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'80s Country Hitmake Earl Thomas Conley Starts Recording Again
Conley Returns to Indie Label Sunbird Records Where He Got His Start
By Anne Freeman, The Aspiring Songwriter®
(more articles from this author)
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I met country crooner Earl Thomas Conley at the Country Radio Seminar 33 in Nashville this past February. The man with the magnificent voice was sounding a little rough that day at the seminar. He was battling a head cold, but no matter. His deep, resonant voice couldn't be hidden. Earl had an easy, confident manner and was obviously enjoying his second entrance into the Country music world as a recording artist. His first try at the business began in the late '70s, which lead first to Earl's success as a songwriter, penning hits like "Smokey Mountain Memories" (Early Thomas Conley/Dick Herd) for Mel Street and "This Time I've Hurt Her More Than She Love Me," a #1 hit for Conway Twitty in 1975. His first attempt as a singer was with Warner Records, where he released three singles that didn't break the Top 20. By 1982, he signed with the independent Sunbird Records, where he recorded the "Blue Pearl" album with producer Nelson Larkin. One of the album's tracks, "Fire & Smoke," was selected as a single Earl achieved his first #1 as an artist. RCA picked up Earl's contract and became his home for the next 10 years. What ensued was a period of hit making that has seldom been achieved by other artists in any genre of music. He went on to accomplish stunning successes during the '80s. Then, in 1991, Earl Thomas Conley stopped recording and stepped off the treadmill for seven years. He had been dogged with vocal problems, rumored to be throat cancer, but which turned out to be severe allergies. He has strengthened his wonderful voice with vocal lessons and exercises. I heard that voice on his single he released recently on Sunbird, "Love's The Only Voice (I'm Gonna Listen To)," which promises a wonderful CD to come. During his period of much needed rest and reflection, Earl also returned to his songwriting. With a new catalogue of over 70 songs, he has returned to the studio once again where he started, at Sunbird Records and with producer Nelson Larkin. Look for Earl's new release, Love's The Only Voice, on Sunbird Records.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Hello, Earl. Thanks for joining me here today in Nashville at the Country Radio Seminar.

Earl Thomas Conely Thank you, Anne. It's good to be here, good to see you.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] First of all, I'd like to say that you're singing, "Love's The Only Voice (I'm Gonna Listen To)" is beautiful. I absolutely love it.

Earl Thomas Conely Well, thank you very much.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] You were one of the cowriters for the song?

Earl Thomas Conely I wrote this with a girl named Katherine Spencer. It's looking real good, actually. It's sounding real good on the air, too.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Your voice sound wonderful.

Earl Thomas Conely Thank you. It's not sounding so great right now. I have a head cold (laughter!) I've caught what's going around down here, I think.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] You recently resigned with a record label that you were involved with that launched your recording career in the '80s.

Earl Thomas Conely Sunbird Records. I got started with them. Our first album we put out on Sunbird was Fire & Smoke, which went to #1. I think we put out two or three records and then I went to RCA.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How does it feel to be back with Sunbird?

Earl Thomas Conely Oh, it's good. We didn't stop working together. I've been working with these guys off and on all the time.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] I'm sure that the label President, Nelson Larkin, must be thrilled that you're back on Sunbird.

Earl Thomas Conely We did a lot of good things back in the '80s. It's even easier this time than it was the first time. I was just learning what to do and when to do it back then. Now, I've matured a little bit, believe it or not! (Laughter!)

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Happens to the best of us, right? (Laughter!) Earl, you've been working on some different vocal techniques, the "open throat" style of singing. What is that about?

Earl Thomas Conely Well, I had to take voice therapy. I had some minor surgery on my vocal chords, so I had to take time off from singing. I took vocal lessons for a year. Then, come to find out that my vocal problems were all due to allergies. During the time that I had to take off from singing, I couldn't write songs for a while, so I learned to play golf pretty good. (Laughter!) Then, I started writing songs again and I'm doing a lot of the writing with Ronnie Reynolds, who is the engineer of all of the records that I had out in the '80s. I'm just having a good time now. It's a lot of fun, and I'm recording some good and meaningful songs.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What kinds of things are you writing about these days, Earl?

Earl Thomas Conely Everything. We try not to use the same thing twice. Snake (Reynolds), he comes up with a lot of good stuff. His ideas are different from what anybody's doing. It's just a variety of things. I wrote a song with Randy Scruggs about eight or nine years ago called "Physical Attraction." We just rewrote it the other day and recorded it, and it turned out really good.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Are you putting together a new CD?

Earl Thomas Conely Yes, we've got three more sides to cut. It's going to be titled, Love's The Only Voice.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What inspired you to write the title cut for your upcoming CD?

Earl Thomas Conely Just tired of pretentious things, you know? Just looking for something real – I think everybody else is, too. So, that's the message behind that song.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] It must be fun for you to be recording again and also seeing some of your colleagues recording again.

