Conley coming back strong
For longer than almost anyone could imagine, Earl Thomas Conley was a hit machine. But even machines wear out.Conley, who’s performing Sunday night in Beaver Creek’s Vilar Center, is one of those rare artists who walked away at his peak – 21 No. 1 hits – but didn’t miss a step when it was time to hit the comeback trail.”I’ve developed a love for the audience I have,” said Conley. “I never had a clear picture of who they are and what they are until now. Now I KNOW how much they believe in me.”Conley grew up an artist in a hardscrabble Ohio mining and industrial town that had seen its glory days pass by long ago.After high school, he was ready to accept an art scholarship from a local college, but opted for the Army instead. The Army changes young men in many ways, and it was there, as a member of a Christian-influenced trio, that Conley realized his talent as a musician and vocalist. He found himself still attached to the roots of the country music his father had played for him as a child. He also figured that entertaining wasn’t a bad way to make a living.
“I’m learning every day of my life. I don’t think you ever get out of school,” said Conley. “I love everybody, and I love everybody who loves my music.”Conley sought an education in country music at the feet of the masters: Merle Haggard, George Jones and Charlie Pride. If you’re going to be a country musician, you need to be in Nashville, Conley reasoned. Nashville, however, did not need him, at least not yet.Success eluded him in Music City, so he landed in Huntsville, Ala., just to stay close. During a song-plugging visit in 1973, Conley met Dick Herd, who produced Mel Street. The meeting led to the Conley-Herd composite “Smokey Mountain Memories,” which Street took straight into the Top 10.With that success, Nashville rolled out the welcome mat for Conley, where luck as a songwriter continued with “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loved Me,” a No. 1 hit for Conway Twitty in 1975.Conley decided to make the move to singer. After a rocky start in 1979, he recorded the “Blue Pearl” album with producer Nelson Larkin. The song “Fire & Smoke” became Conley’s first No. 1 as an artist, and he was on his way.
RCA picked up Conley’s contract and for the next 10 years Conley became a hit machine. He was country, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, pop and adult contemporary. Multiple Grammy nominations for his 1983 hit, “Holding Her & Loving You” won the “Country Song of the Year” award. It also allowed Conley to be the first artist to take four singles from an album to the No. 1 spot.Conley became the first and only country artist ever to appear on the popular R&B television show “Soul Train,” where he performed his 1986 hit duet with Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, “Too Many Times.”But by 1991, Conley had had enough. Financial woes and the death of his father also contributed to this tailspin. He took a seven year hiatus from the studio. Conley finally had the one thing he had lacked during his period of skyrocketing success – time.”No matter how bad a situation might be at a time, if you change your mind and use your imagination in a positive direction, things go exactly where you want it to go,” said Conley.
The much slower pace of road life provided adequate time to rediscover the joys of songwriting. By 1997, Earl had accumulated more than 70 songs and started thinking about a return to the studio. This time, he was going to do it his way.With longtime friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin in tow, Conley stood behind the mic, rediscovering his voice with every note. The confines of the studio were fun again and by January 1998 the team emerged with Perpetual Emotion, a ten track offering containing five new songs co-written by Conley and five newly-recorded versions of Conley’s most popular No. 1.”I’d just like to say thanks to everybody for helping me out and being there when I needed them!” said Conley.What is 4-H?The Eagle County branch of 4-H helps young people develop life skills through “Learning by Doing” activities. The program is guided by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its purpose is two-fold: To provide an opportunity for parents and other interested adults to work with youth in their community, and to provide real-life experiences for youth through fun and educational programs and activities. Youth participating in 4-H activities will display their projects at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo Aug. 1-8. For more information about Eagle County 4-H programs, visit http://www.eagle-county.com/csu.
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