My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Nelson Larkin

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Too Many Times’

Earl Thomas Conley was coming off of another of his biggest hits “Once In A Blue Moon,” when he readied his sixth album, Too Many Times. It was his first album in two years, the longest he had gone without a proper studio album since his career began. Mark Wright joins Nelson Larkin as co-producer, on what would be ETC’s last big album, peaking at #3.

All but one of the singles topped the charts. The outlier was the first single, the title track, a very smooth and pop/R&B flavored duet with Anita Pointer. It peaked at #2 despite not resembling country music at all.

The second single, “I Can’t Win For Losin’ You” follows a similar sonic path, but sets itself apart with an excellent and memorable chorus. “That Was A Close One” is also of high quality. “Right From The Start” is the album’s strongest single overall, with a production that slightly ups the tempo and allows ETC to dip into his more distinctive lower register.

“Dancin’ With The Flame” is even more uptempo, and while it’s still smooth, it’s a nice change of pace. “Attracted To Pain” has some intrusive muscular guitar on it that gives ETC something to work with, but proves to distract overall.

“Many Forgiving Years” is the most country-leaning song on the album thus far, even if it doesn’t sound like it in the least. The same is true for “I Need A Good Woman Bad,” one of the album’s more excellent offerings both vocally and lyrically. “Preservation of The Wild” is also wonderful, a bit dark, and would’ve worked splendidly in Hank Williams Jr’s hands. “If Leavin’ Was Easy” is also very, very good.

Too Many Times is a strong album, with a handful of some truly great songs, most of which were buried as album tracks. I have a hard time buying most of this as being country, but this is what some of the genre still sounded like in the crossover period when the New Traditionalist Movement pushed out the Urban Cowboy era. All of the tracks can be streamed on YouTube, which I highly recommend doing.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Don’t Make It Easy For Me’

Earl Thomas Conley released his fourth album, and third for RCA, in May 1983. Don’t Make It Easy For Me, produced as per usual by ETC and Nelson Larkin, was his most successful album to date, with all four of its singles hitting #1. This was the album that kicked off his successful string of nine consecutive number one hits between 1983-1986.

The album’s first single, “Your Love’s On The Line” was co-written by ETC and Randy Scruggs. The excellent mid-tempo ballad is smooth and hardly country, but Conley sells it with conviction.

He didn’t write his next single, which is arguably his signature song. “Holding Her and Loving You” is an incredible lyric about a conflicted man who must tell his wife he’s in love with his mistress. Conley does the impossible, which is to allow the listener to sympathize with our protagonist’s struggle. His emotion-filled vocal elevates the already great song to new heights.

The next single, the title track, changes the pace and adds a heavy electric guitar to give the track some muscle. The song is very dated and in retrospect, shouldn’t have been a #1 hit at all. I would file this away as one of those songs you couldn’t believe were once considered radio-friendly enough to be a hit. It’s just strange and not to my taste at all.

The fourth and final single “Angel in Disguise” is another wonderful song, this time about a man who finds his fling has turned out to be something more. Go ahead and watch the video on YouTube. It’s hideous but worth the chuckle. I’m glad it exists as an example of the era, but boy is it bad.

Another song from the album given the video treatment is “Crowd Around The Corner,” which is very good, although the video is slightly creepy. “You Can’t Go On (Like A Rolling Stone)” is a bland AC-leaning cautionary tale about a guy who cannot go on living his life as a playboy.

“Ball and Chain” is a charming rocker while “Under Control” maintains the fast beat but adds a heavy synth track into the mix. “Changes of Love” is classic, yet unremarkable, ETC and “Home  So Fine” is the most traditionally structured country song on the album.

Don’t Make It Easy For Me is the embodiment of a country album smack dab in the center of the Urban Cowboy era of country music. It’s so early 1980s and while it undoubtedly worked at the time, it’s aged poorly in the 35 years since its release. “Holding Her and Loving You” is the album’s most worthy and stand out track by a mile. The album is available to stream on YouTube, with all the music videos included, which I highly recommend checking out.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’

Earl Thomas Conley’s second RCA album was released in August 1982. It was once more produced by Nelson Larkin with a very commercial sound, but one which allowed ETC’s sultry voice, his greatest asset, to shine. It cemented his status as a rising star, with three top 10 singles.

