Blake Shelton / Jason Aldean / Luke Bryan

Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Others Pay Tribute to Earl Thomas Conley

Earl Thomas Conley

Artists who were fans of Earl Thomas Conley gathered at the CMA Theatre at the Country Music Hall of Fame last Tuesday (September 10, 2019) to pay tribute to the man Blake Shelton called “My superhero,” Earl Thomas Conley.

Before a near capacity crowd, the group of entertainers talked about Conley’s influence on them and sang his songs. All agreed that Conley’s music had a depth to it that continues to influence country music today. 

They also agreed his songs appeared deceptively easy to sing. Bryan, who sang “Once In A Blue Moon,” said during rehearsals that he was probably going to have to switch to falsetto on some of the high notes, quipping, “You just don’t know the range in these songs until you try to sing them.”

Anderson recalled playing right field with Conley for the Warner Brothers softball team when the two were just starting out, and how great it was that each of them achieved their dreams. “I asked him one day while we were standing in right field if he wrote ‘Smokey Mountain Memories’ and he said yes. I said I was going to sing it one day, and today is that day.”

Bradley, who is an award-winning entertainer in bluegrass, was honored to be chosen to take part in the tribute. Conley was a huge bluegrass fan. Bradley pointed out that “His approach to singing, writing and picking was just like the bluegrass singers. It’s all truth and emotions. I know some of the bluegrass bands have recorded some of his songs.”

McCoy traveled with Conley when the two opened for Charley Pride. Diffie admired Conley as a vocalist and stylist. Hayes said his first purchase of a Conley song was “Fire and Smoke.” Before he got into the business himself, he met the singer at a celebrity golf tournament. “He was so kind but a little shy, and that always stuck with me.”

Aldean met Conley early in his career and was invited to go on his bus. “He said he liked my music, and I had only had a couple songs out at that time. I was struck by his kindness.”

Bradley received the first standing ovation of the day with her rendition of “We Believe in Happy Endings,” done in three-part harmony with Tina Adair and Kim Fowler. Bryan received the second with “Once In A Blue Moon” and Shelton For “What I’d Say.” 

Bill Cody and Devon O’Day from WSM-AM 650 co-hosted the Tribute, adding their favorite stories of Conley. O’Day asked the audience, “Did you ever have Earl tell you a joke? That laugh … I’ll never forget it.”

“I remember one day I was interviewing Earl and I asked him who his heroes were,” Cody said. “He said Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, and I looked at him and said, ‘Didn’t you want to be anybody well behaved?” Earl just looked at me and said, ‘Apparently not’.”

Included in the tribute were videos sent by artists who couldn’t take part in the memorial – Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, Little Big Town, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jake Owens, Toby Keith and Vince Gill.

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