Earl Thomas Conley, the Ohio-born country music singer-songwriter, has died at the age of 77, according to a tweet from fellow country star Blake Shelton. Shelton and Conley collaborated on a song in 2002, “All Over Me,” which the pair wrote together alongside Michael Pyle.
Shelton wrote in his Twitter post, “My heart is absolutely destroyed today… 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…”
One tribute referred to Conley as the “thinking man’s country musician.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Conley Had Been Suffering From Dementia & Was Recieving Hospice Care
The sad message was also posted on Shelton’s Facebook page. Shelton had previously described “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong,” Conley’s 1982 album as his favorite of all time.
A post on Conley’s Facebook page further confirmed the singer’s tragic death. That post did not give a specific cause of death but said that Conley “had been in poor health for a few years now… He is now resting peacefully.” Conley’s passing was further confirmed by his agent, Rob Battle, who told Fox News, “Sadly he passed away this morning. An unbelievable artist, songwriter and talent.”
While Conley’s brother, Fred, told The Tennessean that the singer had been suffering from dementia for the last few months of his life and had been receiving hospice care. Fred Conley told the newspaper, “He just kept losing ground. I’m brokenhearted.”
2. Conley Said He Was the Only Country Singer to Have Appeared on ‘Soul Train’
In 1986, Conley became the first-and-only country artist to appear on an episode of “Soul Train.” That was thanks to his duet, “Too Many Times,” with singer Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters. The song reached number two on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart and number three the Canadian country chart. Conley and Pointer were pictured together at the 1987 American Music Awards on the strength of the single.
Conley’s obituary described him as “breaking new ground” in the duet with Pointer. In a 2010 interview, Conley said of the Soul Train appearance, “Oh man that was cool. It was fun to watch everyone dancing to my song.”
3. Conley Discovered His Songwriting Talents While Performing With a Christian Trio in the Army
Conley was a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, around 100 miles east of Cincinnati. In his teenage years, Conley moved to Dayton to live with his sister after his father lost his job. He was one of eight siblings. Shortly after he graduated high school, Conley discovered his songwriting talent in a Christian-influenced trio and began regular pilgrimages to Nashville in 1968. Eventually, he would move to Huntsville, Alabama, around 100 miles south of Nashville, according to an online profile. Conley was quoted in 2016 as saying, “My stuff started with bluegrass music. That’s what inspired me, the people that come out of those hills in West Virginia and Kentucky, and of course Hank Williams Sr. I was raised up on that.”
During the 1970s, Conley’s songs that he wrote with bigger names such as Conway Twitty were successful, his solo work was not getting airplay. It was not until Conley made the final move back to Nashville where his relentless work rate was rewarded with a Warner Brothers recording contract. In the 1980s, Conley signed another major deal with RCA Records.
In 1988, Conley told United Press International that he lived on a 62-acre farm in Franklin, Tennessee, with his wife, Sandra. Conley said in the interview that he was big fan of Bruce Springsteen.
4. Conley Attained 18 Number Ones on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart
During the 1980s and 1990s, Conley was a constant presence in the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with 18 number ones. On April 10, 1984, 35 years before his death, Conley held the number one spot on the charts with his song, “Don’t Make It East For Me.” Despite all of that success, Conley never won a major country music award. A petition for Conley to be entered into the Country Music Hall of Fame has been set up.
Between 1991 and 1997, Conley took a sabbatical from recording. KXRB said in 2015 that Conley’s time off was due to vocal problems which were caused by allergies.
On the day of his death, Taste of Country named Conley’s “What I’d Say” as his best song.
In addition to his music, Conley was an avid painter throughout his life. Before becoming a professional musician, he had contemplating attending art school. Conley told UPI that after his music career was done, he wanted to turn his hand to writing screenplays and novels. Conley said, “I think maybe I might write me a book or two. I’ve got something to say about all this.”
5. Conley’s Death Has Resulted in an Outpouring of Emotion on Social Media
As news of Conley’s death spread, fans and fellow country stars have taken to social media to pay tribute to the singer. While speaking to Fox News, fellow country star T.G. Sheppard said, “There are voices in our business that you recognize instantly from the first word they sing. Earl Thomas was one of those incredible voices. It’s truly a sad, sad day for country music. He was a kind and gentle man. I was honored to have worked shows with him and call him a friend.”
Here are some of the most poignant messages that were posted on social media: