#74: Danny Boy by Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty was an American Country and Western singer with three crossover pop hits on the US charts and five crossover hits on the pop charts in Vancouver. He went on to chart 58 songs in the Canadian Country charts between 1968 and 1990 (61 songs on US Country & Western charts). Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, in 1957 he decided his real name didn’t have the right stuff for the music business and becoming a star. He looked on a map and finding Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas, he put the two towns names together and became Conway Twitty. From his initial #1 hit in 1958, “It’s Only Make Believe”, 25 year old Conway Twitty became known for his blend of country, rockabilly and rock n’ roll.
Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins on September 1, 1933 in rural Friars Point, Mississippi, the boy had uncommon abilities and a penchant for helping those around him. Given his first guitar, a Sears & Roebuck acoustic, at the age of four, Harold demonstrated a musical gift. He formed his first band, the Phillips County Ramblers when he was 10 after the family had moved to Helena, Arkansas. His mother was the breadwinner and his father found spotty work as a Mississippi riverboat pilot. Harold obtained employment as a carhop and used his earnings to buy clothes and shoes for his brother and sister.
When one of a group of friends horsing around in a local cemetery was pinned under a fallen tombstone, young Harold started to flee with the rest of the frightened pack of boys. He stopped short, however, returning to assist his friend and lifting the stone enough for the boy to scramble free. When the full group returned the next day to reset the stone, they marveled at the feat, as the entire group of them were unable to lift it.
He landed a weekly radio show, and in his other passion, baseball, developed his skills to the point of playing semi-pro and being offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies after high school. Jenkins figured his destiny was decided when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. Fate intervened, however, when he was drafted by a much bigger team — the U.S. Army. While stationed in Japan, he kept both his dreams alive by forming a band and playing on the local Army baseball team. The band was called the “Cimmarons” and played at different clubs. After his release from the army it was the mid 1950s and the sudden popularity of a young man named Elvis Presley drew a still very young Harold Jenkins to Memphis.
In June 1957, Conway Twitty had a #4 hit in Winnipeg, Manitoba, titled “I Need Your Lovin'”.
While recording at Sun Studios with Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, Jenkins began developing a sound that would lead to a record deal with MGM. He also took a stage name, contracting the names of two cities: Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. In 1958, Conway Twitty scored his first big hit with “It’s Only Make Believe”. It climbed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in Vancouver. In early 1959, Twitty had a Top 30 hit in Winnipeg titled “Double Talk Baby”. Twitty’s version of “The Story Of My Love” reached #16 in Toronto in March ’59. His recording of “Mona Lisa” was passed over in Vancouver in favour of a recording by Carl Mann.
His career as a rock-n-roll act took off, with the single topping the chart in 22 different countries and going on to sell eight million copies. Despite making a name for himself as a rock n roller, Twitty had always loved country music. In fact, his reverence for the genre and its seasoned performers factored into his decision to become a rock n roll performer. Twitty also enjoyed a short-lived movie career, appearing in films like Sex Kittens Go To College (with Mamie Van Doren), Platinum High School (Mickey Rooney), and College Confidential (Steve Allen) and writing the title and sound track songs for the films. A play and movie was created titled “Bye Bye Birdie” which was a story about a young rock-n-roll star. It was written with the idea that Conway would do the starring role. The lead character’s name, Conrad Birdie, was created specifically with Conway in mind. Conway did a lot of soul searching and decided that theatre and the movies were not for him, so he turned down the offer and remained focused on his true love of music.
At first, rock n roll seemed to be a place where Twitty and his raw talent could thrive. Through his early recording and touring Twitty got to know a fair number of country stars, eventually abandoning his insecurities so he could “compete with my heroes.”
Before his career in rock ‘n roll had faded Conway Twitty retained a lot of fans in Vancouver. He actually did better on the local pop charts than in the USA. He had a number one hit in Vancouver with “Danny Boy”.
“Danny Boy” was written by Frederick Weatherly in England in 1913. It is often associated with a young man going off to war. Irish pipers were associated with leading soldiers to war from as far back as the 15th Century, at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), and other Irish uprisings. In one interpretation, the song is sung by his sweetheart, Danny, who hears “the pipes are calling from glen to glen, and down the mountainside.” She is left behind while Danny “must go.” Danny, we are told, will come back from war (or other responsibilities abroad), in late fall or winter “when all the flowers are dying.” Upon his return, she is not hopeful she’ll still be alive: “If I am dead, as dead I well may be. Ye’ll come and find the place where I am lying. And kneel and say an Avé there for me.” Another interpretation has it that the singer is a parent, and not a sweetheart, who is in poor health. Yet, another interpretation suggests that Danny Boy has to leave Ireland due to the lack of economic opportunities in his homeland, or because of a potato famine.
Conway Twitty’s version of “Danny Boy” is mostly a rock ‘n roll version, after a ballad intro. The song was banned by the BBC in the UK. But in Australia the Twitty version climbed to #12.
“Danny Boy” peaked at #1 in Vancouver, La Crosse (WI), Salisbury (MD), Chicago, Allentown (PA), Montreal, Cleveland, Port Huron (MI), Memphis, San Bernardino (CA), Albany (NY), #2 in Buffalo, Troy (NY), Milwaukee (WI), and Ottawa (ON), #3 in Baltimore, Dearborn (MI), Lansing (MI), and Norfolk (VA), #4 in Denver, and Newport News (VA), #7 in Fort Myers (FL), #8 in Phoenix, Penscola (FL), and Philadelphia, and #9 in Syracuse (NY), Duluth (MN), Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Manchester (NH).
At the end of 1959 Conway Twitty had a #3 hit in Vancouver “Lonely Blue Boy”, which went to #2 in Montreal and #6 in the USA. The song was originally recorded by Elvis Presley for inclusion in the film King Creole. But it was cut from the film. Conway Twitty’s followup, “What Am I Livin’ For” was a cover of the late Chuck Willis song from 1958. In the summer of 1960, Conway Twitty had a #9 hit in Vancouver with “Is A Bluebird Blue”. While “C’est Is Bon climbed to #12 in January 1961. Twitty had six singles in the local Top 20 in Vancouver, while none reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. One of these was “A Million Teardrops”.
Conway Twitty’s second to last single to reach the Top 20 was on CFUN was with “Comfy ‘N Cozy”, written by Otis Blackwell. His final single on the Vancouver pop charts was “Platinum High School“, written by Conway Twitty.
By 1964, after eight years of playing sock hops and dance clubs, Twitty heard the ticking of an internal clock that seemed to guide all the major decisions in his life. One night on a stage in Summer’s Point, New Jersey, Twitty looked out at a room full of people he didn’t know. With a wife and three kids at home, he realized his days of providing background music for sweaty teens were over. Twitty put down his guitar, walked off the stage and embarked on one of the greatest country careers in history.
In 1965 Twitty was signed by producer Owen Bradley to MCA/Decca. In 1966, Twitty had his first Country hit titled “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”. Twitty released several singles before 1968’s “Next In Line” became his first #1 on Billboard Country music charts. Between 1968 and 1990 Conway Twitty scored 65 Top Ten hits on the US Country charts, including over 40 at #1. He died while he was on tour at the age of 59 in 1993.
January 6, 2023
alancakett.com ~ Conway Twitty bio
conwaytwitty.com ~ Conway Twitty bio
Dennis Hevesi, “Conway Twitty, 59, Dies on Tour; Country Star Had 50 No. 1 Songs,” New York Times, June 6, 1993.
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