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Slow Hand

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Published on Feb 27, 2009

Buck Norris sings Slow Hand by Conway Twitty.
Originally a '50s rock & roll singer, Conway Twitty became the reigning country superstar of the '70s and '80s, racking up a record 40 number one hits over the course of two decades. With his deep, resonant down-home voice, Twitty was one of the smoothest balladeers to work in Nashville during the country-pop era, but he was also one of the most adventurous. More than any other singer, he was responsible for selling country as an "adult" music, slipping sexually suggestive lyrics into his lush productions, yet never singing misogynist lyrics — by and large, his songs were sensitive and sensual, which is part of the reason why he achieved such a large success. Once Twitty reached the top of the country charts in the late '60s, he stayed there for years on end, releasing a consistent stream of Top Ten hits that both defined and expanded the limitations of country-pop by adding subtle R&B, pop, and rock & roll influences. Though he had some pop success, Twitty remained country to the core — occasionally, his song titles were simply too corny — which was why he retained his popularity until his death in 1993.

The son of a riverboat captain, Twitty (born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, September 1, 1933; died June 5, 1993) was born in Mississippi and raised in Helena, AR, where he learned to love not only country, but also blues and gospel. When he was ten years old, he joined his first group, the Phillips Country Ramblers, who occasionally performed on local radio. Despite his interest in music, he originally planned to become a professional baseball player. Jenkins was talented enough to be offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, but he was unable to join the team, since he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. While he was serving in the Far East, he sang with a country band called the Cimarrons. Returning to America in 1956, Jenkins still had an open offer to join the Phillies, yet he decided to pursue a musical career after he heard Elvis Presley.

With dreams of recording for Sun Records, Jenkins headed to Memphis, where Sam Phillips did indeed sign him to a recording contract, but none of the tracks he cut were ever released; Jenkins' biggest contribution to the label was writing "Rock House," a minor hit for Roy Orbison. Leaving Sun in late 1956, he set out on a rockabilly package tour, during which he invented the stage name of Conway Twitty by combining the names of an Arkansas and Texas city, respectively. At the beginning of 1957, he signed to Mercury Records, where he released a handful of singles that didn't make much of an impact, though "I Need Your Lovin'" scraped the very bottom of the pop charts. In 1958, he moved to MGM Records, where he finally achieved success with "It's Only Make Believe," a song he had written with Jack Nance. Recorded with vocal support by Presley's back group, the Jordanaires, "It's Only Make Believe" became a major hit, spending two weeks at number one and going gold. Over the course of 1959 and 1960, Twitty released a number of singles, the most popular of which were the Top Ten "Danny Boy" and "Lonely Blue Boy," and appeared in the B movies Sex Kittens Go to College, Platinum High School, and College Confidential.

Twitty's rock & roll fame arrived suddenly and it went away just as quickly. By the beginning of 1961, his singles had stopped entering the Top 40. Nevertheless, he continued to tour, but soon MGM dropped him from their roster. Signing with ABC-Paramount, he began to add more country songs to his repertoire, yet he was still primarily recording pop material. Once Ray Price took Twitty's "Walk Me to the Door" to the country Top Ten, Conway decided he wanted to become a country singer, but he didn't actively pursue that avenue until 1965, when he walked out in the middle of a concert at a New Jersey nightclub. By the end of 1965, Twitty had begun a collaboration with record producer Owen Bradley, one of the cornerstones of the Nashville sound, and had signed to Decca Records. In the spring of the following year, he released his first country single, "Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart," which peaked at number 18. For the next two years, he had a steady stream of four minor hits, finally breaking into the Top Ten with "The Image of Me" in the spring of 1968, followed a few months later by his first number one hit, "Next in Line." For the next four years, he had a string of 12 Top Five singles for Decca, eight of which — including "I Love You More Today," "To See My Angel Cry," "Hello Darlin'," "Fifteen Years Ago," and "How Much More She Can Stand" — were number one hits.

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