Harold Lloyd Jenkins was born in September of 1933, in Mississippi. His father, Floyd, a labourer, taught his son how to play the guitar.
When Harold was ten years of age, the Jenkins family moved across the Mississippi River and into Arkansas. Floyd obtained a job as the captain of a ferry. Harold became enamoured of country music and began singing it to passengers aboard the ferries.
Two years later Harold became a member of the Phillips County Ramblers. The group was deemed to be good enough to appear on the local radio station.
Harold was drafted into the army, in 1954, and was to spend much of the next two years in Japan. He and other soldiers formed a band called The Cimarrons.
Listening to Elvis Presley’s first national and, indeed, international hit, “Heartbreak Hotel”, in early 1956, convinced Harold that he could sing in that same vein. However, trying his hand at recording in the same studio as Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, at Sun Records, in Memphis, came to nought.
Not to be deterred, Harold formed a new band, The Rockhousers, and created the distinctive stage name of ‘Conway Twitty’, for himself, by combining the names of two towns, namely Conway, in Arkansas, and Twitty, in Texas. One minor hit on the label, Mercury, was enough to draw interest from MGM Records and it was under this livery that Conway recorded “It’s Only Make Believe”, in Nashville, in 1958.
Conway’s treatment of this powerful ballad, which he had co-written with the drummer from The Rockhousers, Jack Nance, gave him his first No.1 hit on the pop charts and propelled him to international stardom.
In 1959, Conway released a boogie version of “Mona Lisa”, a song that had been sung so splendidly by Nat ‘King’ Cole, in 1950. This was followed by an almost sacrilegious rock version of the standard, “Danny Boy”. Finally, to round off the year nicely for him, came the single, “Lonely Blue Boy”, in which one does not have to look far to detect the influence Elvis Presley was having upon his early career.
Before the British groups, most notably The Beatles, heralded a new direction in popular music, Conway had reverted to his first musical love, country,and this led him to be signed to Decca Records, in Nashville. His career in this genre was to span decades.
In 1973, his lyrically explicit No.1 hit, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”, created controversy and some country stations refused to play it.
Conway also vocally delved into blues and rhythm and blues, with “After All The Good Is Gone”, in 1976, reflecting this. In the 1980s he recorded for Electra and thence Warner, before returning to Decca, which by then was known as MCA.
Like Buck Owens, on the opposite side of the country, Conway was a shrewd businessman. One example of this was the fact that he owned ‘Twitty City’, a huge theme park, near Nashville.
In June of 1993, Conway collapsed on his bus towards the end of a tour. He was rushed to hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where a ruptured abdominal aneurysm claimed his life.
At the time of his death Conway had amassed thirty-five No.1 country hits. These exclude the five he had shared, in duet, with Loretta Lynn (I have a post on her too!). Conway’s most popular country hit was “Hello Darlin'”, in 1970.
Perhaps, my favourite country hit of Conway’s comes from 1969 in the form of “To See An Angel Cry”.
Although Glen Campbell successfully revived “It’s Only Make Believe”, in 1970, I much prefer Conway Twitty’s original and for that reason it his recording that is recommended to you in my list of favourites, which is located in the suggested playlists.