The first single, the only song ETC did not write, was ‘Heavenly Bodies’, written by Elaine Lifton, Gloria Nissenson and Lee Ritenour. The arrangement doesn’t sound particularly country, but ETC’s warm vocal makes it quite palatable.

The title track, one of ETC’s solo compositions, became his second chart topper. The briskly paced cheating song about an affair with a married woman whose husband works away too much has a lot of energy if questionable justification for its morals. The brassy production is a far cry from traditional country, but it fitted in nicely on early 80s radio, and it has actually not dated too badly.

The third and last single, peaking at #2, was a remake of a love song he had released as an independent single in 1974. ‘I Have Loved You Girl (But Not Like This Before)’ has a delicately tender vocal about committing new to his love.

‘If It Ain’t Something (You Give Me)’ is a very good soul-infused ballad. ‘Don’t Get Along With The Blues’ is quite good in a contemporary style, a midpaced song about not being able to move on.

‘This Ain’t No Way To Be’ (a co-write with Randy Scruggs) is quite a pleasant AC ballad but not very memorable. Scruggs also helped write ‘The Highway Home’, an upbeat country rocker about a musician’s life on the road which is pretty good.

‘Bottled Up Blues’, written with Rick Scott, has a nice fiddle intro, and is one of the more country moments.

‘We’ve Got All Night’ is well sung but boring, and the production is very dated.

The hushed and very short ‘The Man Inside Of Me’ is about a man trapped by obscure childhood experiences.

The album can be downloaded on itunes, and is also on CD as a bargain 4-on-1 release with Don’t Make It Easy For Me, Treadin’ Water and Too Many Times.

I can see why it was a success at the time, based mainly on ETC’s excellent vocals. It dies sound dated now, and not particularly country, but if you like ETC, check it out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Fire and Smoke’

Earl Thomas Conley made his debut on RCA Records, the label where he would reside for the bulk of his career and enjoy his greatest success, in the fall of 1981. That label debut, Fire and Smoke, was a success out of the gate.

The album was produced by Conley and his collaborator Nelson Larkin. RCA sent it’s first single to radio just over a year before the album hit store shelves. “Silent Treatment,” which Conley wrote solo, is a mid-tempo ballad about a woman giving her guy the cold shoulder, a tactic he says is “working on me.” It peaked at #7, giving Conley his first top ten hit.

The title track became Conley’s first of eighteen number one hits upon release in April 1981. Also solely written by the singer, it features a nice groove and tells the story of a love that was all “fire and smoke” when it was hot, and ash when the fire burned out.

The album’s third single, “Tell Me Why,” was written by John Booth Aclin. It features a muscular production consisting of forceful guitars mixed with steel. Although the lyric is unremarkable, the song peaked at #10.

RCA managed to squeeze one final single from the album, the excellent string-laced ballad “After The Love Slips Away.” It does sort of drone on without a chorus and is a bit slower than the radio offerings preceding it, two factors that may help explain why it stalled at #16. Wikipedia lists the song as “After The Love Slips Away / Smokey Mountain Memories,” the latter being an excellent banjo, fiddle and steel drenched down-home tribute to life amongst the titular mountain range in Tennessee.

“Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” finds Conley straining to overcompensate with twang, in order to up the country credibility of the song. “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” is a brilliant slice of classic country and one of the strongest cuts on the album.

“Your Love Is Just For Strangers (I Suppose)” is a smoothed over string-heavy unremarkable ballad. “Like Cinderella,” with its sinister vibe, is one of the album’s weaker offerings and one of my least favorite. “As Low As You Can Go,” with it’s spoken intro, is really just more of the same and another not to my taste.

