In an article which appeared on the9513.com in March of 2010, titled Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1, I had the following to say about Con Hunley:
“I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.”
That doesn’t seem like enough to say about this superlative vocalist so here goes:
Conrad Logan “Con” Hunley (born April 9, 1945) was born in Union County, Tennessee, an area which also produced such country legends as Roy Acuff and Carl Smith. Con was born into a musical family and at age nine his parents bought him a used “Stella” guitar for Christmas. Con soon taught himself to play Chet Atkins thumb-style guitar; however, his biggest early influence was to be found among R&B artists, particularly Ray Charles.
Con’s first professional job came in 1964, courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in downtown Knoxville. In 1965 Con joined the United States Air Force in 1965. After basic training, Con was sent to a tech school at Chanute AFB in Illinois where he was taught aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Con learned so well that he was made an instructor. While there, he played area bars and clubs with a local band. Later Con was transferred to Castle AFB near Atwater, CA, where he found a job playing piano at the Empire Lounge in Atwater.
After his tour of duty was finished Hunley returned to Knoxville and began performing weekly at a local nightclub owned by Sam Kirkpatrick, who formed the independent label Prairie Dust Records to showcase Hunley’s talents. After some minor success on the country music charts with three 1977 singles charting in the lower regions outside the top fifty, Hunley caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records (WB), who signed him in 1978.
Hunley’s first WB single, a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s “Cry Cry Darling”, cracked the top forty, reaching #34. From this point forward, Con Hunley had eleven straight singles that reached the Billboard Top Twenty, although none reached the top ten. This singles were all on the border between Country and R&B (this during a time when R&B was actually music). “Weekend Friend” started the parade, reaching #13 in October 1978. This was followed by a cover of the Leon Payne classic “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart” which reached #14 . This was followed “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” which also reached #14 (although according to Cashbox the record reached #10 and was Con’s biggest hit – this squares with my recollections of the record and its airplay in Central Florida). Paul Anka would have a pop hit with the record two years later in 1981.
The string of hits continued through mid-1982 before Con cooled off, eventually fading from the radio in 1986.
Con Hunley recorded five albums with Warner Brothers. His MCA and Capitol singles were never collected onto an album.
Con Hunley did not fit the nascent “New Traditionalists” movement at all and he didn’t try to fit. After fading from radio, Con Hunley returned to Knoxville, where he and his brother opened a dry cleaning business. After a few years away from the music scene, Con again began performing locally during the early 1990s, although he did no recording. A 1996 performance at the White House for Hillary Clinton’s birthday sparked new interest in Con Hunley. Eventually Con Hunley’s began recording again after signing with IMMI Records in 2004, where he teamed with Norro Wilson, who had produced several of his WB hits, to release a highly praised album Sweet Memories. In 2006, Hunley and Wilson would collaborate again for IMMI Records releasing Shoot From The Heart. This album featured several songs co-written by Hunley.
At the time he was charting Con Hunley was often confused with John Conlee and/or Earl Thomas Conley, primarily because of the similarities in their names. Each of the three had distinctive voices, however, and I suspect the reason Con did not have success on a similar scale to Conlee and Conley was two-fold: (1) WB was not a major player in country music and (2) Hunley rode the border between pop, country and R&B without gaining full acceptance in any of the areas. Con Hunley had a distinctive enough voice that I cannot really compare him with anyone else in the genre – he sounds like Con Hunley and that should have been plenty good enough.
Warner Brothers issued five albums. All are an interesting mix of country classics, then-current country material and R&B classics.
Con Hunley (1979) features the singles “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” , “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart” and “Since I Fell For You” (a Lenny Welch R&B hit from the 1960s). It also features a nice cover of R&B artist Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive”.
I Don’t Want To Lose You (1980) features the title track plus “You Lay A Whole Lot Of Love on Me” and a cover of Delbert McClinton’s “Take It Easy”.
Don’t It Break Your Heart (1980) features the title track plus “What’s New With You” which, according to Billboard, was Con’s biggest hit. The first two albums were produced by Norro Wilson and featured both horns and strings. Tom Collins produced this album, with strings but sans horns.
Ask Any Woman (1981) was also produced by Tom Collins. Songwriter Archie P. Jordan supplied the title track and “Don’t It Break Your Heart” – Jordan was ostensibly a country songwriter but he got many cuts by pop and R&B artists as well. A solid version of the Jerry Butler-Curtis Mayfield classic “He Will Break Your Heart” opens side one of the album.
Oh Girl (1982) was the last WB album. The title track, a cover of a #1 pop hit by the Chi-Lites, is perhaps Hunley’s best remembered track. The Oak Ridge Boys provide the harmony on the title track. Produced by Steve Dorff, the horns return on this album, but synthesizers replace the strings.
If there were any albums issued by Prairie Dust, MCA or Capitol, I have yet to locate any of them.
All five of ConHunley’s WB albums have been issued on CD and are available from the store at www.conhunley.com. Con’s website also has available the three CDs of new music Con has issued since 1996 and a CD of his single tracks from the MCA and Capitol years:
LOST AND FOUND: THE MCA/CAPITOL YEARS (2011), IMMI Records
Nobody Ever Gets Enough Love – Oh, She Sure Looks Good Tonight – I’d Rather Be Crazy – It’s Tearin’ Me Up – Late At Night – Let Me Love You Once Before You Go – What Am I Gonna Do About You – All-American Country Boy – Once You Get The Feel Of It – Blue Suede Blues – Sad But True – Satisfied Mind – It’s Quittin’ Time – Surely The Presence
The albums of new recordings/material are as follows:
SWEET MEMORIES (2004), IMMI Records
Over Getting Over You – A Chance – She Ain’t You – Since I Fell For You – She Still Thinks I Care – That’s All That Matters To Me – Don’t Touch Me – Something You Got – Still – If You Ever Have Forever In Mind – Only Time Will Tell – No Relief In Sight – Dedication To Mother – Sweet Memories – Amazing Grace
THE FIRST TIME ~ FROM STUDIO B (2005), IMMI Records
Misery Loves Company – Loving You Is A Habit I Can’t Break – Columbus Stockade Blues – Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – It Looks Like A Good Night For Drinking – Pick Up The Pieces Of Your Heart – Deep In The Arms Of Texas – Never Felt More Like I’m Dying – I’ll Always Remember That Song – Look At Me, Loving You Again – Woman To Man, Man To Woman
SHOOT FROM THE HEART (2006), IMMI Records
Shoot From The Heart – Deep In The Arms of Texas – Rockin’ In The Arms Of Your Memory – The Keys – I Can’t Make It Alone – I Can See You With My Eyes Closed – Look At Me Loving You Again – Just Like Old Times – Georgia On My Mind – That Old Clock – Words From Con – Hollow Man – Why Me Lord