Kelly Lang was practically born into the music business. As the daughter of Conway Twitty’s road manager, Velton Lang, and growing up in Hendersonville, Tennessee outside of Nashville, Lang got an early glimpse of the traveling artist’s life and what it took to make it in the competitive music world. She knew that she wanted that life from an early age, and began writing songs and performing.
Kelly has continued her commitment to music, performing on the Grand Ole Opry on several occasions and devoting considerable time to songwriting. She’ll often join her husband T.G. Sheppard for duet performances, and she’s also served as a duet partner for the legendary Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees. Lang and Sheppard first met while Sheppard was touring with Conway Twitty as an opening act and were married in 2007 after dating for a few years. In 2014, the two recorded the album “Iconic Duets,” featuring their versions of such classics as “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “Jackson” and “Islands in the Stream.”
In the past few years, Lang has also stepped into the studio to record a pair of acclaimed solo albums, “Throwback” in 2016 and “Obsession” in 2017. She wrote all of the songs for the latter project and also produced it. The tunes on “Obsession” were inspired by Lang’s real-life experiences and spoke to women of all ages about relationships, heartbreak and other timely subjects.
Lang received some inspiring news recently about a past song she wrote called “I’m Not Going Anywhere.” The song is being used for a marketing campaign for Ascension St. Thomas hospital, paying tribute to caregivers. Lang was treated for breast cancer at St. Thomas Midtown hospital in Nashville several years ago.
Lang talked with “Sports & Entertainment Nashville” about songwriting, growing up in the music business and the biggest career obstacle she had to overcome, which might surprise you.
Kelly basically mapped out her career path at a very young age – or perhaps it was mapped out for her. “I think I was about six years old,” Kelly begins with a laugh. “I would have the privilege of going to Conway Twitty’s concerts because my dad was his tour manager. I would sit on the side of the stage and I could hear Conway’s voice. I could feel that bass coming through. Even as a little kid, I knew I was hearing something special.”
Around the age of six, Kelly started writing songs. She wanted to be an entertainer, a dream that many parents try to squelch. But her parents were all in. “I was blessed that my parents were extremely supportive of me,” Lang recalls. “I think my dad had a few reservations because he knew what road life was like. It was hard on women. But the thing he always stressed to me was to be kind to people. That was a very big thing with him – being kind. I guess he had seen a lot of artists who were not nice to the people they worked with.”
A “Strange” Obstacle
As she chased her musical dream, Lang was well aware of people’s assumptions. Mainly, that she had one foot in the door because of her Twitty connections and her dad’s standing in the industry. But it didn’t quite work that way, as Lang is quick to point out.
“It was kind of a strange obstacle,” she says. “Everyone thought that because I was involved with Conway’s organization that I would be a shoe-in for getting a record deal. But it was just the opposite. I actually had to try twice as hard. Nobody was going to give me anything and I never asked for favors. I had to prove that I could do it.” By her own admission, Lang felt a bit shy and reticent about asking people for help. “I was doubly blown away when people did offer to help after I asked,” she says.
Her age proved a barrier as well. Lang was still in her teen years when she started pursuing a musical career, which made some labels balk. “I did run into that,” she says. “Some were telling me that I was too young. Now, if I was the same age, I’d probably be too old,” Lang adds with a laugh. She did end up signing with a label at the age of 15, releasing one single.
Mentors and Influences
With barely any hesitation, Lang gives a nod to local Nashville personality Ralph Emery for giving her career a boost. Emery hosted a popular morning TV show in Nashville that became the highest-rated local program in the United States. His show often provided newcomers like Lang the exposure they desperately needed.
“Ralph gave me my first shot on television on his morning show,” Lang recalls fondly. “I was so excited. I could not wrap my brain around it. I would say that Ralph Emery was one of the early mentors that I had in my career.”
Naturally, Twitty acted as one of her biggest influences. He was well known as an astute “song man” who could sniff out a hit with bloodhound-like ability. “I saw Conway choosing songs and that was an influence on me,” Lang says. “He trusted his instincts. I felt like I had a good ear for music and that guided me in picking songs. I also started writing more, and that was a big step. Writing songs is still fun for me.”
As for role models for female artists, two names spring to mind for Lang. “Brenda Lee and Jeannie Seely are strong women who have been very successful,” she says. “As far as being an activist with my music, I pretty much stay in my own lane. I don’t try and make statements when I write songs. But I believe there is room for everybody.”
For more on Lang, visit her website and follow her on social media.