Fire and Smoke is an album trying to be a little bit to everyone, and for the most part, it succeeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few instances of actual country music among the ten tracks, moments like “Smokey Mountain Memories” and “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” that Conley executes with ease. It’s clear he was just getting started and finding his way.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

After only very minor chart success (according to Record World) and only modestly better success at Warner Brothers, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with his producer at GRT Nelson Larkin.

Although largely forgotten, Nelson Larkin was a talented songwriter and independent record producer and studio owner who seemed to truly understand what Conley was about.

Three singles were released from the album: “Dreamin’s All I Do” (#32), “Middle Age Madness” (#41) and “Stranded On A Dead End Street” (#26); and while this did not represent overwhelming chart success, for a minor independent label it was quite respectable and enough to push the album to #20, a very significant achievement which caught the attention of major label RCA, which purchased all of Earl’s Sunbird masters.

“Fire & Smoke”, released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40. Meanwhile, the album reached #20, a rare occurrence for an album released on one of the smaller independents.

The album opens with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” a slow ballad which is not really a truck driving song despite the title.

There’s a hell raising cowboy
In your truck driving heart
You’ve got the world narrowed down
To four lanes
But how could diesel blooded horses
Ever drag you apart
From the only girl who could ever
Ease your pain
She would follow your dreams
To the farthest extremes
But she needs more than just someone
To be true to
While it seems you just need someone sane
Who can drive all that noise
From your brain

Next up is “Silent Treatment” which RCA would later release as a successful single on the first RCA album Fire And Smoke.

“Dreamin’s All I Do” was the first single from the album, and likely would have been a major hit had it been an RCA release. I love the song, which is a bit of a dreamy ballad.

I woke up crying, I thought I had a dream
But you would not answer up when I called your name
I ran to my window but all I saw was rain
I know you’re going somewhere girl I can feel the pain
But I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
And anyone who knows me knows that I love you
No I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
But anyone can tell you dreamin’s all I do

“Stranded On A Dead End Street” was the album’s third single and built on the momentum of the first two singles. A up-tempo love song, it represents the kind of material I wish Earl had tackled more often.

“You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” features rather more steel guitar than most of Earl’s songs. This song is a mid-tempo declaration of love.

“Fire And Smoke” would prove to be Earl’s first #1 record when released on RCA. “Played This Game Enough To Know The Score” is a medium-fast ballad about a fellow who knows that his current romance won’t last.

“Blue And Green” is gentle ballad about a romance that has failed and the participants far apart.

“Middle Age Madness” is about an older woman who still dreams of a romance that may never occur. This was the second single and likely would have been a bigger hit with a major label behind it.

“This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” is a song that Earl wrote and pitched to Conway Twitty, who took it to the top of the charts. I like Earl’s recording, which is the most traditional sounding Earl Thomas Conley track I’ve ever heard. It is nearly as good as Conway’s version.

She wore that falling out of love look
I even swore upon the Good Book
Still the last lie I told her was
The one she couldn’t believe
No more crying on her shoulder
She won’t even let me hold her
Cause this time I’ve hurt her more than she loves me

Four of these tracks would appear on Earl’s first RCA album, further proof of the strength of the album, which I would give an A-.

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Blue Moon’

TobyKeithBlueMoonThe shuffling of Toby Keith from label to label (all were a subsidiary of Mercury Nashville) had reached its apex by the time Blue Moon, his third album, was released in 1996. Keith was now the flagship artist on the Music City division of A&M, a label originally started in the early 1960s in California. In the process, Harold Shedd was dropped as Keith’s producer. Keith would step up and co-produce the album with Nelson Larkin, who had assisted Shedd on Keith’s previous records.

After he took complete control of his career in the 2000s, Keith reminisced about his 1990s work saying he was known as the ballad singer in his early years. Keith certainly has the voice for such material and from a singles standpoint, Blue Moon delivered. He solely penned the album’s lead single, the title track, which found him at his most tender. The AC-leaning lament, about a guy taking responsibility for his role in ending his relationship, peaked at #2.

