Country stars from multiple generations are mourning the death of one of country’s finest vocalist, Earl Thomas Conley. The legendary singer died Wednesday (April 10) at age 77 from complications from a disease similar to dementia.
Conley was especially close with Blake Shelton, who was devastated by the news of the singer’s passing. “My heart is absolutely destroyed today,” Shelton said via his Twitter page. “Earl was my all-time favorite singer and my friend.” Shelton had a Top 20 hit in 2002 with “All Over Me,” which he co-wrote with Conley and songwriter Michael Pyle.
Earl Thomas Conley was born October 17th in Portsmouth, Ohio, and started developing his vocal ability in the Army, performing with a trio. He turned his attention to straight-ahead country, heavily influenced by Merle Haggard and George Jones. Conley tried his hand in Nashville in the late 1960s, but moved to Alabama, feeling that he wasn’t making significant progress. While working in Huntsville, he met producer Nelson Larkin, who signed him to a record contract. Conley began writing for Larkin’s publishing company and in 1979, he signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records.
Conley’s distinct, soulful voice caught on with listeners. In 1981, Conley scored his first No. 1 hit, “Fire & Smoke,” for the Sunbird label, again working with Larkin. After signing with RCA later that year, Conley started enjoying his most consistent success. “Your Love’s on the Line” hit No. 1 in 1983, and there was virtually no stopping him after that.
“Your Love’s on the Line” began a string of 16 straight No. 1 singles. That incredible streak tied Sonny James’s mark, which was set between 1967-1971. Alabama eventually broke the record with 21 consecutive chart-toppers in the 1980s. During his streak, Conley’s most prominent single was “Holding Her and Loving You,” which spent 25 weeks on the charts and was nominated for several Grammy awards. Conley also showed his wide range when he recorded “Too Many Times” with pop/R&B singer Anita Pointer, which reached the No. 2 spot.
Conley’s style of music was often called “thinking man’s country,” because he so effectively captured the characters in his songs. Blake Shelton, Chris Young and others considered Conley a strong influence on them.
Here are some other stars who weighed in on Conley’s passing.
Randy Travis: “When I first came to Nashville in the early 80s, I studied the great singers, songwriters and human hearts. One that topped the charts in all areas was Earl Thomas Conley.”
Bobby Bare: “I’ve always loved his records and I’m gonna miss him.”
John Rich: “He was a huge influence on my style and songwriting. I studied his records like textbooks and could play every note of every song.”
Toby Keith: “An all-time great Earl Thomas Conley passed away today. Huge influence on me. Loved him.”