Friday, August 21, 2015

Act II Episode 14 - Tony Marts Bids Farewell to the Hawks and Conway Twitty

Tony Marts Bids Farewell to the Hawks and Conway Twitty

Image result for tony marts somers point nj

The nice summer run at Tony Marts of Conway Twitty and Levon & the Hawks finally came to an end, as the headliner’s contract was up and he was “going country” with a new record label and the Hawks managed to get out of their contract early so they could back Bob Dylan as he “went electric,” so it seemed they were going in entirely different directions.

Since Tony was satisfied with the band that Colonel Kudlets was sending him to replace them – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and he really like the Hawks, “they’re real gentlemen,” and he supported Conway in his bid to “go country,” he ordered a pair of cakes from Chester’s Bakery, a few blocks away on Route 9, and threw a farewell party for them.

Since it was a weekday, and there weren’t that many shoobees in town, some of the locals came out as they too enjoyed seeing Conway Twitty and Levon & the Hawks that summer.

As everyone who likes live music knows, the first and last sets of an extended engagement are always the best, as the first one is one to impress, while the last set is more casual, longer and more fun, with other entertainers usually coming by to jam and everybody has a good time.

And so some big wigs came down from New York City for this occasion.

While they are still debating whether or not Bob Dylan actually came to Tony Marts to check out the Hawks before he asked them to join him, Dylan came back to Tony Marts a second time, again with John Hammond, Jr., the blues man, along with their manager Albert Grossman, driving down in Grossman’s limo.

Dylan was a bit anxious as not to be seen by any of the folk and hippie crowd who could recognize him, so he disguised himself a little bit with a hat and sunglasses. Dylan thought about the story John Lennon related, the first time they smoked pot together, about how he – Lennon had put on a London Fog raincoat, a baseball cap and sunglasss, and walked out the kitchen door of the Lafayette Hotel in Atlantic City the previous August, and walked the boardwalk without being recognized. Lennon in disguise checked out Steel Pier, where all of the other British Invasion bands played, except the Beatles, who were originally scheduled to play there but were moved to Convention Hall because it was bigger. Dylan just didn’t want to be hassled by some of his overzealous fans, but the Tony Mart crowd didn’t include many hippies and abliged, as they didn’t recognize him, or it seemed, even care.

Conway Twitty on the other hand, had just signed a new record contract with a label that had a number of other big country acts, like Loretta Lynn, who met Conway at the record company office in New York when he signed the contract. Conway wanted to try to do both - play rock and roll under the name Conway Twitty, and play country under his real name – Harold Lloyd Jenkins, which sounded country enough, even though it wasn’t ripe for rock & roll. To appease his agents and managers, he took the name Conway Twitty by looking a map of the United States and picking out Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas and came up with Conway Twitty.

And like all big stars with a number of successful albums and three hundred some show dates a year, an entourage builds up around them, as they have a band, a manager, an accountant and a publicist, all of whom had families to support. Then there’s the wife and her mother, and usually a girlfriend and her friends, it becomes like a traveling circus. While the rock & rollers are bad on this count, sports stars are even worse, as Alan Iverson had his posse, and boxers are The Worst with their entourages, as Ali and Mike Tyson have shown.

Conway Twitty could keep them all if he continued playing rock & roll, but as his accountant explained, rock & roll is an ever expanding universe while there are only just so many country fans – it’s a matter of numbers, and they weren’t even playing in the same ball park. If Conway went country, as he promised to do, he would have to cut his entourage down to just a small band and one or two others, but that’s all that the country music could support.

The record company executives said it had to be one way or another, he couldn’t do both, so Conway went with his heart and since he was going to “go country” all the way, and some of the company executives, song writer Harland Howard and singer Loretta Lynn all came down from New York to catch Conway Twitty’s last set as a rock & roller.
                                        Harland Howard Convinced Conway to "Go Country."

Harland Howard wrote songs, songs that Conway liked to sing, and he was the guy who convinced Twitty to switch to country, and he was the one who had to explain to Conway’s entourage that the ride was over and they had to get off the gravy train.

When they got to Tony Marts, Harland went over to Tony, shook his hand and thanked him for supporting Conway’s decision and Tony said he would talk to Colonel Kudlets and give Conway an A-1 rating and help him get some work, though Tony Marts was not the place where that kind of music was best appreciated.

Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman also paid his respects to Tony, taking a seat at the bar next to him for a while, he thanked Tony for letting the Hawks out of their contract, and said it was in the best interest of everyone.

Image result for conway twitty and Harlan Howard
Conway Twitty Last Rock & Roll 

After an exhuberant set by the Hawks, much to the enjoyment of the crowd, Conway and his band took the stage and did pretty much the same set he did when he returned from his mid-summer hiatus, starting out slow with some beer crying country whiners, and then beginning with a traditional Irish wake version of “Danny Boy,” and then half way through the song switching gears and kicking in with a houserockin’ good time, and then the “Elvis set” of rock & rollers that got the dance floor and the whole place moving.

Image result for conway twitty and loretta lynn

Conway and Loretta 

After a while of that, near the end, Twitty recognized Loretta Lynn in the audience, and asked her to come up and sing a song with him, and that she did, beginning one of the most endearing duets to ever get together behind a mic. And when it was over, everyone cried and ate some of Chester’s cakes that Tony had the Go Go girls bring out.

Then the Hawks played their last set of the night, their last set of the summer at Tony Marts, and their last set as the Hawks, and it was a rare one at that, as they didn’t play their usual cover tunes. Instead they played some of the original tunes they had been writing and working on all summer but didn’t play because Tony didn’t want to hear that new stuff – “They’re playing for themselves and not the people,” Tony would say when a band played some original material. But not on this night. The Hawks were good to Tony and Tony was good to the Hawks and let them play whatever they wanted, just like Conway, on this night they had carte blanch at Tony Marts, they could do whatever they wanted and could do no wrong, at least on this night. 

And as the clock ticked closer to 2 am, the Hawks played one last song, “Try A Little Tenderness,” a slow number that got the lovers slow dancing to a song that most people associate with Ottis Reading, because he made it a hit, but was actually much older, as the Hawks could attest, and from then on, that song became the traditional final tune the bands played every night at Tony Marts for the next decade.

And when the lights came on, and the doors opened, the people filtered out, some to go home, some to go to the after hour joints, the big wigs went back to New York, Conway Twitty went country and the Hawks left with Bob Dylan, where ever he was going to go.

And the world would never really be the same. 

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