Conway Twitty (September 1, 1933 – June 5, 1993), born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, was an American country music artist. He also had success in early rock and roll, R&B and pop music. He held the record for the most number one singles of any act, with 40 No. 1 Billboard country hits, until George Strait broke the record in 2006. From 1971 to 1976, Twitty received a string ofCountry 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.
- 2 Posthumous releases
- 3 Legal issues
- 4 55 No.1 hits
- 5 Discography
- 6 Awards
- 7 Covers
- 8 Popular culture
- 9 Notes
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
Conway Twitty was born 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 US 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 of how Harold Jenkins acquired his stage name of Conway Twitty vary. Allegedly, in 1957, Jenkins decided that his real name wasn't marketable 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.
Using his new stage name, Conway Twitty's fortunes improved in 1958, while he was with MGM Records. An Ohio radio station did not play "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. It became the first of nine top 40 hits for Twitty. That same year, country singer Tabby West of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee heard Twitty and he was booked to appear on the show.
For a brief period, some believed Twitty was Elvis Presley recording under a different name. This was largely the case with "It's Only Make Believe". 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.
In 1960, Twitty appeared in three feature films: College Confidential, Sex Kittens Go to College and Platinum High School.
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, ensued 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 hit ever, "Hello Darlin'" (which spent four weeks at the top of the country chart). 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 disc jockeys refused to play the song because of its suggestive lyrics.
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 but it peaked 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.
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 on with Warner Bros. Records through early 1987 but then went back to MCA to finish out his career. In 1993, shortly before he died, he recorded a new album, Final Touches.
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. The address was 1 Country Music Blvd. Its lavish displays of Christmas lights were a famous local sight. Conway Twitty and Twitty City were once featured on the TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Twitty City was also seen in the Nashville episode of the BBC seriesEntertainment USA. 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 for its religious programs.
In June 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 died in Springfield, Missouri, at Cox South Hospital, 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 denied Twitty's attempt 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 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 three times. His widow in 1993, 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 third 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 topublic 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 was the only singer to have 55 No. 1 hits in his career until George Strait eventually eclipsed the long-held record. Conway's 55th and final No. 1 was "Crazy in Love" in 1990 on the Cashbox chart. His final No. 1 on the country charts was "Desperado Love" in 1986. His first No. 1 was "It's Only Make Believe" in 1958 on the Hot 100 pop chart. He is best known for his 1970 No. 1 single "Hello Darlin'."
There were multiple weekly music charts in circulation during much of Conway's career: Billboard, Record World, Cashbox, Gavin, Radio, and Records. Billboard is the lone surviving publication of the group. Radio and Records, emerging in 1973, was bought out by Billboard in 2006 (ending a 33-year run as an independent music survey) but the R&R brand was phased out in 2009 altogether. Conway reached No. 1 on Radio and Records many times; quite a few of his No. 1 hits in the latter years of his career reached the top of this publication while peaking in the top five in Billboard. The Gavin Report, founded in 1958, ended publication in 2002. Cashbox was in publication from 1942 through 1996. As is the case with Radio and Records, Conway reached No. 1 on Cashbox with most of his recordings. His 55th and final No. 1 hit, "Crazy in Love", reached No. 1 on Cashbox and No. 3 on Billboard in the fall of 1990. Record World started out under the name Music Vendor in 1946. The publication's name change took place in 1964. Conway often reached No. 1 on the Record World country charts with singles that reached the No. 2 or No. 3 position on Billboard's chart.
Billboard began publication in 1894 and was completely different from what it appears today. It wasn't until the 1930s that music sales and, later, jukebox play became a focal point of the publication. In the late 1950s, Billboard unveiled their Hot 100 chart which has more commonly become known as the pop singles chart. Their country chart began in 1944 and is still in publication. Twitty reached No. 1 40 times on the Billboard country chart from 1968 through 1986. His 1958 single "It's Only Make Believe" reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, giving him an overall total of 41 Billboard No. 1 hits. The 41 Billboard No. 1 hits are often what historians and critics[who?] point to whenever citing his No. 1 total even though, technically, he reached the top 14 additional times with other singles on the other weekly music charts.
- 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
- 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, "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, Ken Checker'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's top five hit, "I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)," originally from Conway's 1979 album Crosswinds, 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.
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 popstar who was willing to sue them.
In the 1959 LP Songs for Swinging Sellers, Peter Sellers included a character "Twit Conway", who was a rock singer.