Michelle asked me to feature her favorite, Earl Thomas Conley in this series. Earl Thomas Conley may be the most underrated superstar we ever had. I know that sounds like an oxymoron - but it somehow - is true. His music was known as "Thinkin' Man's Country.' He was absolutely pivotal in the development of a far more contemporary and younger country that we still enjoy today. Alabama and Conley were a starting point of real musical style change. I proudly played all his songs on the radio.
His First Real Hit Song
ETC was from Portsmouth, Ohio and after serving in the armed forces, moved to Nashville and would become a record setter that helped carry us through the 80's. An incredibly gifted songwriter, a warm vocalist, and trailblazer, he scored 30 plus hit songs and 18 number ones. The most from any artist, from any genre of the 1980's. (There are some stats that say 20 as there are many charts.) He also became the first artist of any genre to score four consecutive number one singles off a single studio album - ever.
Fire And Smoke - A Big Number One - Changed Everything For Him
His break came when two of his written songs were recorded by others, Smokey Mountain Memories for Mel Street, and This Time I've Hurt Her More, Than She Loves Me, for Conway Twitty. He signed with Sunbird Records and released the album, Blue Pearl in 1980. He moved to RCA where much of the Blue Pearl album, and some new cuts were put on his new album, Fire And Smoke (1981), and the rest is history. Fire And Smoke, the song - named #1 song of the year, and the album #19 sent him on an incredible run through the 80's. It got everyone's attention that there was a new sound in town.
Big Song - Grammy Nominated
His albums were very successful, distinctively different, and groundbreaking. He understood as well as anyone you can't record the same album over and over again. ETC found great musicians to bring life to his songs. He implemented horns at times, saxophones, synthesizers, strings, long musical solos, incredible backing vocals (from his brother, Fred), and a beat that was powerful. He also wrote and sang very emotive songs, gut-wrenching songs, drinkin' songs, and party songs. He was as honest of a singer as we had. He recorded with many duet partners including Keith Whitley, Gus Hardin, Emmylou Harris, and Anita Pointer (Of The Pointer Sisters). Their song, Too Many Times was a number 2 hit, and ETC was the first ever country singer perform on Soul Train.
Too Many Times #2 - With Anita Pointer - Incredible Versatility
4th Number One From The Record Setting - Don't Make It Easy For Me - Album
Between late 1982 and mid 1989, every song he released went number one for the exception of, I Have Loved You, Girl (1983) #2, and Too Many Times (1986) #2. Every release from 1980-1989 all in the top 10. There was also no doubt he was recording the best albums in Nashville. Fire And Smoke, Somewhere Between Right And Wrong, Don't Make It Easy For Me, Treadin' Water, Too Many Times and The Heart Of It All, are works of art. And there were others. The Don't Make It Easy For Me album, had 4 number ones, as the song Holdin' Her And Lovin' You was Grammy nominated. Then, country albums came out at a faster pace, but ETC followed more of the rock school of thought, more is not better, better is better.
Great #1 Of Course - Fun Bar Song
Big Favorite Of His With Many Fans - #1
His image was slick, The ETC Band was terrific, and his music was fresh. Quite frankly, he was way ahead of his time. When he broke in, we were playing Conway, George Jones, Willie, Waylon, Mickey Gilley, Tammy, Lynn Anderson, Loretta, Milsap, and Eddie Rabbitt. Nothing wrong with any of those. There were new acts too, Alabama, George Strait, Janie Fricke, Reba, The Judds, and Ricky Skaggs that were coming on strong. But ETC was different and fans loved his direction. He opened up minds, ears and eyes to a new way of doing country, while not alienating fans reluctant to change. Blake Shelton Watch This recently called Conley his musical hero growing up, and he's one of mine too, Luke Bryan too watch this . He wasn't Urban Cowboy, he wasn't Neo Traditionalist, he was....well, Earl Thomas Conley.
Big Song #1 Off The Treadin" Water Album
As a young country radio announcer in 1982 with everything to learn about Country Music, ETC showed me what he showed a lot of us. That we were cool, young, honest and up to date. That new things could be brought into the music not at the expense of losing something else. And even though he broke new ground, make no mistake, Earl Thomas Conley was COUNTRY! He didn't lose anyone for being different, he brought us a lot of new fans because of it, and did so as quietly as a superstar could. His voice reminded some of the old schoolers, but nothing else about his sound was old school. His songwriting was incredible, as not a lot of performers were writing then. Some did, ETC, Eddie Rabbitt and some others, but there was a line between singers and writers.
Very Powerful Song - #1 - Haunting For Many
History has not been overly kind to some in our format, and he is one of them. But the great thing about our history, is that we have proof of greatness. Numbers don't lie, ETC was a force and a star. If you don't know him, you can easily YouTube him. Seriously, if you love 80's and 90's country, I recommend all of the above albums without reservation, and greatest hits compilations too. He was an amazing artist.
Near The End Of His #1 Run - Very Big Song! #1
Earl Thomas Conley - The quietest superstar we ever had. He should be in the Country Music Hall Of Fame - TODAY!
(As you listen to some of these songs, read the YouTube comments - much love)
ETC passed away in 2019.
1991 - What A GREAT Song - Those Harmonies!
BTW - If You're Brave And Hard Core Country - Listen To - "You Must Not Be Drinkin' Enough"