By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Dwight Twilley doesn't sit still. Even in his own home.
He's sitting cross-legged on his living room floor,
rocking back and forth, sucking Parliament cigarettes to
the filters. Sometimes he gets up and paces behind the
couch. He bites his nails like a new father outside the
He is a new father, really. His latest baby is being
born right here in this living room, on the stereo. It's
Twilley's new album — his first record of new songs since
We're in Twilley's living room in a nondescript house in
a midtown Tulsa neighborhood like any other. The dogs
frolic in a fenced yard out back. The neighborhood kids
loiter in the front yard, hoping to find one of the box
turtles that live underneath the property's massive,
signature oak tree. There are no fancy cars in the
driveway. Only the converted garage with no windows --
Twilley's recording studio — gives away anything unusual
about the house. No one would drive by and think this was
the home of a Top 40 pop star.
"It's only when I'm out mowing the lawn and looking dirty
and awful that somebody drives by and stops. 'Are you
Dwight Twilley? Can I get your autograph?' " he says.
That odd, windowless garage is where the entire new
album was recorded. It doesn't sound like a homemade
record, though. It sounds bigger and brighter than any
album released in his three-decade career. It sounds as if
he had a huge, major-label recording budget — or, as Twilley
is fond of putting it, "We tried to make this record sound
like we had a deli tray."
But there was no caterer, no staff of engineers, no
heady Los Angeles vibe intoxicating everyone in the
process. Just snacks in the kitchen across the breezeway,
Twilley's wife Jan Allison running the control board and
the laid-back comfort of Tulsa keeping the couple sane for
a change. In fact, the heady Tulsa vibe informed and
inspired practically every note, word and sound that went
into this new record — from the use of a recorded
thunderstorm and cicada chorus to lyrics such as, "I gave a
lot up for rock 'n' roll / I had a lover but I let her go
A quick scan around the living room reveals prints of
Twilley's paintings on the wall, a Bee Gees boxed set on
the stereo cabinet, Twilley himself jittering through his
nervous energy on the floor. At least he's still got the
energy, and at least he's home.
The new album will be on shelves Tuesday. It's called
All roads lead to Tulsa
It's 1970. Twilley and Phil Seymour have finally gotten
out of town. The two had met three years earlier at a
screening of "A Hard Day's Night" and discovered their
musical chemistry, as well as their desire to practice that
science far and away from Tulsa.
In a '58 Chevy, they head east to Memphis. Driving down
Union Avenue, they pass a storefront painted with the
moniker of Sun Records. "Hey, look, it's a record
company," Twilley says.
He and Seymour walk into Sun Records and talk to "some
guy named Phillips." They have no idea where they are — Sun
Records, the studio where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis
and countless others were molded, talking to Sam Phillips,
the man responsible for their molding.
Phillips listens to the tape of songs by Twilley and
Seymour. He doesn't send them away. Instead, he sends them
to Tupelo, Miss., to see Ray Harris, who says, "Y'all sing
"We had no idea where we were, really. We thought Elvis
was a movie star and that the Beatles invented rock 'n'
roll. We heard this Elvis stuff and were saying, 'Hey, that
sounds like Ringo,' " Twilley says of the trip. "It made an
impression. That's what wound up setting us apart.
Everybody else thought the Beatles invented rock 'n' roll,
and we fused the two.
"Plus, when we came back, we didn't sing like (weenies)."
A few years later, after learning to blend the catchy
pop of the Beatles with the backbeats of classic rock 'n'
roll, Twilley and Seymour escape Tulsa again. This time
they go west, to Los Angeles. Once again, they start
shopping their tapes to record companies. "Leon
(Russell) had started Shelter by then, and that was the
last thing we wanted," Twilley says now. "We thought that was
the stupidest thing in the world. Every club in (Tulsa) had
someone singing like this — " and he launches into a wheezy,
whiny Leon Russell impression. "We drove 1,500 miles to get
away from that."
Still, during the pair's first week in L.A., someone
takes their tape to the Hollywood office of Russell's
Shelter Records. Within days, Twilley gets a call from
Russell's manager and label head Denny Cordell.
"I show up at the Shelter office and sit in the little
waiting room. The Shelter people are in listening to the
tape and apparently freaking out. Somebody said, 'They came
out here with a tape of 30 of these (songs)!' Denny walks
out and says, 'I've heard your tape. Here's how I feel
about it,' and drops a record contract in my lap. Then he
walks out, saying over his shoulder, 'You'd better get an
attorney.' That was it," Twilley said.
"Then they sent us back to Tulsa."
It's a chilly night early in 1975. Actually, it's early
in the morning, maybe 3 a.m. Twilley and Seymour are toying
around in the Church Studio (then owned by Russell) under
strict orders from Shelter Records to get to know the
studio and not — under any circumstances — record any songs.
