Saturday, January 2, 2010
I recently scored a stack of 10 stone mint Conway Twitty 45s at a used record store and while listening to them I got to thinking about this underrated country singer/songwriter who’s gigantically successful career boasts over 50 #1 country hits. That’s amazing. Yet he’s often overlooked maybe because of his slick "country soul" period of the 80's when he covered "The Rose" and "Slow Hand" while simultaneously introducing the ‘perm’ to country music. Or maybe it's just because he has a goofy name.
All the country music “purists” always talk about Hank Williams, George Jones and Merle Haggard as they damn well should. But there seems to be a bit of prejudice toward the High Priest of Country Music, Harold Jenkins aka Conway Twitty.
I am a HUGE George Jones fan so I say with all respect to The Possum that Conway was more than just a singer. He was a songwriter as well as a top notch “entertainer.” I’m very fortunate to have seen Conway Twitty in concert with my parents a few times when I was a kid and even got a chance to meet him and get an autograph once. The packed house was on their feet the whole time and I could barely see anything. There were some screams from the ladies but while Conway sang everyone was LISTENING. He NEVER talked to the audience because he didn't have to. He sang hit after hit and when the band kicked off another intro to another #1 song there was immediate recognition and HUGE applause from the audience but the crowd noise died down just in time for the first verse. Conway was a SOUL SINGER.
“It’s Only Make Believe” is a rock & roll classic from 1958 which hit #1 on the Pop charts and made everyone take notice of this guy from Mississippi by way of Arkansas with a funny sounding name who kinda sounded like Elvis. By the mid-60's, he had switched to country music full-time, and in 1970 he had his fourth #1 Country hit called “Hello Darlin’” and it is one of the all-time classic country records. Those two songs alone (both of which were written solely by Conway) would make anyone an instant legend but Conway kept deliverin' the goods with producer Owen Bradley in Nashville until the end of 1977.
I know it’s hard to believe he was once a sex symbol, but many of Conway’s singles had suggestive themes aimed at a housewife audience who listened to country radio and they all went crazy for C.T.’s growl. “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” comes to mind as one of his racier tracks along with other eye opening titles like “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” “I’d Just Love To Lay You Down” (complete with reverse modulation choruses at the fade), “I’ve Already Loved You In My Mind,” “I See The Want To In Your Eyes” and others.
But one of his standouts is 1975’s “Linda On My Mind” in which a married man is lying in a bed next to his “soon-to-be the one I left behind” while he’s thinking about Linda, who also happens to be one of his wife’s good friends. Genius.
His honky-tonk and drinking songs are also too numerous to mention but “Fifteen Years Ago” could be my favorite. Conway sings of running into an old friend who brings up an old flame from 15 years prior and little does the friend know that he’s still being tortured by her memory after all this time.
I like his cover of the Bee Gees song “Rest Your Love On Me” and even when he tries to be the Barry White of country on “Don’t Take It Away.” And if “That’s My Job” doesn’t tear you up then you simply have no soul.
Extra props go to Tom Petty and Gram Parsons for covering Conway songs and also to Conway himself for getting out of this world before they could make him cover a Beck song or be produced by Jack White or Rick Rubin. You can keep your Ryan Adams and Rhett Millers. Now THERE are two cats who don’t have much going for them other than their hairstyles.
If someone mentions Conway Twitty to me in a conversation about music, I have nothing but respect for them and I instantly can trust their musical taste. We’re speaking the same language.
As a fitting tribute, here’s a rare Country Music Radio Show featuring an in-depth interview with Conway from 1980. Vollick, this one’s for you! Enjoy!