Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dwight Twilley Band -- "Rock and Roll 47" (1977)

You're a girl
And in every way
I'm a man
Understand that I like it that way

How many times am I going to write a 2 or 3 lines post about a talented musician who never got the attention he or she deserved due to a record company's incompetence or just plain bad luck?

Today's featured song was recorded by one such musician -- Dwight Twilley.

John Greenleaf Whittier
I've quoted these John Greenleaf Whittier lines before, and I'm sure I'll quote them again:

For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Dwight Twilley, welcome to the "It might have been!" club.  Let me introduce you to Alex Chilton.  Say hello to Evie Sands.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Twilley because he was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1951 -- less than a year before I was born just 100 miles up Interstate 44 in Joplin, Missouri.

NE Oklahoma A&M
Twilley (who attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College) and his musical partner, Phil Seymour, met in 1967 at a Tulsa movie theater where A Hard Day's Night was showing.  

A few years later, they went to Memphis to seek their musical fame and fortune.  While they were there, they ran into Jerry Phillips -- son of Sam Phillips (founder of Sun Records).

Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley
Their next stop was Los Angeles, where they signed with Shelter Records in 1974.  Shelter was co-owned by another Tulsa native, the inimitable Leon Russell.

The Dwight Twilley Band's first single, "I'm on Fire," made it to #16 on the Billboard singles chart almost by accident.  

The boys' follow-up single was rejected by Shelter.  Just before their replacement follow-up single was released, Russell and the other owner of Shelter Records sued each other and the record company collapsed.  The release of Twilley's debut album was delayed for ten months, and failed to break into the top 100.  

One of Twilley and Seymour's label mates was Tom Petty.  They contributed backup vocals to his eponymous debut album, which did quite well.

Petty returned the favor by playing guitar on one track of Twilley's second album -- Twilley Don't Mind, which includes our featured song -- which flopped commercially despite garnering great reviews.  

(Don't you love the word "garnering"?  It's one of those great words that you never use in conversation but is perfect to add a little style to a school essay, newspaper story, or a post on a wildly popular blog.)

Phil Seymour left the Dwight Twilley Band shortly after Twilley Don't Mind cratered.  Sadly, he contracted lymphoma and died in 1993, when he was only 41 years old.

Susan Cowsill and Dwight Twilley
Twilley soldiered on.  He recruited Susan Cowsill to contribute backup vocals to his first solo album, which didn't sell any better than his Dwight Twilley Band albums had sold.  In 1984, he had a second top 20 single with "Girls," but any forward momentum that song generated was lost when Twilley changed labels.  His next label went under when its owner was implicated in a payola scandal.

When his Wild Dogs album (1986) failed to sell, Twilley found himself without a label.

Several years later, he wrote a parenting book called Questions From Dad, which garnered this somewhat half-hearted review from one librarian:

A rockabilly musician ("I'm on Fire") and sometimes visual artist, Twilley here advocates and delineates the innovative and fun "Dad's Test" method he used to increase the amount and quality of communication between himself and his daughter, Dion.  The method uses intimate, serious, silly, and fun questions to solicit information or pass on ideas. . . . Parents who wish better communication with their offspring might want to try this unique book, though custody rules should be checked before using its nonstandard methodology.  [Emphasis added.]

Since then, Twilley has released albums featuring new original songs, compilation albums, cover albums, and the Rarities series of no fewer than seven albums of outtakes, demos, and live performances.

I bought Twilley Don't Mind after I graduated from law school and settled in Washington, DC.  I must have read a review of it in an underground paper somewhere.

My favorite song off the album was always "Rock and Roll 47."  It's very Big Star-ish: uncomplicated, a little ragged, and irresistible.

I have no idea what the "47" in the title and lyrics refers to.  (Twilley released an album titled 47 Moons in 2005, so the number must mean something to him.)

"Understand forty-seven in a nuke-u-lar way" -- say whut?

(The more photos of Susan 
Cowsill, the better)
By the way, "nuke-u-lar" may not be a mispronunciation of "nuclear."  According to U.S. News & World Report, 

In Physics for Future Presidents, Prof. Richard Muller of the University of California says the pronunciation "has been a tradition at some of our weapons labs since World War II."  He says it derives from the "combination of 'nuke' with the ending '-ular' inspired by similar words such as spectacular, popular, and molecular."  So there. 

Here's "Rock and Roll 47."  (I think this is an alternate take -- the version on my LP is slightly different.  But that version's isn't available on Youtube, and this one's close enough for government work.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. The mention of Shelter Records reminded me of Haven Records, the label that released two of Evie Sands' chart hits, and how Evie is another one of those very talented artists who has been "critically acclaimed" for many years, but has never had the commercial success she deserves.

    To pick up another element of your column, the number 47: When my younger daughter attended Pomona College, 47 was apparently quite significant. I won't go into all the 47 related Pomona stories, but the number also appears in music: "In the forty-seventh hour the tear gas got our men..." ("Riot in Cell Block #9") "I got 47 miles of barbed wire" ("Who Do You Love") and Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35".