(Ran originally in Sunday, July 26 editions of The Times and The News-Star.)
By TEDDY ALLEN/Designated Writers
Who knew we still had so many fans around here of Conway Twitty, the country music superstar—50-plus Billboard No. 1’s—who died in 1993.
But thank goodness we do. You responded to an effort last Sunday about The High Priest of Country Music with story after entertaining story.
Troyce—great country name, like Myron or Reece—sent a photo of his ticket stub from March 14, 1982 when he saw Conway, George Jones, and a young Vince Gill in Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport. “I sure do miss those ticket prices,” he wrote. Conway, The Possum, and Vince Gill for…$19.50.
“I woke up June 5th, 1993 to get ready for my wedding,” Troyce said. “Turned on the radio and heard the devastating news Conway had died and thought, ‘Now Conway, why’d you have to pick today to do this?’”
I’m sure if Conway had had a choice…
The good news is, Troyce is still married to the same girl 27 years later and “every anniversary,” he said, “I think of ol’ Conway.”
Speaking of true love, Jan Bailey Carter of Summerfield hears Conway singing Hello Darlin’ as her ring tone each time her husband calls. It’s also the ring tones of both West Monroe’s Coach Brian and his wife when they call each other. If I only knew how to set a ring tone . . .
And speaking of true lust, loyal reader and true country music fan Polly got a “good, long kiss from Conway in Alexandria circa 1972,” she said. “Young and single. Just a memory story now.” I wonder if the kiss was before or after the show? If it was before, she probably got in free. Or at least got a discount—if it were a decent kiss. I should have asked . . .
My old sportswriting friend Joey Martin reminded me there’s a Conway Twitty display at the Delta Music Museum down in Ferriday. I didn’t even know there was a Delta Music Museum in Ferriday, although I shouldn’t be surprised since it’s the hometown of cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, and Jimmy Swaggart, each an astute singer and ivory tickler. Next time I’m in Ferriday . . .
But best of all was 1976 when Conway let his son’s baseball team use his Twitty Bird tour bus to drive from Nashville to Monroe for that year’s Dixie Majors World Series at brand new Embanato Field. For Conway, this was right after Linda On My Mind, This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me, and She Needs Someone To Hold Her (When She Cries) and just before Georgia Keeps Pulling On My Ring, Play Guitar Play, and I May Never Get To Heaven (But I Once Came Mighty Close).
In other words, Conway was to country music at the time what Thurman Munson and Joe Morgan were to baseball. Firecracker hot.
Monroe would win it all with guys like Kevin Holt, Bob Lane, Donnie Matthews, David Klick, Frankie Jungina, Mike Neal, Dale Holman … good ballplayers. Holman, who played nine seasons in the minors, was two years away from winning his first of back-to-back titles as the best hitter in the Southland Conference for Louisiana Tech. But in 1976, he was a Conway Twitty fan and teenager playing shortstop and, suddenly, being asked to pitch in relief.
Jimmy Jenkins was the second baseman for the Tennessee team. He wasn’t named Jimmy Twitty because his daddy, Harold Jenkins, had long ago thought Harold Jenkins was no kind of name for a singer so he took out a map out and saw Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas and there you go. And here in the Dixie Majors World Series, Jimmy’s famous singer daddy—T-shirt, knit pants, ballcap, Ray-Bans—was right there in the stands. So …
“I was so nervous,” Dale said, “I plunked Jimmy right in the shoulder.”
“It was an errant but rapid fastball,” said Faith Holman Moss, Dale’s baby sister and a future All-Louisiana and All-South Region shortstop for the Louisiana Tech softball team that went 45-11 in 1986. “When me and my sister asked Conway if I could get a picture with him, we didn’t mention that our brother had just plunked his son.”
One more story. Monroe attorney Mark Neal was just 5 in 1976, but his big brother Mike was the catcher for the World Series champs. Mark has heard and told the story dozens of times, and this week told it to me.
Mike and Mark’s dad, Jackie Neal, was Monroe’s Parks & Recreation Director and asked his young assistant, Bill Vallery, to approach Twitty and ask him if he’d sing the National Anthem at the Opening Ceremonies that night.
A bit on the nervous side, Billy went to the stands where Conway Twitty sat, legs crossed and watching baseball, minding his own. “Mr. Twitty,” Bill began, and then asked him about singing The Star-Spangled Banner that night.
Conway Twitty sat there and Bill stood there and Conway Twitty just looked at him, took his time thinking, and finally spoke.
“You know what?” Conway Twitty said, kindly. “That’s kind of a hard song to sing, and it’s easy to mess up. I’m gonna take a pass.”
A former draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school, the High Priest knew how to get hits, but he also knew when to take a pitch.