My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Conway Twitty remembered

Conway Twitty died on this day in 1993, just months shy of his sixtieth birthday. When he died, Conway’s 40 trips to the top of the charts was the most of anyone in country music, and he held on to that record for another 13 years until George Strait eventually eclipsed him.

After Harold Jenkins took his stage name from two points on a map of the southern United States, he spent the decade between 1956 and 1966 having spotty success on the U.S. Hot 100 chart. 1958’s “It’s Only Make Believe” went to #1, but Conway would have only two more songs to crack the pop top 10. Interestingly, his #10 placing of the Irish standard “Danny Boy” is the song’s highest ranking on the Billboard chart among dozens of recordings over the years. In 1966, Conway switched his focus and began recording country music. His first country single, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, reached #18 and 1968’s “Next In Line” was Conway’s first country #1.

Here’s Conway singing his #1 pop hit from 1958:

Conway’s chart dominance in his time was legendary. Between 1971 and 1989, every solo Conway Twitty single released – 58 in all – reached the country top 30. Meanwhile, he and duet partner Loretta Lynn took 5 singles to the top, and placed 7 more in the top 10.

Here’s Conway and Loretta singing my favorite of their duets, “After The Fire Is Gone” on WSM’s Opry Almanac in 1971:

In a that career stretched 35 years, Conway was still a relevant hit maker right up to his death. In his recent piece remembering George Jones, Paul Dennis noted the 1960’s were his favorite era for Jones hits. The 1980’s era Conway Twitty songs are my favorites: “Tight Fittin’ Jeans”, “Don’t Call Him a Cowboy”, “Saturday Night Special”.  The 1982 album, Southern Comfort, in particular, got me hooked. The album’s two singles aren’t really special – though I like “The Clown” – but there are two tracks that sum up Conway Twitty and his song selection to me. “She Only Meant to Use Him” is an example of the wry storytelling and golden-rule-vindication that makes country music superior to other genres. “Something Strange Got Into Her Last Night” is the perfect country cheating song: a mid-tempo waltz with a layer of steel guitar and a winning double entendre in the title. (A bit of trivia about Southern Comfort: a young Naomi Judd is the model featured with Conway on the album’s cover.)

Conway was called the High Priest of Country Music and “the best friend a song ever had”. I’ve always been drawn to singers with big, emotive voices, and Conway Twitty’s sturdy and nimble baritone hits my ears just right. It doesn’t hurt any that he’s singing some of the best songs ever written.

Here’s another of my favorite Conway Twitty hits, 1975’s “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” (written by Earl Thomas Conley and Mary Larkin):

14 responses to “Conway Twitty remembered

  1. Razor X June 5, 2013 at 9:01 am

    I was out running errands in preparation for a surprise 50th birthday party for my dad when the news came over the car radio that Conway Twitty had passed away. It definitely put a damper on the day’s festivities.

  2. Ken Johnson June 5, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Nice tribute to one of country music’s most impressive hit makers. Harold Jenkins was a shrewd businessman who knew how to “market” his Conway Twitty persona as a product long before Garth Brooks came on the scene. I once had a fascinating conversation with Conway backstage in the late 1970’s. He talked at length about how he was careful to protect his image and to make sure that everything he did would be acceptable to his core fans. It was quite enlightening to hear that he did not take himself too seriously and was able to fully separate himself as a real person from his bigger-than-life show business image as he spoke of “Conway Twitty” in the third person. Very warm and down to earth for a country superstar and I can honestly say that he truly was a nice guy.

    Conway’s transition from rock & roll to country music began in the early 1960’s. He recorded a demo tape of his country songs that was produced by Harlan Howard in 1962. One song from that session, “Walk Me To The Door” gave Ray Price a top ten hit in 1963. Harlan was Conway’s advocate with producer Owen Bradley who signed Conway to the Decca Records country roster in 1965. Conway recorded his own composition “Together Forever” at his first Decca session at Columbia studio in Nashville on June 3, 1965. Released as his first Decca single [#31833 b/w “That Kind Of Girl”] the song failed to chart but broke the ice with country radio disc jockeys. Programmers were more willing to embrace Conway’s second Decca single “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” in early 1966 as they realized Conway was indeed serious about a country music career.

    My favorite period in Conway’s career is the early Decca years when he was making solid country recordings. 1965 to 1972 are his “golden years” in my opinion. “The Image Of Me,” “Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” and “Fifteen Years Ago” are three exceptional recordings from that era. He would occasionally return to that core sound in subsequent years delivering superb performances such as his 1976 #1 hit in the clip posted above “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me.” Great choice!

