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Earl Thomas Conley dies at 77

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 – Earl Thomas Conley, one of the biggest country stars of the '80s with 18 number ones hits, died this morning at 77.

Conley scored his first number one in 1981 with "Fire & Smoke." Starting with "Between Right and Wrong" a year later, all of his singles were either first or second on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart until 1989. His last number one was "Love Out Loud" in 1991.

Conley's Facebook page had a post: "We are with great sadness and regret informing the loyal Fans and Friends of Earl Thomas Conley that Earl passed away early this morning. Earl has been in poor health for a few years now. Please know that he loved and appreciated each and every one of you! He always said that YOU are the best fans ever! He is now resting peacefully!"

A cause of death was not specified.

Blake Shelton, who considered Conley his musical hero, broke the news early Wednesday afternoon. "My heart is absolutely destroyed today... I'm sad to report that Earl Thomas Conley passed away very early this morning. Earl was my all time favorite singer, hero and my friend. Prayers to his family. We will all miss you deeply my brother. Now go rest..."

Conley was born in Portsmouth, Ohio on Oct. 17, 1941. He joined the Army, which is where his talent was discovered as a member of a Christian-influenced trio. He soon became enamored with classic country and artists like Merle Haggard and George Jones. Discharged in 1968, he commuted from Dayton, Ohio to Nashville.

He met Dick Heard, the producer of country singer Mel Street. That led to Conley and Heard collaborating on Street's top 10 hit, "Smokey Mountain Memories."

Feeling as though his career was not progressing, Conley moved to Huntsville, Ala. to work in a steel mill. He met record producer Nelson Larkin, who helped him sign with independent record label GRT in 1974 Conley released four singles, but none clicked on the charts. He enjoyed success as a songwriter though, with Street and Conway Twitty recording his material.

Conley soon went back to Nashville, securing a writing deal with Nelson Larkin's publishing house. In 1979, he signed a record deal with Warner. Two years later, he had his first Top 40 hit, "Dreamin's All I Do." He split from the label in 1979 and joined Sunbird Records, again working with Larkin.

His career soon took off with "Fire and Smoke" his first number one in 1981, Starting with" Somewhere Between Right and Wrong" in 1982, every single he released until 1989 hit either one or two on the charts. He had a number two hit in 1986 with Anita Pointer, "Too Many Times."

The hits stopped coming. By 1992, he was dropped by RCA and didn't record an album for seven years.

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