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1974 promotional photo
|Birth name||Harold Lloyd Jenkins|
September 1, 1933|
Friars Point, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||June 5, 1993
Springfield, Missouri, U.S.
|Genres||Country, rock and roll, rockabilly|
|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, Owen Bradley, John Hughey, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Jimmy Van Eaton, Don Bowman|
Harold Lloyd Jenkins (September 1, 1933 – June 5, 1993), better known by his stage name Conway Twitty, was an American country music 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 the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins on September 1, 1933, in Friars Point, in Coahoma County, in northwestern Mississippi. The Jenkins family were of Welsh descent. He was named by his great-uncle, after his favorite silent movie actor, Harold Lloyd. The Jenkins family moved to Helena, Arkansas, when Jenkins was 10 years old. In Helena, Jenkins formed his first singing group, the Phillips County Ramblers.
Two years later, Jenkins 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, but he was drafted into the United States Army. He served in the Far East and organized a group called the Cimmerons to entertain his fellow soldiers.
Wayne Hause, a neighbor, suggested that Jenkins could make it in the music industry. Soon after hearing Elvis Presley's song "Mystery Train", Jenkins 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 Jenkins acquired the 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 U.S. 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 recorded the song "What's in a Name but Trouble", lamenting the loss of his name to Jenkins.
In 1958 using his new stage name, 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 United States and number 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 vocal 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 number 10) and "Lonely Blue Boy" (Pop number 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. They subsequently became the Twitty Birds.
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Twitty always wanted to record country music, and, beginning in 1965, he did just that. Disc jockeys on some country-music radio stations refused to play his first few country albums, because he was known as a rock-and-roll singer. However, he had 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 number 1 in country for three weeks that September and also reached number 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 the top ten, 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 number 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 number 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 number-1 ranking. He would have five more through 1990, giving him a total of 55 number 1 hits. George Strait matched the feat of 50 number-1 hits in 2002 with his single "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and then reached number 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; management at the label had changed, in addition to other factors that 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. 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, but he was drafted into the United States Army before he could sign the contract. Twitty joined the 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, which began playing in 1978. Twitty 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 playing 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.
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Twitty was married four times, to three different women. His first marriage, to Ellen Matthews, lasted from 1953 to 1954. They had married because Ellen was pregnant with his son, Michael. His second, and longest, marriage was to Temple "Mickey" Medley. They were married in 1956 and had three children: Kathy, Joni Lee, and Jimmy Twitty. The couple were divorced in early 1970, but they remarried quietly by the end of 1970. By 1984, after 28 years of marriage on and off, the stress of Twitty's frequent absences took its toll on Mickey, and she and Conway divorced. 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 underwent a change in personality after the accident. According to his 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. He collapsed and was rushed to a hospital. He was rushed into surgery but died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, in early hours of the morning the next day, at Cox South Hospital, in Springfield, Missouri, at the age of 59. His last studio album, Final Touches, was released two months later. Four months after Twitty's death, George Jones included a cover version of "Hello Darlin'" on his album High-Tech Redneck.
Twitty was buried at Sumner Memorial Gardens in Gallatin, Tennessee, in a red granite vault, under the name "Harold L. Jenkins". There are spaces reserved next to him for his wife and his son Michael.
Since his death, Twitty's son Michael and grandson Tre have been carrying on his musical legacy. His most recent 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 was transferred to a digital multitrack and digitally reassembled into the new performance. Like 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 backing tracks that had already been produced along with Twitty's reconstructed vocal.
Currently, Bear Family Records offers a single-disc collection, Conway Rocks, featuring 30 songs, and The Rock 'n' Roll Years, a comprehensive eight-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 that he had made in order to repay investors in a defunct fast-food chain called Twitty Burger; the chain disestablished in 1971. The general 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.
Twitty recorded cover versions of numerous songs, notably "Slow Hand", a major pop hit for the Pointer Sisters; "Rest Your Love on Me", a Top-40 country hit for the Bee Gees; "The Rose", a major pop hit for Bette Midler; and "Heartache Tonight", a major pop hit for The Eagles. Twitty's songs have also been covered numerous times, including four notable covers, George Jones's rendition of "Hello Darlin", Blake Shelton's "Goodbye Time", The Misfits' and Glen Campbell's 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 Twitty's 1979 album Crosswinds; the Statler Brothers's "You'll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)", from Twitty's 1980 album Rest Your Love On Me; Steve Wariner's "I'm Already Taken" (which Wariner wrote), from Twitty's 1981 album Mr. T; 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.