    • Paul W Dennis June 5, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      I’m with Ken in that my favorite period in Conway’s career is the early Decca years when he was making solid country recordings.Even the non-hit recordings from 1965 to 1972 are excellent including such lower charting songs as “Look Into My Teardrops” (still my all-time favorite of his songs), and “Don’t Put Your Hurt In My Heart . Ken cited “The Image Of Me,” “Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” and “Fifteen Years Ago” as three exceptional recordings from that era – but I would add “Next In Line” and “I Can’t See Me Without You” to that list. During this period Conway and/or his wife Mickey Jaco wrote a lot of the songs on his album (at least she is credited although I suspect some of them may have been written by Conway himself). For a good example of rockin’ country at its finest check out “I’m Checking Out” from his NEXT IN LINE album

      • Luckyoldsun June 6, 2013 at 11:52 am

        It was a bit strange–and unfair–how litte impact Conway’s death made. It was barely noted in the media, unlike Johnny Cash a decade later, and George Jones very recently–and it didn’t spur any noticeable playing of his music. (I’m not even talking about Elvis, Sinatra, or Michael Jackson.) They released his final album of original material shortly afterward–and country radio wouldn’t touch it.

        • Ken Johnson June 6, 2013 at 7:40 pm

          Conway died in 1993 before the internet became pervasive. Therefore the coverage of his passing did not receive the “new media” exposure that Johnny Cash (2003) and George
          Jones (2013) both received. However it was well covered by most major newpapers & magazines and network TV newscasts as well as the “Entertainment Tonight” type shows. I would definitely NOT classify his death as “barely noted.” You obviously missed all of those reports. Conway never achieved major icon status like Cash or Jones so I wouldn’t expect him to receive the extreme level of recognition that their passing ultimately received.

          Let’s be honest though – Conway’s star had dimmed considerably by the time of his death. The “young country” trend of the early 1990’s has pushed most veteran country acts to the sidelines. His last big hit was in 1991. I recall that Conway did receive quite a few tributes on country radio stations (including the one I was programming at that time) Many played his music in higher rotation for several days. Sadly his posthumous release received the same attention that his new music had gotten for the two years prior to his death – largely ignored. His passing did not change the attitude of most country programmers who were seeking younger & younger listeners by exclusively playing the new “hot country” acts,

          In case no one has ever told you, life is not fair. And show business is not unfair – it’s ruthless.

        • J.R. Journey June 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm

          I’m too young to actually remember (I was 9 years old when Conway died), but had Conway really “dimmed considerably” by then? I can see he had a couple singles to miss the mark in 1991 and none charted in 1992, but his 1990 album had a #2 and a #3 hit in the after-Garth era. His chart run rivals Strait, Haggard, and Eddy Arnold. I’m just speculating, but I bet Conway would have scored another couple hits (probably among a lot of misses at that point) had he lived a little longer.

        • Ken Johnson June 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm

          JR: I’m too young to actually remember (I was 9 years old when Conway died), but had Conway really “dimmed considerably” by then?…”

          Sorry to say yes. You have to look beyond just the chart numbers of Conway’s last couple of hits to get the full picture. By 1993 Garth-mania had completely taken over country music. There was a major proliferation of radio stations dropping their old format to change to country music to compete with the established/heritage country radio station to get a piece of that growing audience. Those new country stations ONLY played the new country acts. Every station wanted to own the “hot-young-country” image in their area so heritage stations purged all of the older acts from their music library to avoid being branded as “old” country in the face of the new competition. That’s how Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and many other heritage acts disappeared from the format once and for all. Even many of the neo-traditional acts that had gained popularity as recently as during the 1980’s were banished. It was a virtual overnight thinning of the herd unlike anything country music had ever seen. Sad. So you see that a Conway Twitty record gaining enough traction to become a big hit in that environment is most unlikely.

          The repercussions continue even today. Are ya’ likin’ all that Taylor Swift & Jason Aldean country music?

        • J.R. Journey June 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm

          Thanks, Ken. That all makes sense. I do remember there being several cover stories in the country music magazines in the mid to late ’90s talking about “legends disappearing from country radio”. I remember some ‘heritage acts’ as you call them – George Jones and Dolly Parton, in particular – getting a lot of exposure on CMT back then. But now that I think about it, the videos they played were “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” and “Romeo”, and both videos relied heavily on the ‘new hot country’ acts in them too. Seems I had a somewhat skewed perception of legends competing side by side with the new acts in the early ’90s era.

