1974 promotional photo
|Birth name||Harold Lloyd Jenkins|
September 1, 1933|
Friars Point, Coahoma County, Mississippi, U.S.
Helena, Phillips County|
June 5, 1993 59) (aged|
Springfield, Missouri, U.S.
|Genres||Country, rock and roll|
|Labels||MCA, Elektra, MGM, Decca, Sun Records, Warner Bros. Records|
|Associated acts||Loretta Lynn, Sam Moore, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Twitty Bird Band, Joni Lee|
Harold Lloyd Jenkins (September 1, 1933 – June 5, 1993), known professionally as Conway Twitty, was an American country singer. He also had success in the rock and roll, rock, R&B, and pop genres. From 1971 to 1976, Twitty received a string of Country Music Association awards for duets with Loretta Lynn. Although never a member of the Grand Ole Opry, he was inducted into both the Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins on September 1, 1933 in Friars Point in Coahoma County in northwestern Mississippi. He was named by his great uncle, after his favorite silent movie actor, Harold Lloyd. The Jenkins family moved to Helena, Arkansas, when Harold was ten years old. In Helena, Harold formed his first singing group, the Phillips County Ramblers.
Two years later, Harold had his own local radio show every Saturday morning. He also played baseball, his second passion. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school (Smiths Station High School), but he was drafted into the United States Army. He served in the Far East and organized a group called The Cimmerons to entertain fellow GIs.
Wayne Hause, a neighbor, suggested that Harold could make it in the music industry. Soon after hearing Elvis Presley's song "Mystery Train", Harold began writing rock and roll material. He went to the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and worked with Sam Phillips, the owner and founder, to get the "right" sound.
Accounts vary of how Harold Jenkins acquired his stage name of Conway Twitty. Allegedly, in 1957, Jenkins decided that his real name was not memorable enough and sought a better show business name. In The Billboard Book of Number One Hits Fred Bronson states that the singer was looking at a road map when he spotted Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas, and chose the name Conway Twitty.
Another account says that Jenkins met a Richmond, Virginia, man named W. Conway Twitty Jr. through Jenkins' manager in a New York City restaurant. The manager served in the US Army with the real Conway Twitty. Later, the manager suggested to Jenkins that he take the name as his stage name because it had a ring to it. In the mid-1960s, W. Conway Twitty subsequently recorded the song "What's in a Name but Trouble", lamenting the loss of his name to Harold Jenkins.
Pop and rock & roll success
In 1958 using his new stage name, Conway Twitty's fortunes improved while he was with MGM Records, and an Ohio radio station had an inspiration, refraining from playing "I'll Try" (an MGM single that went nowhere in terms of sales, radio play, and jukebox play), instead playing the B-side, "It's Only Make Believe", a song written between sets by Twitty and drummer Jack Nance when they were in Hamilton, Ontario, playing at the Flamingo Lounge. The record took nearly one year to reach and stay at the top spot on the Billboard pop music charts in the US, as well as No. 1 in 21 other countries, becoming the first of nine top 40 hits for Twitty. It sold over four million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. That same year, country singer Tabby West of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee heard Twitty and booked him to appear on the show.
When "It's Only Make Believe" was first released, because of voice similarities, many listeners assumed that the song was actually recorded by Elvis Presley, using "Conway Twitty" as a pseudonym. Twitty would go on to enjoy rock and roll success with songs including "Danny Boy" (Pop No. 10) and "Lonely Blue Boy" (Pop No. 6). "Lonely Blue Boy", originally titled "Danny", was recorded by Presley for the film King Creole but was not used in the soundtrack. This song led to him naming his band the Lonely Blue Boys, although they subsequently became the Twitty Birds.
Country music career
Twitty always wanted to record country music and, beginning in 1965, he did just that. His first few country albums were met with some country DJ's refusing to play them because he was known as a rock 'n' roll singer. However, he finally broke free with his first top five country hit, "The Image of Me", in July 1968, followed by his first number one country song, "Next in Line", in November 1968. Few of his singles beginning in 1968 ranked below the top five.
