Friday, September 30, 2011

Tulsan Dwight Twilley records musical autobiography

BY GENE TRIPLETT    Comment on this article
Published: September 30, 2011
— Etched into the sidewalk in front of the vacant building at 5150 S Sheridan Road is evidence of a bygone musical era. Concrete blocks bear the handprints and autographs of Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wishbone Ash; the names of touring artists and bands who stopped by to visit what back then was Peaches Records & Tapes, and participated in a ritual inspired by Hollywood and Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Dwight Twilley. PHOTO PROVIDED <strong>PROVIDED</strong>Most of these international stars hailed from far-flung places, but one square bears the names of two local boys who made good back when vinyl was still king of the recording formats: Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour.
“Back in 1977 when the band was doing the ‘Twilley Don't Mind' tour, we stopped in Tulsa and we were at Peaches, and we signed our names in the stone,” Twilley said from his Tulsa home last week. “And I drew pictures of me and Phil on it. You can see it in the artwork of the new CD.”
And that would be “Soundtrack,” a new autobiographical album that revisits all the major milestones in Twilley's life and career from boyhood to the present — including two life-changing events that occurred before the recording was even completed.
“I know at one point I wanted to capture just the whole experience of being a teenager and suddenly having a hit record and having the millions of chicks around you, at your fingertips, and what an emotional change that is for somebody. Not a normal thing for most people's lives,” Twilley said. “And then one of my early drummers, Jerry Naifeh, died.
“And I'd written lyrics for this song and all that, and then I went back into the studio to go to work on it and, you know, suddenly I just didn't feel like writing that anymore. And so I wrote something else instead. I wrote the song, the first song on the album, called ‘You Close Your Eyes.'
That was in February. Two short months later, Twilley lost another old friend and musical collaborator who had still been an active partner.
“I lost my lead guitarist, the original lead guitarist for the Dwight Twilley Band, a huge loss and a huge part of my sound, Bill Pitcock IV,” Twilley said.
A bandmate off and on since Twilley signed his first major label deal in the mid-'70s, Pitcock contributed his signature work to much of the music on “Soundtrack” before his health suddenly began to fail.
“Towards the end there were a few tracks we had to finish up by ourselves,” Twilley said. “It was pretty emotional considering that both ‘Green Blimp' and this album were just really myself and my wife (Jan) engineering, and Bill Pitcock IV, just the three of us, you know, playing almost everything on the record except for occasional guest stars.”
Autobiographical seed
The idea for the autobiographical album — which features longtime friend Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills) on backing vocals and fellow Tulsan Taylor Hanson (Hanson) on keyboards — came about after Twilley was approached by local filmmakers who wanted to do a documentary about him.
Twilley's story has long been part of the Tulsa music world's lore and legend, starting in 1967 when he ran into his Edison High School mate Phil Seymour at a matinee screening of “A Hard Day's Night” at the old Bowman Twin. Discovering a mutual love of the Beatles' sound, they began playing music together that afternoon.
A couple of years later, when Dwight and Phil thought they were good enough but couldn't afford a trip to Los Angeles or New York, they jumped into Dwight's '58 Chevy station wagon and took their tapes to Memphis, Tenn., where they managed to score a meeting with none other than Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, the man credited with discovering Elvis.
Phillips in turn sent the boys to learn a few rockabilly licks at the knee of Ray Harris, an early Sun recording artist living in Tupelo, Miss., and thus was born the Twilley trademark blending of Beatles tunefulness and slapback-echo twang that would land them a contract with Leon Russell's Shelter Records.
In no time, the Dwight Twilley Band was burning up the airwaves with its debut single “I'm on Fire,” which smoldered for eight weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 in the spring of '75, peaking at No. 16. When the debut album “Sincerely” was released in 1976, Rolling Stone magazine pronounced it “the best debut album of the year.”
But the next 10 years were rocky ones for Twilley, beleaguered by self-destructing record labels and corrupt music industry executives, until his career stalled out in 1986 after the release of the album “Wild Dogs.” He eventually returned to Tulsa with his wife, bought a house and built a studio onto it, and began life anew as an independent recording artist.
Making it right
Now, five albums of new material later, someone is finally making a film about his incredible rock 'n' roll journey, but Twilley insisted on writing the soundtrack for it himself.
“I read their proposal for how they were making the film, and down in the small print, it said they were hiring somebody to write music that sounded like Dwight Twilley,” Twilley said.
“I thought to myself, now wait a minute here. Something about this doesn't feel right. ... But I did come back to them saying I'd much prefer recording the music myself. And basically I just signed on to write the soundtrack for the documentary.”
The film will include the planned retrieval of the sidewalk stone that was signed 34 long years ago by Twilley and Seymour, another absent friend who died of lymphoma in 1993. Twilley was granted permission by the owners of the vacant building to remove the stone and take it home.
So it's a bittersweet year for the power-pop veteran. His new album comes out Tuesday, EMI is reissuing three of his best long-players, “Sincerely,” “Scuba Divers” (1982) and “Jungle” (1984), and one of his most popular '80s album tracks, “Looking for the Magic” (featuring Tom Petty on bass) has been licensed for use in an upcoming slasher movie called “You're Next.”
But he's still faced with rebuilding his band, and finding a guitarist who can maybe come close to duplicating Pitcock's unique style.
“It kind of seems like the end of an era with Bill and Phil gone,” Twilley said. “I'm like the last guy standing.”

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