          This kinda changes my perspective on Conway too. I had him pegged as a 60-year old hitmaker (like Strait) but who died before his run of hits ended. And I guess I was wrong.

  3. Luckyoldsun June 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Saying that Conway gave “the Irish standard ‘Danny Boy'” it’s highest chart placing leaves out a key part:: Conway didn’t really do the Irish standard–His version was something of a joke–a rocked up parody of the song. I’m not sure, but I believe the rocked up version had been going around and Conway was not the first to do it that way.

    One of Conway’s greatest recordings might have been his last: a duet with Sam Moore of “Rainy Night in Georgia” on the Country and Soul project.

    • Razor X June 5, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      There aren’t many Conway Twitty songs that I don’t like, but his rendition of “Danny Boy” is certainly at the top of that very short list. It was almost a sacrilege.

  4. J.R. Journey June 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    @Ken: I didn’t know Conway released a single to country radio before “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”. Both wikipedia and Joel Whitburn’s book show a 5-year gap between Conway’s last pop single (which reached #98 in 1961) and “Guess My Eyes…” I’ve heard “Together Forever” – it’s on the Conway Twitty Collection box set – but never “That Kind of Girl”. Thanks (once again) for schooling me on trivia I didn’t know.

    @Lucky: To be fair, Conway did do the first stanza with the original melody intact. But then you’re right, it falls into a weird place. Still, Conway’s version is the highest the song ever placed on the U.S. chart.

    • Ken Johnson June 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      J.R.: Unfortunately Wikipedia is missing a LOT of info. I never use it as a primarily source (or even a secondary source) for music info. Whitburn is generally pretty accurate but only lists Billboard charted singles and there are thousands that never made the cut.

      To fill in a few holes in the Conway Twitty discography, after his first Billboard POP single “I Need Your Lovin'” (#93/1957) he released two more Mercury singles that did not chart – “Maybe Baby” b/w “Shake It Up” (1957) and “Why Can’t I Get Through To You” b/w “Double Talk Baby” (1958) During his MGM tenure two 1960 singles missed the chart – “What A Dream” b/w “Tell Me One More Time” and “Teasin’” b/w “I Need You So.” Two 1961 MGM singles also missed the survey – “I’m In A Blue Blue Mood” b/w “A Million Teardrops” and “It’s Drivin’ Me Wild” b/w “Sweet Sorrow.” After his last charted POP single for MGM “Portrait Of A Fool” (#98/1962) four more uncharted singles followed – “Little Piece Of My Heart” b/w “Comfy N’ Cozy,” (1962) “There’s Something On Your Mind” b/w “Unchained Melody” (1962) “I Hope, I Think, I Wish” b/w “The Pickup” (1962) and “I Got My Mojo Working” b/w “She Ain’t No Angel” (1963) During Conway’s tenure at Decca/MCA the MGM label attempted to cash in on his new popularity by re-releasing his early recordings. They issued six singles and several album compilations from 1969-1973. After MGM Conway had a brief contract with ABC-Paramount and released two singles that were uncharted – “Go On And Cry” b/w “She Loves Me” (1963) and “Such A Night” b/w “My Baby Left Me” (1964) One year later he moved to Decca as a country act.

  5. Michelle June 6, 2013 at 2:23 am

    I can’t believe it is 20 Years I still remember George Jones singing “Hello Darlin'” at the 1993 CMA Awards with a lump in his throat and now may they sing together. Rip Conway and George. I have a few of Conway’s albums he was one of the best.

  6. Rob Smitha August 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    In 1979, Conway Twitty changed his style and appearance. He was about the hottest thing in country music. This lasted well into the late ’80s. His concerts were selling out in smaller venues as well as the largest of concert halls. We always knew that whenever a new song was released, it was headed straight for the top of the charts. Crowds were going nuts at his shows, especially the ladies. While he could still draw good crowds into the 1990s, it wasn’t until the last year or two that I started to notice that he wasn’t completely selling out his shows as in previous years. However, he was still performing around 300 shows per year and derfinitely had one of the most loyal followings of any country music artist of his time. I saw over 100 shows from 1979 to 1993 and he put his heart and sould into each performance. I miss him dearly. Country music will never be the same. I can’t stand to listen to it now days.

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