Jeff Bates Embraces Conway Twitty Comparisons on Tribute Album ‘Me and Conway’
'Me and Conway,' released Nov. 11 and available on Amazon and iTunes, pairs six original songs with six covers of Twitty classics. The Twitty tunes are, for the most part, from the 1980s -- a deliberate choice on Bates' part.
"Conway had such a large career ... and I felt like if I recorded songs from all of those eras, it would sound like an odd album," the singer tells The Boot, "so I picked ... an era I grew up in, and I love those songs."
The exception to the '80s rule is 'After the Fire Is Gone,' which Twitty recorded as a duet with Loretta Lynn and released in 1971. Bates says he didn't plan to include the track until Lynn, who reprises her role, agreed to be part of the project.
"My original intent was to do 'That's My Job' and to call [up] Conway's voice and sing it as a duet," Bates explains. "For several different reasons, I couldn't make it happen," but when Bates was asked to sing at Lynn's annual Remembering Conway tribute concert in 2013, things started coming together.
"When I walked out on stage [at the show] and started singing, what was supposed to be me singing a couple songs turned into me staying up there," he says. "The crowd was digging it, and then we did 'After the Fire Is Gone' as a duet.
"I talked to her backstage, and she was so sweet," Bates adds, and that's when Lynn agreed to do the duet.
Due to personal circumstances -- her oldest daughter's death, an injury and a fire at her home -- Lynn wasn't able to record her part for almost a year. She finally went into the studio the week before this year's Remembering Conway show.
"I joked around on stage [at this year's tribute concert], 'Sorry it's taken me so long to finish this album -- I've been waitin' on a woman,'" Bates says. "And I looked at her, and I said, 'Miss Loretta, you were worth the wait.'
"We have technology to just make it sound great ... but that's an untouched vocal right there," he adds of the legendary singer's addition to the album. "She just nailed it."
Bates' love of all things Conway Twitty started at a young age. His mother would mail order vinyl records, and he remembers the day she received one of Twitty and Lynn's albums.
"The mail carrier pulled up, right into the middle of the yard -- which never happened -- got out and brought a package up to the porch and handed it to her. She opened it up, and it was Loretta and Conway," Bates says. "Probably by the end of the week later, I knew all those songs by heart."
But, Bates admits, it wasn't until his late teens that he started "really getting into [Twitty's] music and soaking it up as an artist and dissecting it." And when Bates began writing songs, he noticed Twitty's influence even more.
"I love to write about relationships ... Conway sang about relationships ... mostly with the opposite sex and father / son, that type of stuff," says Bates. "For me, it's as simple as this: Conway sung my life."
Bates says he also admires Twitty's ability to convey emotion through his music.
"Conway didn't need to think about how pretty he was singing or how accurate he was singing," he explains. "Conway care about getting the emotion across in the songs."
Whether you agree that he sounds like the legendary artist or not after hearing this album isn't important to Bates. He was just happy to be able to pay tribute to one of his musical heroes.
"It's a total labor of love, not me trying to say, 'Hey, look, I sound like Conway Twitty,' or anything like that, or taking his place," he says. "It's just a total labor of love because ... I'm a big fan, man."