By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Writing about these power-pop gods, it demands two posts each time. You need one for the guys — and they're almost always guys — who actually know who you're writing about. That's usually, let's see, you, you and definitely the guy in the back with the jean jacket and Chuck Taylors. Then you need one for everyone else, the one where I try in vain to inform without proselytizing and wind up practically berating you, dear reader, for not having discovered this genius before, you slacker.
Rock is littered with underappreciated pros, from Shoes and the Spongetones to Jason Falkner and Brendan Benson, and power pop is its landfill. Dwight Twilley is a name you might even have heard of, once upon a time. Try his biggest hit, 1975's "I'm on Fire" ("and you ain't, you ain't, you ain't got no lover!"). Or his next one, 1984's "Girls," with Tom Petty singing backup. Album after album of this stuff continued well into the '90s, beautifully crafted post-Beatles guitar pop with the consistent affectation of a rockabilly slapback on the vocals.
Twilley 2010 sees the arrival of the "Green Blimp," another dozen tracks Abbey Road-meets-Sun Records rock. (Sun's Sam Phillips was the first to give Twilley a break.) By now, he's got his formula down.
"It doesn't take me much time to write songs anymore," Twilley said in a recent interview from his Tulsa, Okla., home and studio. "Once I have the idea, it's a done deal. It can be done usually in a day. I get the body of the song in about 15 minutes. Then it's a matter of walking by it every once in a while, changing a lyric, teetering with the arrangement. ... We just have gotten better and better at what we're doing, more comfortable with the studio."
That's Big Oak Studio, a converted garage behind his midtown Tulsa home. The "we" included Twilley's wife and recording partner, Jan, plus original Dwight Twilley Band guitarist Bill Pitcock IV and, on this album, guests Susan Cowsill and Rocky Burnette.
The "Green Blimp" title track is very "Yellow Submarine," a dreamy, childlike tale about a fantastic dirigible domicile. "It's kind of a hats off to 'Yellow Submarine,' sure," Twilley said. "It's a fictional kind of thing, a kind of shelter" — Twilley's band started out on Leon Russell's Shelter Records — "a warm and fuzzy thing about floating above the clouds where everything's peaceful. The album itself ends up having that theme, a kind of anti-war theme, an anti-violence message. The 'Green Blimp' lyrics go, 'All the fighting beneath us / if we're lucky won't reach us.' It's about drifting through the clouds and not worrying about being robbed or hit by a bomb. A lot of the songs carry that same message. It just happened that way. It's been on my mind. It's not like I'm a protest singer but, for the love of God, we've got two wars going on. Yesterday on the TV they said 350 kids were killed in one day. That's a lot of kids. I don't feel comfortable talking about that. I'm not a political-type person. But I can say, hey, we could all be a little less violent."
"Green Blimp," Twilley's first studio disc since 2005's "47 Moons," includes real rockers ("Speed of Light," "Stop"), breathy acoustic ballads ("Let It Rain"), some swampy boogie ("Witches in the Sky"), all of it clocking in just under four minutes. The production might sound dated, but Twilley's consistency over the years is as much an advantage in his music. And he's as forward-looking in his business model as he is in his lyrics. "Green Blimp" is available as a free download at dwighttwilley.com and in as-needed batches of CDs. His Facebook page keeps the faithful informed and raises funds for the recordings.
Of which there are plenty more on the way. "I don't want to be one of those guys who retires. I want to make records. I've got a new one and another one almost done," he said. That includes music for an upcoming film about him, a documentary being filmed by Youngblood Productions. "I have no control over the film," Twilley said. "Every now and then, they come by and do an interview. I saw the proposal, and I heard them talking about hiring someone to score the thing with music that sounded like mine. That didn't sit well with me at all. I perked up, said why don't I do the music for you? It's the only thing I have control over. The soundtrack will be done and out before the film ever surfaces.
"And it's different, it's interesting. I'm doing stuff on a biographical slant. I'm thinking about the things I did with [late music writing partner Phil] Seymour, how we got started. It's a damn good excuse to make another record. There's one song called 'Tulsa Town,' another called 'Bus Ticket.' That one tells the story of how Phil and I, these dumb little kids, just drove through Memphis with our little cassette, looking for a record company, and some guy named Sam Phillips listened to it, and we had no idea who he was or what Sun Records was. He was just this guy who sent us a bus ticket to come back and record."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.