Maybe it's the hour, maybe there are stimulants --
regardless, Twilley and Seymour buck the orders. Seymour
takes Twilley into the hallways and says, "Let's do it.
Let's record a hit. Right now." Building on a groove
Seymour had been tinkering with, and handing guitarist Bill
Pitcock IV the riffing opportunity of his life, the Dwight
Twilley Band records "I'm on Fire."
The Shelter people will be annoyed — until they hear it.
The single will be rushed out. By June it will hit No. 16
on the charts and stick in the Top 40 for eight weeks. For
the next 10 years, Twilley's career will ride a
roller-coaster of fame and frustration, scoring another Top
10 hit in 1984 with "Girls" and settling him into life in
The prodigal star
Fast-forward to November 1996. I'm at Caz's in the Brady
District, checking out the latest band to be graced by Bill
Padgett's thundering drums, a now-defunct act called Buick
MacKane. The singer, Brandon McGovern, moved from Memphis
to Tulsa just to be near Phil Seymour, who had died from
cancer a few years earlier. The influence rings in every
sweetened, Beatlesque chord.
Buick MacKane is the opener tonight. The main act is
Dwight Twilley. Most in the audience remember Dwight, after
all, he had some hits. Those still new to the Tulsa scene
probably don't realize he was a Tulsan, much less that he's
back in town. But the crowd is willing
to give his set a listen.
When Twilley walkes into the bar — feathered hair,
sloganeering buttons on his lapel — he turns heads not with
the ghosts of his good looks but with an intangible aura of
a superstar. His set on the floor of this tiny shotgun bar
was bigger and stronger than any other local show in recent
memory, and the songs were gorgeous, crystalline, catchy as
hell. What on earth was he doing back here?
"After the earthquake ('94, in California), the insurance
people said we'd have to move out of the house to fix it
and then move back in," said Twilley's wife, Jan Allison.
"Dwight looked at me and started singing, 'Take me back to
Tulsa . . .'"
Weary of the literal and figurative shake, rattle and
roll of the L.A. lifestyle, Twilley and Allison moved back
in '94. Twilley wasn't retiring. In fact, quite the
contrary — he planned to finally record a new album right
"But with fax machines and Fed-Ex, you don't need to live
in the big business centers anymore," Twilley said.
"I wanted to come home."
'I'm Back Again'
Before Twilley and Allison premiere the new record,
Twilley shows off his home studio. It's a masterfully
rehabilitated garage, an immaculate studio and a small drum
room; set into the door between them is a porthole from the
Church Studio. He points out a few pieces of equipment used
in the recording, and talks about how many favors he cashed
in to lure old Dwight Twilley cronies out to play on yet
another record — original guitarist Bill Pitcock, noted
local axmen Pat Savage and Tom Hanford, original Dwight
Twilley Band drummer Jerry Naifeh, Nashville Rebels bassist
Dave White and drummer Bill Padgett, among others.
"I used up every favor, burned every bridge. There's guys
who won't return my calls anymore," Twilley says.
But he doesn't seem to regret the effort. He's very
proud of the results and is quite sure that his moving back
to Tulsa was a great career move.
"This record wouldn't have been possible without the
incredible musicianship in this town," he says. "I've always
said that Tulsa musicians are the best in the world because
they have to work so damn hard, harder than anywhere else.
That was part of why I moved back. I wanted a band of Tulsa
musicians again . . . and I feel a real sense of
accomplishment that I've made a new Dwight Twilley record
here in Tulsa."
"Tulsa" will be released Tuesday by a Texas-based
independent label, Copper Records. It's the first new
Twilley record to hit shelves in 13 years, the first
recorded in Tulsa in two decades. A CD collection of
rarities and outtakes will follow later in the summer from
a different label. A new Twilley single — 7-inch vinyl, no
less — is the current best-seller for a French indie.
Twilley classics have popped up on every "power pop"
collection worth its salt in the last three years.
Twilley just doesn't sit still — especially when he's
Between the cracks
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Twilley's latest salvo includes not one but two new CDs.
In addition to the album of new songs, "Tulsa," Twilley soon
will release a CD called "Between the Cracks, Vol. 1." It's a
collection of rarities, demos and outtakes from the early
'70s to the present.
Twilley is an extensive archivist of his personal
exploits, and he's saved nearly everything he's recorded on
his own and with the Dwight Twilley Band. "Between the
Cracks" features several gems from this collection,
including several tracks from "The Luck" album, which was
never released. There's also a demo of a song from about
1973 featuring just Twilley and a piano.
"Between the Cracks" will be released by Not Lame Records
For more information on Twilley recordings, look to his
website at http://members.aol.com/Twillex.
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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.