October 03, 2003 03:00 PM

“I have put a lot of miles on this body,” sighs Crystal Gayle. “People look at me (onstage) and say, ‘Oh, that seems like so much fun,’ but traveling on buses and planes, that’s not easy.”

Though the country tunes she crooned in the ’70s – particularly the Grammy-winning “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” – made her a national star in 1977, these days, Nashville-based Gayle, 52, has taken her act uptown with All My Tomorrows, a collection of Tin Pan Alley standards. On Oct. 21 she will launch Tomorrows with a five-night stand at Feinstein’s, a Manhattan supper club that’s light years from the Grand Ole Opry. “I always thought that if I lived in another time, I (would be) singing those songs in the ’30s and ’40s,” she muses.

Raised in Wabash, Ind., Brenda Gail Webb was the youngest of eight children. She learned about the music business from her older sister, Loretta Lynn, who helped get her signed to Decca Records at age 19. “I had a good teacher in my sister,” Gayle says. “When I started recording, she said, ‘Don’t record anything that sounds like me, because we already have one Loretta Lynn and we don’t need another one!'”

Taking that advice, the singer with the Rapunzel-like tresses opted for a smooth sound that yielded 34 Top 10 country hits from 1974 to 1987 and twice earned her Country Music Association Awards for female vocalist of the year (in 1977 and 1978).

Her lush pop style helped make the leap to singing standards a short one. In 1999 she released Crystal Gayle Sings the Heart & Soul of Hoagy Carmichael, and a year later issued In My Arms, a sophisticated collection of children’s music.

She also flexed her entrepreneurial muscles with Crystal’s, her Nashville store that sells gifts and – what else? – crystal. And though she says, “this year I have taken some time off for myself and my family,” which includes husband-manager Bill Gatzimos, 51, and children Catherine, 19, a New York University student, and Chris, 17, a high school senior, Gayle is far from retired.

Gayle recently released “You Don’t Even Know My Name,” a tribute to America’s military heroes, and is preparing a series of upcoming East Coast Christmas shows as well as an acoustic album about her Native American heritage (she’s one-quarter Cherokee).

“At this time in my career,” Gayle explains, “I can do those projects that you can’t do when you’re a new artist, and you’re worrying about having hits.”

– BOB CANNON

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