Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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CONLEY, Earl Thomas

(b 17 Oct. '41, Portsmouth OH) Country singer, songwriter who set a record '83: first artist (in any genre) with four no. 1 singles from the same album. One of eight children, his father a railway worker who lost his job during conversion from steam to diesel. Rejected scholarship to art school, travelled, served in US Army, joined gospel group with aunt and uncle; worked days in Huntsville, AL, playing clubs at night. Songs attracted attention: Mel Street had hit with 'Smokey Mountain Memories', Conway Twitty took 'This Time I've Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me' to no. 1. He made singles for GRT, WB; hit no. 1 with 'Fire And Smoke' from LP Blue Pearl on Sunbird: RCA snapped up it and him; the LP went as high as no. 23 in the Billboard country album chart in '82. He had worked with co-producer Nelson Larkin since '71, felt the infl. of Merle Haggard, George Jones, but 'never could make those influences work until I started writing and singing for myself'. Beginning with songwriting as a craft (his favourite co-writer is Randy Scruggs, son of Earl Scruggs), he describes the process of interpreting the songs as painting pictures. First RCA LP Somewhere Between Right And Wrong '82 was a hit with top five title track; Don't Make It Easy For Me '83 had four no. ones: title track, 'Your Love's On The Line', 'Angel In Disguise' and 'Holding Her And Loving You'; and a minor '75 hit, 'I Have Loved You, Girl (But Not Like This Before)' re- entered the chart to reach no. 2. Treadin' Water '84 was no. 2; 'Chance Of Lovin' You', 'Honour Bound', 'Love Don't Care Whose Heart It Breaks' were no. ones. Greatest Hits '85 was understandably a no. 1 album; Too Many Times '86 was no. 3, 'Nobody Falls Like A Fool', 'Once In A Blue Moon' at no. 1; duet 'Too Many Times' with Anita Pointer was no. 2; 'I Can't Win For Losin' You' reached no. 1 '87. The Heart Of It All '88 was possibly his best album, again with four no. 1 country hits incl. 'We Believe In Happy Endings' (with Emmylou Harris) and 'What I'd Say'. After a layoff due to dispute with RCA he came back with Yours Truly '91 (incl. hit duet 'Brotherly Love' with Keith Whitley), then the label dropped him and one of the biggest country stars of the '80s has had no label deal since.