In 1970, Twitty recorded and released his biggest country hit, "Hello Darlin'", which spent four weeks at the top of the country chart and is one of Twitty's most recognized songs. In 1971 he released his first hit duet with Loretta Lynn, "After the Fire Is Gone". It was a success, and many more followed, including "Lead Me On" (1971), "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973), "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone" (1974), "Feelins'" (1975), "I Still Believe in Waltzes", "I Can't Love You Enough", and many others. Together, Conway and Loretta (as they were known in their act), won four consecutive Country Music Association awards for vocal duo (1972–75) and a host of other duo and duet awards from other organizations throughout the 1970s.
In 1973, Twitty released "You've Never Been This Far Before", which was not only No. 1 in country for three weeks that September but also reached No. 22 on the pop charts. Some more conservative disc jockeys refused to play the song, believing that some of the lyrics were too sexually suggestive.
In 1978, Twitty issued the single "The Grandest Lady of Them All" honoring the Grand Ole Opry, but for the first time since 1967, a single of his failed to reach top ten status as some radio stations refused to play a song honoring the property of a competitor (broadcast by WSM-AM). Nevertheless, the single reached the top 20, peaking at No. 16 but it was well below expectations, and this set in motion the changes that were to take place in his career, including a new hairstyle, changing from the slicked-back pompadour style to the curlier style he would keep the rest of his life. However, Twitty's popularity and momentum were unaffected by the song as his next 23 consecutive singles all made it into the top 10, with 13 peaking at No. 1, including "Don't Take It Away", "I May Never Get to Heaven", "Happy Birthday Darlin'" and remakes of major pop hits such as "The Rose" and "Slow Hand".
In 1985, going by all weekly music trade charts, the song "Don't Call Him a Cowboy" became the 50th single of his career to achieve a No. 1 ranking. He would have five more through 1990, giving him a total of 55 No. 1 hits. George Strait eclipsed the feat of 50 No. 1 hits in 2002 with his single "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and then reached No. 1 for the 56th time in 2007 when the single "Wrapped" hit the top on the Media Base 24/7 list.
Throughout much of Twitty's country music career his recording home was Decca Records, later renamed MCA. He signed with the label in late 1965 but left in 1981 when it appeared MCA was marketing and promoting newer acts, plus management at the label had changed and other factors brought on the decision. He joined Elektra/Asylum in 1982. That label merged with its parent company, Warner Bros. Records in 1983. He stayed with Warner Bros. Records through early 1987 but then went back to MCA to finish his career. In 1993, shortly before he died, he recorded a new album, Final Touches.
Twitty also played baseball, his second passion. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school (Smiths Station High School), but he was drafted into the United States Army before he could sign the contract. Twitty joined entrepreneur Larry Schmittou and other country music stars, such as Cal Smith, Jerry Reed, Larry Gatlin, and Richard Sterban, in 1977 as investors in the Nashville Sounds, a minor league baseball team of the Double-A Southern League that began play in 1978. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the team's inaugural home opener at Herschel Greer Stadium on April 26, 1978. Twitty would also host celebrity softball games for charity, frequently going against a team put together by Barbara Mandrell.
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City at a cost of over $3.5 million. Twitty and Twitty City were once featured on the TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. and was also seen in the Nashville episode of the BBC series Entertainment USA, presented by Jonathan King. Opened in 1982 it was a popular tourist stop throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s; it was shut down in 1994 following a year-long tribute show called Final Touches, when fans and peers in the music business dropped by. The complex was auctioned off and bought by the Trinity Broadcasting Network the #1 Faith-based network in the world; now known as Trinity Music City, USA, it is open to the public, with free tours.
Twitty was married four times, to three different women. His first marriage lasted from 1953 to 1954 to Ellen Matthews. He had married because Ellen was pregnant with his son, Michael. His second marriage, and longest, was to his wife Temple "Mickey" Medley. Twitty married Mickey in 1956 and had his three other children by her, Kathy, Joni Lee, and Jimmy Twitty. Mickey and Conway had married, divorced in early 1970, and were remarried again quietly by the end of 1970. By 1984, after 28 years of marriage on and off, the stress of her husband being away so often took its toll on Mickey, and she and Conway divorced. Some believe that the divorce was brought on by the fact that Twitty City was an open tourist complex, and that Mickey felt very uncomfortable with the fans around the mansion. In 1987, Twitty married his 36-year-old office secretary, Delores "Dee" Henry. They were married until Twitty's death.