The second single was the cinematic “A Woman’s Touch,” which Keith composed with Wayne Perry. The track opens with sweeping guitars and cymbals that nicely give way to more of a typical Keith arrangement. “A Woman’s Touch,” which peaked just outside the top 5, is a very good song although not strong enough to be much remembered today.

The album’s final single (and Keith’s third #1) is probably the greatest use of clever wordplay in a country love song I’ve ever heard. “Me Too,” which Keith co-wrote with frequent collaborator Chuck Cannon, finds him stepping into the shoes of a man who has difficulty saying ‘I love you:’

Oh, I’m just a man, that’s the way I was made

I’m not too good at sayin’ what you need me to say

It’s always right there on the tip of my tongue

It might go unsaid, but it won’t go undone

So when those three little words come so easy to you

I hope you know what I mean when I say, me too

Keith had a hand in writing all but one of the album’s remaining seven tracks, including two with Perry. “She’s Perfect” is a similarly styled ballad and another tune in which Keith admits he’s at fault for the state of his relationship:

There’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

She’s as pure as she can be

She’d never say, but the only mistake she ever made was me

It might appear to you she’s broken

By the teardrops in her eyes

But there’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

I’m the one who made her cry

Another such ballad is “The Lonely,” the Cannon and Lari White co-write Keith didn’t help compose. The track isn’t terrible, but it isn’t memorable either. “Every Night,” a semi-uptempo, finds Keith helping his woman through the heartbreak wrought from her previous relationship. “She’s Gonna Get It,” the other co-write with Perry, is faux uptempo encumbered by a clumsy lyric. “Lucky Me” is an above average rocker about a man reveling in the emptiness in his home in the wake of a breakup. While the premise shows promise, Keith should’ve gone further with the lyric and provided some kind of interesting twist or clever ending. “Hello,” which finds Keith in Mexico, closes Blue Moon with pure dreck.

“Closin’ Time At Home” may suffer from a suffocating and uninteresting arrangement, but it should’ve been a single. Keith is a man in San Bernardino thinking about the woman he left back home in Tulsa:

If it’s midnight in California, must be closin’ time in Oklahoma

I know that she’s already danced another night away

And these west coast nights sure seem colder

Knowin’ somebody else’s arms will hold her

Midnight in California means it’s closin’ time at home

Blue Moon finds Keith in a holding pattern. The three singles are excellent and kept him within country radio’s good graces. But the album presents a subdued and average Keith not taking any chances either lyrically or sonically. The guy who brought us the memorable run of iconic 1990s fare on his first two studio sets was gone and we still had another three years before he became the artist who took the bull by its horns. This Keith feels like a timid people-pleaser.

Blue Moon is the weakest of his Mercury/Polydor/Polygram/A&M recordings. Its no wonder he unapologetically tore down the walls and rebuilt the house. If he’d stayed in this vein, he would’ve been just another 1990s has-been. Toby Keith is too good for material like what he co-wrote, co-produced and recorded here.

Grade: B

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Boomtown’

41SMJD8V6ALReleased in 1994, Boomtown was Toby Keith’s second album, and probably my favorite album of his early years. It was Toby’s first album to reach the top ten of Billboard’s Country Album chart and the top fifty of Billboard’s All-Genres Album chart

“Who’s That Man” was the first single released from the album and the second #1 single for Keith reaching the top on both the US and Canadian country charts. The song is a serious ballad about the life the narrator left behind when he and his wife separated. The topic has been tackled many times both in literature and music but rarely as succinctly

They paved the road through the neighborhood
I guess the county finally fixed good
It was gettin’ rough
Someone finally complained enough

Fight the tears back with a smile
Stop and look for a little while
Oh it’s plain to see
The only thing missing is me

That’s my house & that’s my car
That’s my dog in my back yard
There’s the window to the room
Where she lays her pretty head
I planted that tree out by the fence
Not long after we moved in
That’s my kids and that’s my wife
Whose that man, runnin’ my life

“Big Ol’ Truck” was the fourth and least successful single from the album, reaching #15. The song is a generic mid-tempo rocker. It is not bad but not great either.

