and straightforward melodies, and that's what I do."

Both singers have strong family foundations in music, yet quite dissimilar backgrounds. Yet, it's amazing how closely their careers parallel each other.

The New Jersey-born Rabbitt is the son of an Irish immigrant father who played fiddle and accordion, "just a jump away from bluegrass" recalls the younger Rabbitt.

Eddie learned to play guitar from a teenage friend, and before long was playing clubs around his home town. A bus ride to Nashville in 1968 deposited him at Hill and Range Publishing, where he spent the next few years as a staff songwriter.

Rabbitt's successes came quickly. His first hit was for Elvis Presley in 1970, Kentucky Rain, followed by Patch It Up. His own first charted single came in 1974 with Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind).

Crystal Gayle grew up the younger sister of country star Loretta Lynn. Admittedly, country was big in her house, yet her own personal tastes ran beyond the mountain-tempered sounds that filled the radios and jukeboxes of rural Kentucky.

"I probably heard every Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline record ever made at least a hundred times while I was growing up," says Gayle. "But I also like the Beatles and Elvis, and Peter Paul and Mary, but Loretta was never really exposed to that music."

Gayle worked with her sister while still in high school. Her first release was I've Cried (The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes), and she got her first Top-10 hit in 1974 with Wrong Road Again.

One could scarcely turn on the radio for the next 10 years without hearing a top-selling single by Gayle or Rabbitt.

For him it was tunes like Drivin' My Life Away, Suspicions and I Just Want To Love You. For her it was I'll Get Over You, The Woman In Me and Till I Gain Control Again. They scored a double bull's-eye in 1982 with the duet You And I.

But as country music ushered in a youth movement in the mid-1980s, Rabbitt and Gayle faded from the scene. But they never strayed far from the hearts of their fans.

"I think we represent some stability in the industry," says Gayle. "I listen to many of the new artists, and though I love a lot of them, you have to wonder where some of them will be in 15 or 20 years."

Both Rabbitt and Gayle have projects in the works that have been long-planned. For Crystal Gayle, it is a gospel album. For Eddie Rabbitt, it's a children's record, and the possibility of a related TV program.

"Your perspective on things changes with time," says Gayle. "It used to be scary to think about not being on the road touring two hundred days a year. I would have just the opposite reaction now."

AT A GLANCE

Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23.50 and $27.50. For information call 791-7400

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