In 1981, Twitty was exiting his tour bus when he slipped on the steps and fell, hitting his head against the steps. John Hughey, who was Twitty's steel guitar player, found him on the ground. Many people, including family members, said that Twitty suffered an extreme change in personality after the accident. According to daughter Joni, Twitty was not in a right state of mind for several months, saying in an interview that he had picked up a TV remote and began talking into it thinking it was a phone.
On June 4, 1993, Twitty became ill while performing at the Jim Stafford Theatre in Branson, Missouri, and was in pain while he was on his tour bus. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He was rushed into surgery, but died in Springfield, Missouri, at Cox South Hospital, in early hours of the morning the next day, from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, aged 59, two months before the release of what would be his final studio album, Final Touches. Four months after Twitty's death, George Jones included a cover of "Hello Darlin'" on his album High-Tech Redneck.
Since his death, Twitty's son Michael and grandson Tre have been carrying on his musical legacy. His most recent chart appearance on the country charts was a duet with Anita Cochran, "I Want to Hear a Cheating Song" (2004), which was made possible by splicing Twitty's vocal from old recordings and even interviews, recorded over the years. As a result, Twitty's isolated vocal track transferred to a digital multi-track and digitally re-assembled into the new performance. Similar to the electronic duets of Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves, Hank Williams and Hank Williams, Jr. or Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, Cochran added her vocal to the already-produced backing tracks along with Twitty's reconstructed vocal.
Currently, Bear Family Records offers a single-disc collection featuring 30 songs entitled "Conway Rocks," in addition to "The Rock'n'Roll Years," a comprehensive 8-disc box set showcasing his complete early recordings as a rock artist.
Twitty's success in country music was a key factor in his winning a 1983 case, Harold L. Jenkins (a/k/a Conway Twitty) v. Commissioner in United States Tax Court. The Internal Revenue Service allowed Twitty to deduct from his taxes, as an "ordinary and necessary" business expense, payments he had made in order to repay investors in a defunct fast-food chain called Twitty Burger. The chain went under in 1971. The rule is that the payment of someone else's debts is not deductible. Twitty alleged that his primary motive was "protecting his personal business reputation." The court opinion contained testimony from Twitty about his bond with country music fans.
Twitty married four times (twice to Mickey). His widow in 1993, Delores "Dee" Henry Jenkins, and his four grown children from the previous marriages, Michael, Joni, Kathy and Jimmy Jenkins, engaged in a public dispute over the estate. Twitty's will had not been updated to account for the fourth marriage, but Tennessee law reserves one third of any estate to the widow. After years of probate, the four children received the rights to Twitty's music, name and image. The rest of the estate went to public auction, where much of the property and memorabilia was sold after his widow rejected the appraised value.
In 2008, controversy again erupted in his family when the four remaining children sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing over an agreement that Twitty and his family signed in 1990. The suit alleged that the terms of the agreement were not fully understood by the children, although they were all adults at the time. It sought to recover copyrights and royalty revenue that the document assigned to the company.
- 1971 Top Vocal Duo with Loretta Lynn
- 1974 Top Vocal Duo with Loretta Lynn
- 1975 Album of the Year with Loretta Lynn - Feelin's
- 1975 Top Male Vocalist
- 1975 Top Vocal Duo with Loretta Lynn
- 1976 Top Vocal Duo with Loretta Lynn
- 2008 Pioneer Award
- 1972 Vocal Duo of the Year with Loretta Lynn
- 1973 Vocal Duo of the Year with Loretta Lynn
- 1974 Vocal Duo of the Year with Loretta Lynn
- 1975 Vocal Duo of the Year with Loretta Lynn
- Posthumous inductee
- 1971 Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal with Loretta Lynn - "After the Fire is Gone"
- 1999 Hall of Fame Award - "Hello Darlin'"
- Posthumous inductee
Twitty was known to cover songs—most notably "Slow Hand" which was a major pop hit for the Pointer Sisters, "Rest Your Love on Me" which was a Top 40 country hit for the Bee Gees, "The Rose" which was a major pop hit for Bette Midler, and "Heartache Tonight" which was a major pop hit for The Eagles; Twitty's songs have also been covered numerous times, including four notable covers, George Jones' rendition of "Hello Darlin", Blake Shelton's "Goodbye Time", The Misfits and Glen Campbell versions of "It's Only Make Believe" and Elvis Presley's version of "There's a Honky Tonk Angel (Who'll Take Me Back In)". In addition, Kenny Chesney's version of "I'd Love to Lay You Down" was sung and received some airplay, mostly in the concert realm.