“Victoria’s Secret” is a gentle ballad that is far more than the clever word play title would suggest. I think this would have made a good single: 

Her husband’s always working and he’s never home
When he’s there with her he’s still gone
And she can’t stand living and loving alone
Well she’s got her children to raise, that’s why she can’t let it show
I’m the only one who knows Victoria’s secret

The first three songs were Toby Keith compositions. “No Honor Among Thieves” is outside material from the pens of Nathan Crow and David Wills. Up-tempo and bluesy, the song makes a nice album track.

“Upstairs, Downtowns” was the second single of the album, reaching #10. The song is the story of a young girl leaving home to discover the world. The song was a Toby Keith-Carl Goff Jr. collaboration as was the album’s third single, the wry “You Ain’t Much Fun (Since I Stopped Drinkin’)” . I feel that this was the first Toby Keith single in which Toby’s sense of humor truly manifested itself. I was somewhat stunned when this song didn’t make it to #1 (it reached #2). It is hard for me to pick an all-time favorite Toby Keith song, but this one, with its infectious chorus and shuffle beat, is a strong contender:

I used to come home late and not a minute too soon
Barking like a dog, howling at the moon
You’d be mad as an ol’ wet hen, up all night wonderin’ where I been
I’d fall down and say come help me honey
You laughed out loud, I guess you thought it was funny
I sobered up, and I got to thinkin’
Girl you ain’t much fun since I quit drinkin’

Now I’m paintin’ the house and I’m mendin’ the fence
I guess I gone out and lost all my good sense
Too much work is hard for your health
I could’ve died drinkin’, now I’m killing myself
And I’m feedin’ the dog, sackin’ the trash
It’s honey do this, honey do that
I sobered up, and I got to thinkin’
Girl you ain’t much fun since I quit drinkin’

“In Other Words” is a nice love ballad with no particular potential as a single. Written by Tony Haselden and Tim Mensy, the song is a nice jog-along ballad

Toby’s “Woman Behind the Man” is another nice slow ballad love song a man’s paean to his woman.
“Life Was a Play (The World a Stage)” was written by the trio of Johnny McCollum, Pal Rakes and Nelson Larkin. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I think should have been a single for someone. To me it sounds like somthing tailor made for Brooks and Dunn, Toby does it well but I think it better suited for B&D or some such similar act.

For whatever reason the title track, “Boomtown” was not released as a single. The song has a some of Toby’s strongest lyrics as a composer. Perhaps the song hit a little too close to home for some people. In fact, it is still current and still relevant. Anyway I love the song.

The people came here from parts unknown
Sleepin’ in their cars ’cause they didn’t have homes
Thought this place was the promised land
If you could roughneck, we could use a good man
Come on boy let me show you around
You could make a lot of money here

Livin’ in a boomtown
We’ll some build bars and big hotels
Downshift drive and the people live well
High on the hog and wild on the range
Pocket full of cash instead of chump change
This place kicks when the sun goes down

See oil was the blood that flowed through the soul
To keep a man workin’ when it’s forty below
Relent to the devil in the cold cold ground
Trying to make a dollar here livin’ in a boomtown

Six short years the oil fields went
Rigs came down and the money got spent
And the wisemen saved for a rainy day
The fools packed up and moved away
The hotels closed and the bars shut down
And it got real quiet livin’ in a boomtown

Boomtown is definitely a county album with a sterling cast of musicians including Sonny Garrish on steel guitar. I regard this as the nascent Toby Keith showing more still signs of the artist he was to become.

Grade: A

Country Heritage: Earl Thomas Conley

ETCEarl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s. Born on October 17, 1941, in Portsmouth, Ohio, ETC (as he was often called) had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, ETC recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, some time after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) trod water briefly before signing with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were a few minor chart hits as late as 1991. Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. Earl still performs occasionally, typically two or three dates a month.

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