My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

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4 responses to “Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

  1. Ken November 3, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Although filled with remakes Conway’s country album debut is great listening with a style reflective of country music of that era. Conway and his producer Owen Bradley wanted to clearly show country fans that Conway had fully transitioned from rock & roll to country music.

    My favorite track is the ballad issued as Conway’s first Decca country single in 1965. “Together Forever” was written by Conway and features a superb steel guitar lead by Pete Drake. That excellent recording failed to gain traction at country radio and did not chart.

    The flip side of that single was another Conway penned song “That Kind Of Girl.” Perhaps had that song been promoted as the “A” side it could have broken out as country radio always had a surplus of ballads to choose from. This song has a catchy Buck Owens/Bakersfield vibe that was very popular at the time.

    Musically both songs are top notch so the assumption can be made that Conway’s rock & roll roots cast doubt about his commitment to the genre. Skeptical country radio programmers may have been apprehensive to give him a shot. That is likely the reason that Conway did not rock a bit harder on “Honky Tonk Man.” He wanted to be taken seriously as a country artist so pushing the envelope at that time was not an option. Even so I think he turned in a strong performance on that track with a cool twangy lead guitar solo.

    I did not like “I’ll Just Have A Cup Of Coffee” as much as Razor did. Conway does a nice job but I think that song works much better at a faster tempo the way that Claude Gray performed the hit version. But perhaps because I’m so used to Gray’s version that Conway’s drags a bit by comparison. However Conway’s version of “Wine” pretty much mirrored the arrangement on Mel Tillis’ 1965 hit. It’s a good cover although nothing innovative was added. Same can be said for his take on Ray Price’s 1965 hit “The Other Woman.” He did change up Bill Anderson & Ray Price’s 1959 hit “That’s What It’s Like To Be “Lonesome” slightly by adding an excellent extended harmony line on the word “lonesome.”

    All in all if you are a fan of Conway’s early country sound this LP will be completely satisfying. However I can’t say how disappointed I was when this album was finally issued on CD in 2010 on the Poker label by Cherry Red Records in the UK. It was released as a “two-fer” along with Conway’s second Decca LP “Look Into My Teardrops” Because the Decca master tapes were incinerated in the 2008 Universal Studios tape vault fire alternative audio sources were necessary. Unfortunately less than pristine vinyl records with excessive distortion were dubbed for many tracks. Better quality records do exist but they failed to find them. Considering that Poker charged a top line price for this CD I believe that the consumer was cheated. My complaint emails to the label at that time went unanswered.

    To be clear although Conway’s #1 rock & roll hit “It’s Only Make Believe” did not appear on the Billboard country chart it did spend 18 weeks on the Cashbox country survey where it peaked at #4. Eight weeks of it’s chart life was inside the top ten so Conway’s MGM record did receive extensive airplay on the Cashbox surveyed stations. After Conway began to have country hits in the 1960’s many country stations added that song to their oldies rotations. “‘Lonely Blue Boy” and “Danny Boy” were also included at some country stations as Conway’s country fame grew.

    • Rudi January 8, 2018 at 7:02 pm

      Wonderful response, Ken! Thank you very much.

      • Rudi January 8, 2018 at 7:24 pm

        So sad to learn the Decca master tapes are lost forever.
        I was also quite disappointed when I bought that Poker CD and had a short e-mail contact with one of the producers.
        Anyway, in 2015 I managed to track down a nice copy of Conway’s first album and did a needle drop for my personal collection. Doesn’t sound necessarily better but… different.
        A few months ago I got in touch again with the guy who read the liner notes because I wanted to borrow him my vinyl album for a possible re-issue but he told me that he is no longer involved in the project.

  2. Paul W Dennis November 4, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Most of Conway’s early Decca albums were not released in the UK, so they may have had difficulties in obtaining good copies. Generally I really liked Twitty’s first ten Decca albums. This is the first in string of really good albums.

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