Aw man, I hate writing this.
Earl Thomas Conley, one of the most under-appreciated country artists ever, has died.
Most folks will remember him for one song, his version of “Finally Friday”, which we played for years at 7 every Friday morning. But he was a lot more than that novelty song. Blake Shelton has called ETC (as he was sometimes known) his main musical influence. In fact, Blake tweeted the following on Wednesday morning.
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… pic.twitter.com/W75ZVV6fbe
— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) April 10, 2019
And while for whatever reason his name isn’t often mentioned among the pantheon of country artists who dominated the charts in the 1980s–Alabama, The Judds, George Strait, Randy Travis among them–he was a constant presence there and on country radio. By the end of his run, which was hastened by vocal problems in the early 1990s, ETC had scored 18 number one songs (including “Fire and Smoke, “A Chance of Loving You” and “Brotherly Love”–a duet with another incredible ’80s vocalist, Keith Whitley), charted over 30 times, and his 1984 smash “Holding Her and Loving You” was nominated for a Grammy. In fact, that year ETC became the first artist in any genre to have four songs from one album hit number one.
His last hit came in 2002–a song he wrote that was recorded by Blake called “All Over Me”.
For me, a young DJ at a small AM country radio station in Ellensburg, WA, ETC was one of the first country artists who made me realize that, hey, maybe country music isn’t so bad after all. At that time, I was in college and wanted nothing more than to be a jock at a rock station somewhere. But, the place I worked was the only radio station in town, and I needed a job. But three songs changed my mind while I was there. The first was “The Chair” from George Strait. The 2nd was “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Jr. and the other was “Honor Bound”, a 1985 smash that was Earl Thomas Conley’s 8th number one song. I loved the moody production elements, which included some synthesizer stabs and a soaring sax solo that, believe it or not, was considered somewhat controversial at the time. “Not country enough“! went the complaint(Sound familiar??) No matter. It’s a great song and his vocal is just absolute perfection. Me and country music started getting along pretty well after that.
Earl Thomas Conley was 77. If you’re looking to deep dive into his music and see what the guy was all about, a great place to start is his Greatest Hits Volume One. Enjoy. He was one of the best there ever was.