Cover Story: We Remember the Late Great Conway Twitty (1996)

Conway Twitty: Back On The Charts and Bigger Than Life

Originally published in the June 7, 1994, issue of Country Weekly featuring Conway on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Conway Twitty’s distinctive growl fell silent a year ago this week, but his country music peers, family, friends and fans will never forget the mark this legend made through five decades in show business.

Even a year after his passing, Conway’s music lives on—his duet with rocker Sam Moore, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” receives heavy airplay as the first single released off the smash hit album *Rhythm Country & Blues,* which continues to ride high on the charts.

“When you think of country music, how can you not think of Conway Twitty?” asked his longtime singing partner, Loretta Lynn. “He had one hit right after the other.”

As a country music artist, Conway’s string of 75 Top 10 hits placed him behind only two others—Eddy Arnold (92) and George Jones (79). No country singer ever recorded as many No. 1 hits.

Among the 2,000 who crowded into the memorial service last June were those who felt a special closeness to the star: Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Barbara Mandrell, Mickey Gilley, Tammy Wynette, “Little” Jimmy Dickens and the Oak Ridge Boys all said farewell, as did Vince Gill, who got his first gig as a harmony singer with Conway and went on to sing on his albums for six years.

Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, he came up with the name Conway Twitty by looking at a map and combining Conway, Ark., with Twitty, Texas—but his name was not his only unique quality. In his first recording session, a technician detected an unexpected sound. A nervous Harold Jenkins asked if he should start over, but, thankfully, the growl was left in.

“That growl has been part of my singing style for as long as I can remember, from the first time I recorded,” he once said.

Fans embraced that style at once, and Twitty became a superstar with the million-selling smash, “It’s Only Make Believe.”

The mania that followed the song’s success inspired the character Conrad Birdie in the Broadway musical *Bye, Bye Birdie*. But three gold records and eight years later, Twitty walked away from rock and to conquer country music.

More than anything else, Twitty had a keen understanding of country music fans—and the type of songs that would please them. “It’s my instinct more than my voice that keeps me on top,” Conway once admitted. “I know where to put the emphasis—not on Conway Twitty, but on that song.”

He would consider and reject hundreds of songs—including his own efforts—before settling on the ones to record.

“All the writers in town considered it a great honor to have a Conway Twitty cut,” said his daughter Joni Jenkins. “He had the cream of the crop bringing him material.”

“He said that he’d always pick a song or write a song that women would hear and love,” his widow, Dee Jenkins, said. “Right up to the last album project we finished, that was still the most important thing.”

“I heard him say things like, `Never put a woman down,’ ” Joni said. “He had a real insight with women’s sensitivities.”

The name in country music that will always be linked with Conway Twitty is his singing partner of 18 years and longtime business associate, Loretta Lynn.

“I’d have to say that knowing Conway Twitty has been one of my great pleasures in life,” Loretta told COUNTRY WEEKLY in an exclusive interview. “He was the greatest gentleman I have ever met. Not only was he a great singing partner but a special friend to me and to my husband, too. I would have to say that I have lost one of my greatest friends.”

“After the Fire Is Gone” was their first chart topper as a duo in 1971. They were first named Vocal Duo of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1972, and again in 1973, 1974 and 1975.

Their other beloved duets included “Lead Me On,” “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “As Soon As I Hang up the Phone.”

“When we went into the studio to record, there was a spark between us,” Loretta said. “I would sing my butt off and he would sing his off—we had to do that to get the best record. And I think we proved that by all the awards we got. Our first record got a Grammy.”

Although he loved performing with Loretta, his true showbiz love were his fans. “It’s all the difference in the world,” he once said. “Country fans are almost a part of your life. If something bad happens to you, they get down with you. If you’re up, they’re up with you. It’s like having a million real friends.”

The fans led him to build Twitty City, a nine-acre entertainment complex outside Nashville where he often greeted tours personally.

“He did it for the fans because he knew they wanted to see something other than just the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland and the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Dee Jenkins said. “He put back something into the business that he got so much out of.

“It’s 99.9 percent sure that this will be Twitty City’s last season and it’ll be closed in the middle of September,” Dee said. “It’s in the process of being sold. I would like to encourage the fans who come to Nashville to go back one more time to Twitty City. A special tribute to Conway will be unveiled June 5, the anniversary of Conway’s death. It’s called `Final Touches’ and it honors Conway because he gave so much to all of us. I hope they’ll come and take a look at that and pay their respects to Conway one more time.”

The always hardworking Twitty had stepped up his pace a year ago to help fill in for Loretta, who had to cancel some performances when her husband, Mooney, fell ill. On June 4, 1993, he was returning on his tour bus from a concert in Branson, Mo., to Nashville when he collapsed from an abdominal aneurysm and died the next day.

“I don’t think there will be another artist like my daddy,” said his daughter Kathy Jenkins. “Obviously, the first thing I think about isn’t his music. He was a daddy. A wonderful and loving daddy. Conway Twitty was his work, but he was a man.”

Sam Moore, legendary R&B singer as half of the duo Sam and Dave, recorded “Rainy Night in Georgia” with Twitty for the currently red-hot compilation album *Rhythm, Country & Blues* three weeks before Conway died.

It was Twitty’s last recording session.

Moore’s impressions sum up one of country music’s legends, whose dedication to his music and his family, and the open, easy manner that made millions call him a friend.

“I was only with him a little while, but those two to three hours were quality,” Moore recalled. “The first thing I noticed about him was how much he loved his wife. He *looooved* his wife, he adored her.

“He had a warmth, an aura around him and he was easy to smile,” Moore remembered. “He made you feel comfortable. I was in awe of Conway. Man, what a pleasure to sing with him!”

Moore’s reaction to the news of Twitty’s death probably describes the loss felt by many of his friends and fans. “To tell you the truth, I was angry with him for a few weeks after he died,” Moore confided, “because I felt, `Dog, how dare you die on me? I didn’t get a chance to know you enough. You’re my friend.’ ”

A friend whose memory vibrates onward.

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