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 12:20 a.m. Wednesday in Nashville, his brother Fred Conley confirmed.
Earl Thomas Conley suffered from a condition similar to dementia, his brother said, and had been in hospice care for several months.
"He just kept losing ground," Fred Conley said. "I'm brokenhearted."
Earl Thomas Conley born October 17, 1941, recorded ten studio albums, including seven for the RCA Records label. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Conley also charted more than thirty singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, of which eighteen reached Number One.
Conley's eighteen Billboard Number One country singles during the 1980s marked the most Number One hits by any artist in any genre during that decade except for Alabama and Ronnie Milsap.
Throughout his career, Conley's music has been referred to as "thinking man's country." This is because the narrator looks into the heart and soul of his characters in each song.
Conley was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and when he was 14, his father lost his job with the railroad, forcing the young boy to move in with his older sister in Jamestown, Ohio. He was offered a scholarship to an art school, but rejected it in favor of joining the U.S. Army. While in the Army, Conley became a member of a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability first began.
Conley then decided to consider performing as a serious career option. He shifted more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period he first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Conley began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.
In 1973 while in Nashville, Conley met Dick Heard, who produced country music singer Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Heard collaboration on the song "Smokey Mountain Memories," which made the top 10 for Street. After being honorably discharged from the military, he began playing in clubs in Nashville, Tennessee, at night, supporting himself working blue-collar jobs during the day.
Feeling that he wasn't making any progress in Nashville, Conley moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to work in a steel mill. There, he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who helped him sign with independent record label GRT in 1974. Conley released four singles on that label, none of which became large hits. At the same time, he was selling songs that he had written to other artists, including Conway Twitty and Mel Street, who were having much success with them.
Conley returned to Nashville, now writing for Nelson Larkin's publishing house. In 1979, he signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. Two years later, he had his first Top 40 hit, "Dreamin's All I Do". He left the label in 1979 and joined Sunbird Records, where he again worked with Nelson Larkin. This time, Conley found success, with a Top Ten and a Number One single within the next two years. He continued to have success over the next few years, and in 1983, he was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards for his song "Holding Her and Loving You".
He set a record the following year as the first artist in any genre to have four Number One singles from the same album. In 1986, Conley was credited with breaking down country music barriers when he dueted with pop/R&B singer Anita Pointer of the Grammy-winning Pointer Sisters. Their single, "Too Many Times," the title track to Conley's 1986 album, reached #2 on the Country charts.
By the end of the 1980s, Conley began collaborating with Randy Scruggs (son of country singer Earl Scruggs), in the hopes that he could bring his music back to his country roots. His record sales began to drop in the 1990s, as country took a more, progressive turn, and Conley was dropped from his record label in 1992.
He took a seven-year recording hiatus between 1991 and 1997 due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue, and mental burnout. He began recording again in 1998. In late 2013, Conley gave a telephone interview with Pods o' Pop. Conley recalls that he may be the only country artist to appear on the Soul Train television program (he performed his duet with Pointer) and goes into detail about the string of hits Randy Scruggs and he co-wrote.