Monday, March 15, 2010

Conway Twitty: Too Sexy for Country?

MARCH 15, 2010


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Note: The quality of the music reproduction on the Playlist is much better than the quality of the YouTube videos. And if you don't listen to the Playlist with earphones or earbuds I doubt you will be able to tell what is so very unique about his voice and music.

YouTube videos follow this introduction

Harold Jenkins didn't sound to him like much of a name for a singer who intended to distinguish himself from the crowd so he became Conway Twitty, which was nothing if not unique. No one really knows if he, as rumor has it, conjured the name by glancing at a map and noticing Conway, Ark. and Twitty, Tx. but the name is certainly hard to forget.

Before Sue and I got married we decided to take a drive from St. Louis down to Branson and I was introducing her to country music. I asked her to fumble around in the glove box for a Conway Twitty tape.

She looked at me and said, "What's that?"

I said, "That's the name of the top country singer."

"You're kidding, right?"


Well, she found it, got a good laugh out of his name, played the tape -- and became another Conway Twitty fan.

Conway Twitty was a singer/song writer who had early success in rock and roll, R&B and pop. But it was in the singing of country ballads, many of which were sensuous, with thinly veiled sexual innuendos, that pushed him to the very top of the country charts for over 30 years. Much of his music was indeed suggestive and sensuous, but it never crossed the line into anything remotely vulgar.

On the contrary, it would be considered tame by today's much looser standards. Nevertheless he encountered substantial opposition to it throughout his career from the traditionalists in the genre.

Yet, until 2007 he held the record of 55 number one country singles. And, in addition to his solo career, in the early '70s he and Loretta Lynn won award after award as their duets topped the country charts time and again. His cross over covers of such songs as "The Rose" won appreciation far beyond the country genre.

His initial success was in rock and roll. Writing and singing "Its Only Make Believe" he finally had his first #1 hit, on the pop charts, not only on Billboard but in 21 other countries. That was the beginning of a strong international fan base that was to remain with him even after he crossed from rock to country and which bolstered his record sales and made him an international singing star.

After modest success in rock, some R&B and pop, by the mid-60s Conway Twitty had his heart set on moving into country music. However, many country DJs did not want to play his music because he was a "rock and roll" singer.

But by 1968 with his first country #1 song he was firmly entrenched on the country scene, without much help from either the DJs or the country establishment. Nobody liked his music except the people. They loved it.

Nevertheless, he continued to have trouble getting some of his songs played by prudish disk jockeys. Today we would find it hard the believe that the sexual innuendo of the lyrics of his songs, coupled with the way he sang them, could possibly bother a disk jockey. But Conway Twitty was not one to change what made his music stand apart from the then current country scene.

Twitty knew exactly what he was doing and became a country heart throb and sensation in the 70s and 80s, selling out every venue he played, complete with a following of swooning women, not unlike what happened to Sinatra and Elvis. County music had never seen anything like it, and hasn't again since.

While performing in Branson, Mo, in 1993 he became ill and died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was only 59 years old.

Ironically, in country music circles Conway Twitty is not talked about much these days and his songs are seldom played, even on the Country Golden Oldies stations. If I had to guess why I would say that he is a victim of his own success.

His voice was unique, gravelly, ranging from a deep baritone to tenor, and he sometimes whispered the words as much as sang them. He sounded, well, the only word is "sexy." And when that voice was combined with suggestive lyrics he created an image that was just a bit too "bad boy" for some of the country music crowd.

I also think that artists that start out in rock and roll and end up in country music never are quite considered to be "really" country by the powers that be in country music. This is in spite of the fact that he was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, posthumously, in 1999.

I liked Conway Twitty from the first time I heard him singing early rock and R&B and I still like his music today. All of it. And that is why I have posted this tribute.

More on Conway Twitty can be found here:

Lay You Down

Don't Take It Away

Hello, Darlin'

Slow Hand

Easy Lovin' w/ Loretta Lynn

I'm Not Through Loving You Yet

Almost Persuaded

Don't Call Him a Cowboy

A Bridge That Just Won't Burn