Artists who were fans of Earl Thomas Conley gathered at the CMA Theatre at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Tuesday (September 10, 2019) to pay tribute to the man Blake Shelton called “My superhero,” Earl Thomas Conley.
Before a near capacity crowd, the group of entertainers talked about Conley’s influence on them and sang his songs. All agreed that Conley’s music had a depth to it that continues to influence country music today.
They also agreed his songs appeared deceptively easy to sing.
Bryan, who sang “Once In A Blue Moon,” said during rehearsals that he was probably going to have to switch to falsetto on some of the high notes, quipping.
“You just don’t know the range in these songs until you try to sing them,” said Bryan.
Anderson recalled playing right field with Conley for the Warner Brothers softball team when the two were just starting out, and how great it was that each of them achieved their dreams.
“I asked him one day while we were standing in right field if he wrote ‘Smokey Mountain Memories’ and he said yes. I said I was going to sing it one day, and today is that day.”
Bradley, who is an award-winning entertainer in bluegrass, was honored to be chosen to take part in the tribute. Conley was a huge bluegrass fan. Bradley pointed out that “His approach to singing, writing and picking was just like the bluegrass singers. It’s all truth and emotions. I know some of the bluegrass bands have recorded some of his songs.”
McCoy traveled with Conley when the two opened for Charley Pride. Diffie admired Conley as a vocalist and stylist. Hayes said his first purchase of a Conley song was “Fire and Smoke.” Before he got into the business himself, he met the singer at a celebrity golf tournament. “He was so kind but a little shy, and that always stuck with me.”
Aldean met Conley early in his career and was invited to go on his bus. “He said he liked my music, and I had only had a couple songs out at that time. I was struck by his kindness.”
Bradley received the first standing ovation of the day with her rendition of “We Believe in Happy Endings,” done in three-part harmony with Tina Adair and Kim Fowler. Bryan received the second with “Once In A Blue Moon” and Shelton For “What I’d Say.”
Bill Cody and Devon O’Day from WSM-AM 650 co-hosted the Tribute, adding their favorite stories of Conley. O’Day asked the audience, “Did you ever have Earl tell you a joke? That laugh … I’ll never forget it.”
“I remember one day I was interviewing Earl and I asked him who his heroes were,” Cody said. “He said Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, and I looked at him and said, ‘Didn’t you want to be anybody well behaved?” Earl just looked at me and said, ‘Apparently not’.”
Included in the tribute were videos sent by artists who couldn’t take part in the memorial – Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, Little Big Town, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jake Owens, Toby Keith and Vince Gill.
ABOUT EARL THOMAS CONLEY
Earl Thomas Conley was a true artist in every sense of the word. He was not only a singer, entertainer and songwriter, he was also a visual artist, and was offered an art scholarship after graduating from high school.
Earl’s musical influences ran from the gospel music he heard in church and sang with his aunt and uncle to the bluegrass and country music his father listened to, including Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin and Hank Williams. His first cut as a songwriter was “This Time I Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” by Conway Twitty, soon followed by Mel Street’s “Smokey Mountain Memories.” In 1981 Earl had his first number one as a recording artist, “Fire & Smoke”.
Earl became a favorite at radio and was soon dubbed “The thinking man’s country artist.” The singer found his place in music history in 1984 when he became the first artist in any genre to have four number one singles off one album, “Don’t Make It Easy For Me.” “Your Love’s On The Line,” “Holding Her and Loving You,” “Don’t Make It Easy For Me” and “Angel In Disguise” all hit the top of the “Billboard” charts. Earl had 22 number one career singles, including “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong,” “Honor Bound,” “Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart It Breaks),” “Once In A Blue Moon” and “What I’d Say.” In the 1980’s he was ranked third behind Alabama and Ronnie Milsap for having the most number ones in that decade.
The singer made history again in 1986 when he recorded a duet with Anita Pointer, “Too Many Times,” and became the first country artist to perform on “Soul Train.” He also had duets with Gus Hardin, “All Tangled Up In Love;” Emmylou Harris, “We Believe In Happy Endings;” and Keith Whitley, “Brotherly Love.”
“The Essential Earl Thomas Conley” was recently released by Sony Legacy. It is available only on digital and includes a brand-new song by Earl, “Love’s The Only Voice.” (Amazon link to the album: https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Earl-Thomas-Conley/dp/B07C89VRM5)
Story Courtesy of Vernell Hackett