February 01, 2005

THE FIRE STILL BURNS

Dwight Twilley.jpg

Power-pop purveyor Dwight Twilley perseveres

Not too many artists would be amused by having their performance unexpectedly cut short during one of the most renowned music festivals in the world.

Then there's Dwight Twilley.

A few years ago, Twilley and his band played in Austin, Texas, as part of South by Southwest, but they were forced to stop after five songs due to circumstances beyond their control -- namely the club's malfunctioning PA and a loss of power, he recalls.

"It was really kind of funny -- bringing the whole band down there on a nine-hour bus ride and having the full show ready to go, only to play five songs [instead of a full set]," Twilley says with a laugh.

Since making a splash nationally in 1975 with "I'm on Fire," Twilley has experienced other moments as ridiculous as anything featured in This Is Spinal Tap, not to mention the kind of career-altering setbacks often found in an episode of VH1's Behind the Music series.

But don't expect bitterness from the singer-songwriter-guitarist.

"There's the business side of the music business, then there's the artistic side," he says. "And the thing is, I can look back and regardless of the business things that could have happened better for me . . . I'm never embarrassed by [my previous work]."

Twilley is quite proud of 47 Moons, his recently released album and first full-length disc for Digital Musicworks International. Recorded at Twilley's own Big Oak Studio in Oklahoma, 47 Moons features guitar work from Bill Pitcock IV, who was an original member of the Dwight Twilley Band.

"Bill and I work so well together," says Twilley. "It's really a lot of fun, and it's very effortless. It's not like we have to sit and fight to get a part out of him."

But sometimes it's a struggle for others to understand how they do what they do.

"During the [making of the] record," recalls Twilley, "there would be a couple of occasions where my wife would be listening to what we were doing, and she would turn around and ask Bill, 'How can you understand what he's saying?' And Bill would say, 'I've been listening to this for 30 years.' "

It was 30 years ago that Twilley's "I'm on Fire" peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Back then, he was with Shelter Records, which was co-owned by Leon Russell and Denny Cordell.

"Denny had a lot of great ideas and provided a lot of freedom as well," says Twilley. "If you were a Shelter artist, you were allowed to record anytime, anywhere you wanted. I never, ever remember discussing money with Denny."

But Twilley's pockets weren’t exactly lined with dough. He remembers moments when he and fellow Shelter artist Tom Petty were "sitting around, short on cash." They also spent time wandering "in and out of each other's sessions."

"We helped Tom with his first record," says Twilley. "My late partner Phil Seymour sang the background vocals on 'Breakdown' and 'American Girl.' And Tom's first appearance on national TV, he was the bass player for the Dwight Twilley Band on a show called Wacko. I came up with the little hook on 'Breakdown,' and Tom played on 'Looking for the Magic,' on Twilley Don't Mind."

That disc, issued in 1977, was the Dwight Twilley Band's second for Shelter. Sincerely, now considered a power-pop classic, was the first, and its release was delayed for months due to the splintering of Shelter's principle players.

"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances," Twilley says. "After 'I'm on Fire,' they planned on releasing several more singles before Sincerely was released because they believed that much in the record. But that happened to be the time that Denny Cordell and Leon Russell parted company, and so they kind of went under for a period, and that caused them to lose their distribution deal. They were with MCA, I guess it was, at the time. And so it took awhile for them to get it together and land a deal with ABC for distribution."

Twilley has recorded for other labels through the years, scoring another Top 40 pop single along the way with "Girls," which hit No. 16 in 1984. As for DMI, which launched last fall, it's "exactly what I've been waiting for" in a label, says Twilley -- the company markets and promotes his music, and he maintains creative control.

He also likes the fact that he can "stop on a dime" and make a last-minute decision. According to Twilley, he finished 47 Moons last summer, and DMI was set to release the disc in the fall. But when label personnel listened to demo recordings of his Christmas songs, the choice was made to issue the Have a Twilley Christmas EP and a 47 Moons EP in 2004, then the entire 47 Moons album this year.

"With a major label, that would never happen," he says.

And on top of that, "I don't have to call anybody and ask them if I can record, and I don't have to pay anybody to be in the studio," he adds. "I'm self-contained here: writing the songs, producing the songs and recording the music."

Twilley currently has just one 2005 gig scheduled -- March 19 in Austin, Texas, as part of South by Southwest. No matter how this SXSW performance turns out, Twilley intends to be on the road for a while.

"I'll go out as long as I can," he says.

-- By Chris M. Junior

Official Dwight Twilley site:

www.dwighttwilley.com

Posted by medleyville at February 1, 2005 08:31 PM
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