100 Greatest Men: #15. Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He started out as a pop teen idol, but Conway Twitty’s powerful vocals and smart taste in material made him one of country music’s longest reigning superstars.

Twitty was born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, a background that exposed him to gospel and blues music, as well as country music. By age ten, he was playing in his own country band, but his attention was set on being a professional baseball player.  Unfortunately, as soon as he was offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, he was drafted into the army.

When he returned to the States, he head the music of Elvis Presley and decided he’d rather pursue singing instead of baseball.  Twitty moved to Memphis with the intention of joining Presley’s label, Sun Records.  He recorded for Sun under his birth name, Harold Jenkins, but the label didn’t release the material.   After penning a hit for Roy Orbison called “Rock House”, he joined a rockabilly tour and adopted the stage name Conway Twitty.   A recording contract with MGM proved fruitful, as his breakthrough hit, “It’s Only Make Believe”, topped the pop charts in 1958.

Twitty continued to record rock and pop material until the mid-sixties, when he turned to his true passion of country music.  Working diligently with producer Owen Bradley, Twitty finally broke through in the country market in 1968, with the hit, “The Image of Me.”   Once the hits started, they would continue for more than two decades.

The seventies brought his biggest hits, including classics like “Hello Darlin'” and “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”, the latter of which was banned by many radio stations for its suggestive lyrics, but also returned him to the top twenty of the pop charts for the first time in more than a decade.   In 1970, he began his collaborations with Loretta Lynn, which led to several #1 hits and major industry awards, including a Grammy and multiple CMA and ACM awards for Vocal Duo of the Year.   Their work together sold better than most of their solo material, and they continued to score big hits well into the eighties.

As country music grew more sophisticated, Twitty incorporated elements of soul and gospel into his repertoire, as he racked up an unprecedented string of forty #1 hits, a record that he held for twenty years until George Strait scored his 41st #1 hit in 2006.   Twitty scored with everything from traditional country to covers of pop hits by Andy Gibb (“Rest Your Love on Me”), Bette Midler (“The Rose”), and the Pointer Sisters (“Slow Hand.”)   In 1991, when most of his contemporaries had long been banished from radio by the new country movement, Twitty was still a presence in the top five of the country charts.

His career was tragically cut short in 1993, when an abdominal aneurysm claimed his life at age 59.   Remembered as both the High Priest of Country Music and “the best friend a song ever had”, Conway Twitty joined the immortal ranks of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.

Essential Singles:

  • It’s Only Make Believe, 1958
  • Hello Darlin’, 1970
  • After the Fire is Gone (with Loretta Lynn), 1971
  • You’ve Never Been This Far Before, 1973
  • This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me, 1975
  • Don’t Take it Away, 1979
  • I’d Just Love to Lay You Down, 1980
  • Tight Fittin’ Jeans, 1981
  • Don’t Call Him a Cowboy, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Hello Darlin’, 1970
  • We Only Make Believe (with Loretta Lynn), 1971
  • You’ve Never Been This Far Before/Baby’s Gone, 1973
  • Linda on My Mind, 1975
  • Heart & Soul, 1980
  • Mr. T., 1981
  • Southern Comfort, 1982
  • Don’t Call Him a Cowboy, 1985

Next: #14. Ray Price

Previous: #16. Marty Robbins

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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5 Comments

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5 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #15. Conway Twitty

  1. bobNo Gravatar

    The only Twitty music I have is the 45 for “It’s Only Make Believe” on MGM Records, backed with “I’ll Try” which I don’t remember. I’m not familiar with most of Conway’s country songs other than “That’s My Job” because I’ve heard writer Gary Burr sing it quite a few times.

    I vaguely recalled a connection between Twitty and “Bye Bye Birdie”, a musical and later a movie so I googled BBB. According to Wiki, the story was based on Elvis and his draft notice into the army in 1957. The article continues that the rock star character’s name, Conrad Birdie, is word play on the name of Conway Twitty.

  2. Conway Twitty really is the best friend a song could ever have!

  3. Tom PNo Gravatar

    Hi Bob, his songs “Hello Darlin” is a major country classic. I would start there and listen to his greatest hits. An amazing singer.

  4. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    It’s kind of amusing today to note that “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” would be banned by some radio stations for the suggestive nature of its lyrics (though I know things were different with country radio in 1973, when it was a hit), given how explicit (not to mention outright misogynistic) many of the lyrics of today’s “bro country” hits are.

  5. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I thought that Conway Twitty was the best friend a song ever had until I heard Gene Watson sing – now I regard him as the 2nd best friend …

    I think that Conway first eight or ten albums for MCA/Decca were terrific. A foreign label issued them as the first eight albums as two-fers a few years ago but they were needle drops of varying sound quality. I’m wondering if the original masters burned up in that Universal fire some years ago since there hasn’t been a Bear box or domestic reissue of them.

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