Earl Thomas Conely Yes. RCA put Essentials out, a 20-song set. All of the kids who were too young to come out and see us in the '80s are all college kids, now. So, I have a brand new, rejuvenated career going! It's pretty neat.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What I like about what is happening today is independent labels are coming to the forefront again in County music. There was a place for independent labels in Country years ago, but they seem to be coming to the forefront again and bringing a lot of great artists like yourself back into recording.

Earl Thomas Conely It usually happens when the majors run into a place of stagnation due to the fact that they have worn something out by doing it over and over and over. So now it's time for an original kick in the butt, I guess.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Earl, do you plan to do any touring?

Earl Thomas Conely I've got a big schedule coming up, a lot of stuff.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What does your family think about your career taking off again?

Earl Thomas Conely Well, I've been working that road for about six or seven years, so other than having a fresh record out soon, it's not going to be too much different. I got grandkids now, you know.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How many grandkids?

Earl Thomas Conely Let's see… one, two-four girls. They're pretty neat.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Do they listen to your records?

Earl Thomas Conely Yeah. They love it. I don't impose it on them, they ask to hear it.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] It must be neat to see a new generation coming up like that, and loving your music.

Earl Thomas Conely Oh, man, it's amazing how smart these kids are these days. The young ones, they come to Nashville way ahead of me! (Laughter!) You can ask them some questions!

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Of the County Music that you hear today, what do you like best about it and what do you like the least about it?

Earl Thomas Conely I tell you what I really like. I like the resurgence of Bluegrass. I was pretty much raised up on it. It's down to earth, real – it's real music. It all has to do with believing. You want to listen to somebody and believe that they believe what they're singing. If they can convince me, then I usually like it. The same thing goes with any kind of music.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Earl, I have a question for you now for the aspiring songwriters out there in the audience. If an aspiring songwriter had the chance to pitch one song to you, what would have to be in it for you to take notice? For you to want to say, "Hey, I want to record that song."

Earl Thomas Conely One that's believable. Something that people – the majority of people can relate to. For my part, it has to be something that I can believe in, because if I can't believe in, how can I expect anyone else to? So, it has to be something I can believe in and related to.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] For aspiring artists today, what words of advice would you give to a singer who is just starting out?

Earl Thomas Conely Just like I said, once artists can get themselves to believe in what they are doing, then the biggest obstacle is gone, because they are the ones who have to make it happen. So, you have to be persistent and you have to get into a corner with a beer and say to yourself, "Do I really want to do this? And, how bad?" And then don't let any limitations come across your path.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Have you ever thought of doing anything else than sing?

Earl Thomas Conely I was going to be an artist. I had a scholarship for college for that, but I went into the Army instead. Afterwards, I went on a three-year religious, spiritual trip, I guess you could call it. I sang a cappella in a trio with my aunt and uncle. I said, "Well, this is nothing but a show, and if I'm going to be in show business, I might as well get paid for it!" (Laughter!) So, I started writing and singing back then.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What is your favorite accomplishment in your life so far?

Earl Thomas Conely Well, I was the first one to have four #1 songs on a album, and my song "Holding Her And Loving You" (Walt Aldridge, Tommy Brasfield) won a Grammy in '84 for Best Country Song, but the singer (me) didn't win. I never could understand that, but singing a Grammy-winning song is quite an accomplishment. And, I was always really proud of the fact that I had 18 #1 hits in a row. It was just staying focused…surviving is a great accomplishment! (Laughter!)

[The Aspiring Songwriter] You have a point there! That's great. Earl, you've had an awful lot of success in your career that a lot of artists will never achieve. At this point, what would you consider success?

Earl Thomas Conely Well, you're as strong as the record that you're working on. So, I've had all of that go around, in terms of success with the first round. From now on, just having another hit! But really and truly, if I know from the depths of my soul that I've come up with a really good album, something that I love, that's success, too. So, it's how I feel when I get through the album and listen to it, because I think that you create your own reality. Life is exactly what you make it. So, if it's something that I can be proud of and think positively about and talk positively about, then I can do something with it. There's no limitation on us, unless we put them on ourselves.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Earl, I'd like to thank you for visiting. Is there anything that you would like to share before we go?

Earl Thomas Conely Well, I love everybody, and I love everybody who loves my music (Laughter!) Actually, I'm learning everyday of my life. I don't think that you ever get out of school, you know? No matter how bad situations might be in at the time, if you change your mind and use your imagination in a positive direction, things go exactly where you want it to. I'd just like to say thanks to everybody for helping me out and being there when I needed them

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Well, Earl, you have a beautiful single, "Love Is The Only Voice," and your voice sounds wonderful. It's so nice to hear a singer who can really croon again! We wish you all the best with your new single and new CD on Sunbird Records, Love's The Only Voice.

Visit Earl Thomas Conley's official website at a to hear clips from his CD, Perpetual Emotion, released in 1998. You can preview his single, "Love's The Only Voice" Earl's new CD, Love's The Only Voice on Sunbird Records, should be released soon. Watch for it on Earl's newsletter, which is posted on his official site. You can also keep track of his busy performance schedule. Contact the following address for Fan Club Information: 2802 Columbine Place, Nashville, TN 37204, FAX: (615) 385-5669, TEL: (615) 385-5668

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