Conway Twitty (September 1, 1933-June 5, 1993), born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, was one of the United States' most successful country music artists of the 20th century. Most commonly thought of as a country music singer, he also enjoyed success in early rock and roll, R&B, and pop music. Until 2006, he held the record for the most #1 singles of any country act, with 40 #1 Billboard country hits. (George Strait broke the record in 2006 with the single "Give It Away").
Conway Twitty was born Harold Jenkins on September 1, 1933 in Friars Point, Mississippi. He was named by his great uncle after his favorite silent movie actor, Harold Lloyd. The Jenkins family moved to Helena, Arkansas (now known as Helena-West Helena, Arkansas) when Jenkins was 10 years of age, and it was in Helena that Jenkins put together his first singing group, the Phillips County Ramblers.
Two years later, he had his own local radio show every Saturday morning. Jenkins also practiced his second passion, baseball. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school, but he was drafted into the Army. He served in the Far East and organized a group called The Cimmerons to entertain fellow GIs.
Inspired by Elvis
After his discharge from the Army, Jenkins again pursued a music career. After hearing Elvis Presley's song, "Mystery Train", he began writing rock 'n' roll material. As a matter of fact, he headed for the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and worked with Sam Phillips, owner and founder of Sun Studios, to get the "right" sound.
Source of stage name
Jenkins felt that his real name wasn't marketable, and he changed his show business name in 1957. (Harold Jenkins remained his legal name.) Looking at a road map, he spotted Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas. Thus, he went with the professional name of Conway Twitty.
Alternatively, 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 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. The Richmond Conway Twitty subsequently recorded the song, "What's in a Name But Trouble," in the mid-1960s, lamenting the loss of his name to Jenkins.
There were also rumors he had lovers in Conway, Arkansas, as well as Twitty, Texas and his stage name was a constant reminder of their love.
"It's Only Make Believe" was recorded in 1958 and became the first of nine Top 40 hits for Twitty, reaching #1 and selling eight million copies. The song was written between sets by Conway and drummer Jack Nance when they were in Hamilton, Ontario playing at the Flamingo Lounge.
Twitty's fortunes changed in 1958, while he was with MGM Records. An Ohio radio station did not play "I'll Try", an MGM single that went basically nowhere in terms of sales, radio play, and jukebox play, instead playing the "B side" of the single. The B side was a song called "It's Only Make Believe". It was popular in Ohio, and gradually became popular throughout the country, as well. That same year, country singer Tabby West of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee heard Twitty and he was signed to appear on the show.
For a brief period, some believed that he was Elvis Presley recording under a different name. This was largely the case with "It's Only Make Believe." The record took nearly one year to reach and stay at the top spot of the charts. The song went on to sell over eight million records and to No. 1 on the Billboard pop music charts in the U.S. as well as No. 1 in 21 different nations.
Twitty would go on to enjoy rock-n-roll success with a song like "Danny Boy" (Pop No. 10) and "Lonely Blue Boy" (Pop No. 6). "Lonely Blue Boy" was originally titled "Danny" and was recorded by Presley for the film King Creole. It was not used in the film soundtrack.
Career in country music
Conway 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 DJs refusing to play them because he was well 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.
In 1970, Conway 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 #1 in country for three weeks that September but also reached #22 on the pop charts. Some disc jockeys refused to play the song because of its suggestive lyrics.
In 1978 he issued the single "The Grandest Lady of Them All" and for the first time since 1967, a single of his failed to reach Top-10 status. Few of his singles beginning in 1968 ranked below the Top-5. Radio stations refused to play a song honoring the property of a competitor. WSM radio broadcasts The Grand Ole Opry. 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 slick-back pompadour style to the curlier style he would keep the rest of his life.
In 1982 he opened the tourist complex, Twitty-City in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The attraction became 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, 1993-1994, where fans and peer's in the music business dropped by. Afterward, the complex was auctioned off and bought by the Trinity Broadcasting Network for their religious programs.
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 #1 ranking. He would have five more through 1990, giving him a total of 55 #1 hits. George Strait eclipsed the feat of 50 #1 hits in 2002 with his single "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and then reached #1 for the 56th time in 2007 with the single "Wrapped".
In 1993, shortly before he died, he recorded a new album, Final Touches. Since his death, his son Michael and grandson Tre have been carrying on the legacy of Twitty's music.
Twitty's most recent chart appearance on the country charts was a duet with Anita Cochran, "I Want to Hear a Cheating Song" (2004). Twitty's voice was electronically created based on one of his hits from the 1980s.
Throughout much of his country music career his home was Decca Records, later re-named MCA. In fact, he signed to the label in the latter part of 1965. He left the label in 1981 when it appeared as if they were marketing and promoting newer acts, plus management at the label had changed and other things brought on the decision. He joined Elektra/Asylum in 1982 but then 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.
While Twitty has been 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 - his own songs have not been covered that often. However, four notable covers include George Jones' rendition of "Hello Darlin", Blake Shelton's "Goodbye Time", The Misfits version of "It's Only Make Believe" and Elvis Presley's version of "There's a Honky Tonk Angel". In addition, Kenny Chesney's version of "I'd Love to Lay You Down" was sung and received some success, mostly in the concert realm. However, some artists have had hits with songs that Conway recorded but never released as singles. Among these are: Steve Wariner's "I'm Already Taken" from Conway's 1981 album "Mr. T", Lee Greenwood's "It Turns Me Inside Out" from Conway's 1982 album "Southern Comfort", John Conlee's "In My Eyes" from Conway's 1982 album "Dream Maker", John Schneider's "What's a Memory Like You (Doin' in a Love Like This?)" from Conway's 1985 album "Chasin' Rainbows", and Daryle Singletary's "The Note" and Ricky Van Shelton's "Somebody Lied" from Conway's 1985 album "Don't Call Him a Cowboy". These are just a few examples showing Conway's knack for picking hit songs, whether or not they were destined to be his own.
Twitty married three times. After his death, his widow, 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. His 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, their father's final wishes finally saw the light in the courtroom when the 4 children received the rights to his music, name and image. The rest of the estate went to a public auction and much of the property and memorabilia was held because the widow refused to accept the appraised value so therefore she demanded that everything be sold so she could get a higher amount.
In 2008, controversy again erupted in the family when the four remaining children sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing over an agreement that Twitty and his family signed in 1990. The suit alleges that the terms of the agreement were not fully understood by the children, although they were all adults at the time. It seeks to recover copyrights and royalty revenue that the document assigned to the company.
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City. Its lavish displays of Christmas lights were a famous local sight. It has since been sold to the Trinity Broadcasting Network and converted to a Christian music venue in 1994. Conway Twitty and Twitty City were once featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with host Robin Leach. The broadcast included an interview with Conway Twitty. The address of Twitty City was 1 Country Music Blvd, Hendersonville, TN.
Conway Twitty became ill while performing in Branson, Missouri, and was in pain while he was on the tour bus. He died in Springfield, Missouri, at Cox South Hospital from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Twitty's success in country music was a key factor in his winning a 1983 case, Harold L. Jenkins (a/k/a Howard 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.
Academy of Country Music
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
Country Music Association
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
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Inducted in 1999
Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame
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'"
Rockabilly Hall of Fame