|Subject: Archive: Conway Twitty, June 5, 1993
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Date Posted: Wednesday, June 05, 04:23:12pm
Conway Twitty, 59, Dies on Tour; Country Star Had 50 No. 1 Songs
By DENNIS HEVESI
JUNE 6, 1993
Conway Twitty, the country and western singer who brought a rich, throaty tone to dozens of steamy ballads over four decades in the music business, died yesterday at the Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Mo. He was 59.
The cause of death was a ruptured blood vessel in his stomach, hospital officials said. Mr. Twitty collapsed Friday night on his tour bus after a performance in nearby Branson, Mo.
Mr. Twitty, whose real name was Harold Jenkins -- he was poring over a map one day and noticed the towns of Conway, Ark., and Twitty, Tex. -- began as a rock-and-roll singer in the 1950's, and his song, "Lonely Blue Boy," went gold. His biggest hit, "It's Only Make Believe," hit the top of the pop charts in 1958.
Eventually, Mr. Twitty had more than 50 No. 1 songs on the country charts. He specialized in ballads of lost love, with "Tight Fittin' Jeans," "Hello Darlin'," and "After All the Good is Gone" among his biggest hits.
Duets With Loretta Lynn
In the early 1970's, Mr. Twitty -- 5-foot-10 and with his hair still slicked back, 50's style -- had a string of successful duets with Loretta Lynn, including "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" and "After the Fire is Gone," for which they won a Grammy in 1971. Since crossing over to country and western, he had released an average of one album every eight months.
"Conway Twitty records are immediately recognizable," Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote in 1977. "The singer has one of the richest male voices in the country idiom, and his bluesy colorations, especially a kind of throaty purr, are distinctive."
Mr. Twitty once said, "I like a song that says things a man wants to say and doesn't know how to say it." Mississippi
Despite his early success at rock-and-roll, Mr. Twitty's first love was country music. He was born in Friars Point, Miss., in the delta. His father, a captain of the ferry that crossed the Mississippi to Helena, Ark., knew a few guitar chords, and his grandfather bought him a ukulele when he was 4.
Mr. Twitty once told a reporter that he remembered a tavern in Friars Point where a jukebox played country tunes. "I would go and sit under a tree and listen," he said, "or I'd run across the cotton patch behind our house to a little Negro church. I would sit on the ditch bank and listen to them sing for two or three hours; I'd be singing right along."
Although he had a country band and a radio show in Helena by the time he was 10 years old, Mr. Twitty did not, at first, seriously consider a career as a performer. "I never thought of myself as competing with the country singers I heard on the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from Nashville," he said. "I thought I hadn't lived long enough to sing country music for real."
For a time, Mr. Twitty dreamed of playing center field in the major leagues. He played high school and semi-professional baseball well enough to draw an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies, but a draft notice in 1954 intervened. Sports remained a passion, and Mr. Twitty was a part owner of a minor league baseball team, the Nashville Sounds.
Tip From Elvis
After his discharge from the Army, Mr. Twitty heard an early Elvis Presley record and changed his mind about a career in music. Mr. Presley's fusion of white and black musical styles was revolutionary, but it was a combination of elements Mr. Twitty knew well. "I think I can do that," he recalled saying to himself. He formed a group called the Rock Housers, which performed anywhere it could, including supermarket openings.
The group, renamed the Twitty Birds, began barnstorming the United States and Canada, playing Southern rockabilly with some success. But by 1958, Mr. Twitty later recalled: "I had disbanded my rock-and-roll group and was back home in Helena, Ark. We had recorded a song called, 'It's Only Make Believe,' and I was sure it was a hit. But the record had been out for weeks and hadn't done anything.
"Actually, they were pushing the flip side, 'I'll Try,' " he said. "Anyway, I had a call from a disk jockey in Columbus, Ohio. He told me I had a smash in that town." So Mr. Twitty called his band back together and began driving toward Columbus.
"I had this orchid-and-white 1957 Mercury," Mr. Twitty recalled, "a total lemon from the day I bought it. I had lemons painted all over it and 'Oil Burner' written on the side in big black letters. Well, we got near Columbus and picked up the station and every second record they were playing was, 'It's Only Make Believe.' " Crossing Over Early
The song, a throbbing ballad that Mr. Twitty wrote during an intermission in Hamilton, Ontario, went on to sell eight million copies worldwide. Then came appearances on the Perry Como, Dick Clark and Arthur Godfrey shows.
"A lot of country artists try to cross over to the pop charts," Mr. Twitty once said, "but I've already been on the other side of the fence, and I like the side I'm on."
Mr. Twitty is survived by his wife, Dee; his mother, Velma Jenkins; two daughters, Joni and Kathy, and two sons, Jimmy and Michael, all of whom live in Hendersonville, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville where the family has its home, Twitty City.
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