Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty Biography


When Conway Twitty died unexpectedly from an abdominal aneurysm just short of his 60th birthday in 1993, many of the testimonials and eulogies that followed noted that in country music circles he'd long been reverently known as "The best friend a song ever had." In part, it was a nod towards the deep-voiced singer's uncanny ability to reach, and then convey, the emotions at the heart of any composition, be it his own or another songwriter's. But it was also a nod to some stunning commercial facts: at the time of his passing, Twitty had racked up a remarkable forty #1 Country hits-a total that, over a decade later, was still standing as the all-time record. It's a daunting legacy, and an instructive one-testament to one artist's hard-fought belief in, and understanding of, himself, his music and his audience.

Born in Friars Point, Mississippi and raised there and in Helena, Arkansas as Harold Jenkins (his stage name was appropriated from the towns of Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas), Conway Twitty had spent nearly ten years on the roller coaster ride of fame and fortune as a rock and roll and pop singer when, with his career appearing well on the down side of standstill, he was signed by producer Owen Bradley to the Nashville-based country division of Decca Records in 1965. Emerging from the Army after serving his country during the Korean War, Twitty had made his recording debut like many a southern singer in the mid-1950s-as a ducktail-coiffed, hip-shaking rockabilly cat inspired by and modelled after Elvis Presley. And, befitting a background in which popularity had come relatively easily-as a teen, he performed on local radio, and was enough of a standout high school athlete to be scouted by the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team-Twitty's notion of what it would take to be a star in the music business was as boldly brash as it was blissfully innocent.

"I thought I'd be as big as Elvis in two or three weeks," he confessed years later. "I thought that was all it took-put a record out." As it turned out, after one false start (some 1956 recordings for Presley's alma mater, Sun, which went unreleased), and one fitful start (a few little heard 1957 singles for Mercury), Twitty joined MGM Records in 1958 and did become as big as Elvis-if only for two to three weeks. His feverish, Presley-channeling original "It's Only Make Believe" became a #1 pop hit that fall, and for a brief spell it made him something of a household name: he registered a handful of follow-up pop hits, appeared in several MGM-produced teen exploitation films, and it was his stage moniker that was parodied for the Elvis-like title character Conrad Birdie in the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie.

By 1965, though, artists of Twitty's generation and background had all but disappeared from the pop charts. Let go by MGM, Twitty recorded a few unsuccessful singles for ABC before the aforementioned Bradley decided to take a chance on the faded rockabilly star-and primarly on the strength of the fact that Ray Price had recently scored a Top 10 country hit with a tune Twitty had written called "Walk Me To The Door." Success was not immediate: it took until 1968-just about a full ten years after "It's Only Make Believe"-for Conway Twitty to again claim a #1 slot on a music chart. But once he landed on the top branch of the country tree for the first time with the plaintive "Next In Line" (featuring one of the all-time great barroom-themed opening lines: "See her there at the table/Watch her tear at the label/From the bottle that she just drank dry"), Twitty stayed just about glued to that lofty perch, as he went on to become one of the genre's most popular and beloved performers for the remainder of his life. His influence cannot be underestimated, either: While he started out, as many an Elvis follower, by moving from the country music he grew up with to the blues-infused rockabilly pioneered by Presley in Memphis, Twitty's triumphant return to country made him, in turn, a pioneer to a significant number of aging rockabilly-ers-Elvis included-who were able to resurrect their careers as country artists.

His secret? Well, listening to all the classics found here, one is continually struck by Twitty's complete mastery of the mid-tempo country ballad, and the way in which he could immerse his simmering vocal style in the lyrics and feelings of his material. This is particularly true of his signature-like confessionals, such as the decade-bookending weepers, 1970's "Hello Darlin'" and '79's "Don't Take It Away," as well as his many If-Loving-You-Is Wrong-I-Don't-Want-Be-Right, including "Linda On My Mind" (1975), "I'd Love To Lay You Down" (1980), and, most notably, 1973's "You've Never Been This Far Before"-a song that was actually banned by some nervous radio programmers for the line "My fingers touch forbidden places."

Then there were Twitty's numerous hit duets with Loretta Lynn, which likewise detailed the emotional and moral conflicts of people caught between societal responsibilities and uncontrollable passions. No matter which side of the loveless marriages Twitty or Lynn's characters are on-the lonely souls groping for comfort in "After The Fire Is Gone," or the guilt-ridden cheater, one coming, one going, in "Lead Me On" and "Soon As I Hang Up The Phone," respectively-these songs hit home in their unadorned exposing of the powerful needs, and the often destructive frailties, of the human heart.

Of course, as evidenced by another huge duet with Lynn, 1973's rollicking "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," not every Conway Twitty hit was necessarily heart-heavy. In the 1980s, Twitty let his hair down-both literally and musically. He replaced his once image and age-defining pompadour with a softer and more youthful looking perm job, and recorded some friskier songs to match: 1981's dance floor fantasy hit, "Tight Fittin' Jeans"; '82's boogie-ing "Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night"; and that same year 's satin-sheet-smooth re-make of the Pointer Sisters' "Slow Hand," one of a number of interesting covers by Twitty of non-country- origined material.

By the mid-1980s, Conway Twitty had evolved into a true elder statesman of country music, and as his burnished vocals on such stylistically varied fare as '84's wistful "I Don't Know A Thing About Love (The Moon Song)" and '86's hard-edged "Desperado Love" can readily attest, his reputation as "a song's best friend" had long been solidified. And while a lifetime of experience and acquired wisdom informed his later work (right up until his last recordings in 1993), the smoldering intensity and soulful vulnerability that was there right at the start, in those ever haunting opening lines of "It's Only Make Believe," never left, either. On his last album, the posthumously released Final Touches, Conway Twitty sang a song that asked "Is there room in your heart for an old memory like me?" Listening to these endlessly endearing hits from country's all-time chart-topper, it's pretty clear what the answer is.

Conway Twitty Bio from Discogs

American Country singing star who started out singing rock & roll.



Originally a '50s rock & roll singer, Conway Twitty became the reigning country superstar of the '70s and '80s, racking up a record 40 number one hits over the course of two decades. With his deep, resonant down-home voice, Twitty was one of the smoothest balladeers to work in Nashville during the country-pop era, but he was also one of the most adventurous. More than any other singer, he was responsible for selling country as an "adult" music, slipping sexually suggestive lyrics into his lush productions, yet never singing misogynist lyrics; by and large, his songs were sensitive and sensual, which is part of the reason why he achieved such a large success. Once Twitty reached the top of the country charts in the late '60s, he stayed there for years on end, releasing a consistent stream of Top Ten hits that both defined and expanded the limitations of country-pop by adding subtle R&B, pop, and rock & roll influences. Though he had some pop success, Twitty remained country to the core; occasionally, his song titles were simply too corny, which was why he retained his popularity until his death in 1993, aged 59.



Born : September 1, 1933 / Friars Point, Mississippi, United States

Died : June 5, 1993 / Springfield, Missouri, United States



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