Some artists have had hits with songs that Twitty recorded but never released as singles. Among these are: The Oak Ridge Boys' top five hit, "I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)", originally from Conway's 1979 album Crosswinds, The Statler Brothers's "You'll Be Back (Every Night In My Dreams)" from Conway's 1980 album Rest Your Love On Me, Steve Wariner's "I'm Already Taken" from Twitty's 1981 album Mr. T (which Wariner wrote), Lee Greenwood's "It Turns Me Inside Out" from Twitty's 1982 album Southern Comfort, John Conlee's "In My Eyes" from Twitty's 1982 album Dream Maker, John Schneider's "What's a Memory Like You (Doin' in a Love Like This?)" from Twitty's 1985 album Chasin' Rainbows, and Daryle Singletary's "The Note" and Ricky Van Shelton's "Somebody Lied" from Twitty's 1985 album Don't Call Him a Cowboy.
In popular culture
The fictional character "Conrad Birdie" in the musical and movie Bye Bye Birdie is said to be a composite of Conway Twitty and Elvis Presley. The part was originally named Conway Twitty, until the writers learned that Conway Twitty was a real pop star who was willing to sue them.
A Conway Twitty impersonator (while Conway Twitty's hit, "The Rose" is heard in the background) is featured during a "dream" sequence in the beginning of the third episode of the second season of True Detective.
In the CBS show, Scorpion, Conway Twitty is referenced in the second-season finale "Toby or Not Toby" by Agent Cabe Gallo. Cabe announces to Sylvester Dodd that he has Conway Twitty's box set on his phone at the beginning of the episode. Later in the episode when trying to trace the whereabouts of Toby Curtis, Cabe's cell phone is used to play a Conway Twitty song, aiding them in narrowing down their search. Cabe also states that he had visited Twitty City while handing Walter O'Brien his phone.
- "Conway Twitty Magnolia Stater" (October 20, 1958), The Billboard, p. 58
- Larkin, Collin. "Twitty, Conway". Oxford Music Online. Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Retrieved September 28, 2016.
- "The Hamilton Memory Project;" (Press release). The Hamilton Spectator Newspaper-Souvenir Edition page MP44. June 10, 2006.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 108. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Larkin, Colin. "Twitty, Conway". Oxford Music Online. Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed.
- Woody, Larry (1996), Schmittou: A Grand Slam in Baseball, Business, And Life, Nashville: Eggmann Publishing Company, pp. 64–65, ISBN 1886371334
- "Sounds in 1978". The Tennessean. Nashville. April 4, 2007. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
- "Resources". Jstor. American Libraries. JSTOR 25630104.
- "Conway Twitty (1933 - 1993) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Who was/is Twitty, Conway? Bear Family Records
- "Google Scholar". Scholar.google.ca. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- "Twitty's children sue Sony for royalties". Yahoo! Music. March 1, 2008.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine (April 22, 1936). "Glen Campbell | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Archived June 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Conway Twitty Biography". OLDIES.com. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Rocha, Alex (March 18, 2009). "Family Guy Episode Recap: "The Juice is Loose" Season 8, Episode 9". TV Guide. Archived from the original on January 1, 2014. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- West, Steve (March 31, 2009). "The Atheist's Dilemma: Family Guy Takes A Stand". TV Blend. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- Cross, Wilbur, and Michael Kosser (1986). The Conway Twitty Story: an Authorized Biography. Doubleday, 1986. ISBN 978-0-385-23198-5.
- Cross, Wilbur, and Michael Kosser (1986). The Conway Twitty Story: an Authorized Biography. Toronto: Paperjacks, 1987, cop. 1986. ISBN 0-7701-0638-2 (pbk.)
- Oermann, Robert K. (1998). "Conway Twitty". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 553–4. lpdiscography.com.
- Official Conway Twitty Website
- Twitty news stories
- Conway Twitty at Allmusic
- Conway Twitty movies
- Conway Twitty at the Internet Movie Database
- At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- Conway Twitty discography at Discogs
- Conway Twitty at Find a Grave