Earl Thomas Conley Dead at 77
Country singer Earl Thomas Conley, known for hit songs including "Holding Her and Loving You," "What I'd Say" and "Right From the Start," died at 12:20AM Wednesday (April 10) in Nashville, his brother Fred Conley has confirmed to the Tennessean.
Blake Shelton broke the news with an emotional social media post on Wednesday. "My heart is absolutely destroyed today," he writes. "I’m sad to report that Earl Thomas Conley passed away very early this morning. Earl was my all time favorite singer, hero and my friend. Prayers to his family. We will all miss you deeply my brother. Now go rest ... "
Shelton scored a hit with "All Over Me" in 2002, having written the song with Conley. The news was also shared on an Earl Thomas Fan Club page and official Conley Facebook page.
Per Billboard, Conley had 18 No. 1 hits and started his commercial country music success in the late 1970s. The independently released "Fire and Smoke" was among his big early hits, but he truly began to hit his stride with songs from the ACM- nominated Don't Make It Easy for Me album, released in 1983. He was also a three-time ACM Male Vocalist of the Year nominee, but didn't win any ACMs or CMAs during his two decades in the spotlight.
Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Conley’s first love was painting, but his father had introduced him to music, so after high school and time in the U.S. Army he chose to let the world hear his voice. Merle Haggard and George Jones were early influences, and by 1970 he was visiting Nashville frequently.
Roots music website Engine 145 published a fine recap of Conley’s life in 2009, noting that a meeting with Mel Street helped launch his career. In 1975 Conway Twitty recorded Conley’s song “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” and took it to No. 1. A failed record deal with Warner led to a more fruitful one with RCA Records. Known for his smokey voice, Conley was a dominant player in the ‘80s country music format.
By 1991, the publication notes, he’d grown disenfranchised with the business and went on hiatus. He recorded very little in the last 20 years and made only a few public appearances. Toby Keith was another artist to comment on Conley's influence on his career:
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