Dwight Twilley: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

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Dwight Twilley doesn’t care much about terms like “power pop.”

It’s not that he objects, he just doesn’t care about the tag. “The Beatles were pretty much the greatest power pop band of all time, so if you want to put me in the same category as them, I’m fine with it,” he laughs, speaking over the phone with Aquarium Drunkard

Indifference aside, Twilley’s records, with the late Phil Seymour as the Dwight Twilley Band and solo, remain key entries in the power pop canon, undeniably hooky and tight LPs blending Fab Four jangle with Sun Records-style rockabilly. The records attracted the ears of fans like Tom Petty, who’d go on to contribute to Twilley recordings, and earned the Oklahoma singer a few major hit. As the 70s drew to a close, Twilley shuffled between labels, eventually slinking away from the public eye.

In recent years, however, Twilley has been on a tear. Self-releasing his records these days, he’s back with Always, a 12-track collection of sharp rock and pop. Following the passing of his longtime musical partner Bill Pitcock IV, Twilley enlisted a broad cast of guests for the record, “pals and friends” like Steve Allen and Ron Flynt of 20/20, Susan Cowsill, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene, Roger Linn, Leland Sklar, and Ken Stringfellow.

Twilley spoke with AD about his history and making records in 2014.

Aquarium Drunkard: I know you guys recorded in England, but listening to early Dwight Twilley Band records I’m struck by the very distinct American edge, in terms of the rockabilly influences and the “Sun sound.”

Dwight Twilley: My partner Phil Seymour and I, when we were kids…we were kind of Simon and Garfunkel guys. We had these pretty little songs and pretty little harmonies. We lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the middle of the country. We had a little collection of tapes and we thought we should have somebody from a record company listen to these. Maybe somebody would like ‘em, you know? We couldn’t afford to go all the way to Los Angeles, that was out of the question, and we couldn’t afford to go to New York, but we had heard that they had recording studios and record companies in Memphis. That wasn’t too far away. So we got in my little ’58 station wagon and brought our cassette tape of songs and ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, just literally driving down the street looking for what might be a record company. Phil said, “That’s gotta be a record company,” and we just walked in the door and played our little cassette for some guy named “Phillips,” and it turned out he liked our music. It meant nothing to us at all that it happened to be Sun Records.

AD: That’s wild.

Dwight Twilley: He sent us down to another town we’d never really heard of called Tupelo, Mississippi, and he put us to work with a producer named Ray Harris, who was an early Sun recording artist. Really, that was kind of the life-changing event for us, because it changed our outlook on music. We were given an education into early rock & roll. The first thing he pointed out to us was we’d all sing like pussies. [Laughs] And he was right. He took a listen to my songs and said, “Dwight, he’s a talented boy but he’s too spacey, he needs some meat and taters under his belt.” And he was right about that too. We worked with him on-and-off for a couple of years. We’d go down and work with him and he’d play us his old records, explain to us that it would be Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano in the background, [he’d play] Bill Black records he produced. We got that education…That was the thing that set us aside from the other groups that were kind of going in that direction.

AD: That led to you guys getting signed to Shelter Records. I think it was T. Bone Burnett who referred to Shelter’s Leon Russell as the “master of space and time.” What was it like working with him?

Dwight Twilley: Well in Tulsa he was the king of the universe, but we didn’t really get to know Leon until after we recorded “I’m On Fire.” We were signed in L.A., which is crazy because everybody in Tulsa wanted to be on Shelter Records and we didn’t really think it was our cup of tea. It was kinda that Delta bluesy-type sound, but it turned out we went out to L.A. and ended up getting signed to Shelter Records out there. We ended up meeting Leon, and he was very kind and generous and ended up playing on our first album. We didn’t have a long relationship because shortly after we were signed…that’s when Shelter Records basically fell apart. It was the beginning of my incredible series of legal explosions and bridge burnings.

AD: The music industry.

Dwight Twilley: No kidding. Welcome.

AD: So when in the sequence of things did you and Phil land on naming the band after yourself? It was originally called Oister, right?

Dwight Twilley: That was [English record producer] Denny Cordell’s idea. He just liked the sound of my name.

AD: What kind of conversations did you and Phil have about it? Did you think “This could be weird for us,” or were you just kind of excited to be on the ride?

Dwight Twilley:  I remember being kind of against it at first, and Phil saying, “No, this is probably what we should do.” He kinda trusted Denny’s instincts. I’d later hear grumblings that Phil was always pissed off about it, but I don’t remember hearing any of that at the time.

AD: Listening to the records it’s clear that the two of you were true partners. You two had a particular magic together.

Dwight Twilley:  He was a fantastic drummer and musician. We had a great sound vocally. A lot of people think you can take two good singers and put them together in a room and sing harmony and it will be unique. That’s not really the case. What it really takes is years. [You can sing that way] once you get to know the person, know what the other guy is going to say, [when] you’re both thinking the same thing and [can] anticipate the phrasing of the way he’s going to sing something…it’s rare, and something valuable in your life that you don’t get many times.

AD: Following the dissolution of the Dwight Twilley Band and some great solo albums on a number of labels, you struck out on your own. Your new one, Always, is on your own label. As someone who’s navigated the industry for a long time, what are the pros of doing it yourself, or some of the cons?

Dwight Twilley: The music industry is kind of lost. It’s a big disappointment. I make records because I love to make records. The culture, people’s interest, it’s sort of gone. When you listen to music on a computer or an ear bud, you’re probably hearing 70% of the work that goes into making these records. But I feel fortunate that I was around when there was a real industry, when they knew what a hit was. People would really listen; it used to be a matter of pride when you’d invite someone over to your house to listen to music on your system. What kind of cool speakers do you have? You’d sit down and listen to a side of a record and it would be like an event. Now it’s more of a private thing. You sit around with something stuck in your ears or stare at a computer. I think some of the magic is lost there.

AD: You did something with Burger Records not that long ago…

Dwight Twilley:  Yeah, they released Green Blimp, my 2010 record on vinyl.

AD: Do you find that there are younger kids out there who still get it, who still feel that same magic?

Dwight Twilley:  There are some, yeah. We just started having some success with the song “Looking for the Magic,” which has been featured recently in some motion pictures (including) You’re Next and all the sudden there are much younger kids in the audience, and they’re singing along and know all the lyrics.

AD: That’s one of my absolute favorites.

Dwight Twilley: It seems to be recognized more right now.

AD: Is that weird?

  Dwight Twilley:  Sure, it’s strange. Songs are kind of like your kids: they cause you all these problems, but then they come back and take care of you. words / j woodbury

Lagniappe: We are giving away copies of Hozac Records second Dwight Twilley 7″. Want one? Yeah, you do. Leave a comment with your favorite Twilley song to enter. Winners notified via email.

35 thoughts on “Dwight Twilley: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

  1. “The music industry is kind of lost. It’s a big disappointment. I make records because I love to make records. The culture, people’s interest, it’s sort of gone” <— so true

  2. I know I’m one of those Johnny-come-lately kids in the audience singing along to “Looking for the Magic” but I can’t help it’s such a killer track…and it’s my fave.

  3. “Looking for the Magic” is undeniable, of course, but I think my favorite Twilley number is “That I Remember”

  4. Since Looking for the Magic and That I Remember are taken, I’ll say ‘Sleeping’. First saw DTB back in 77/78, he put on a great show in those days and had a real Elvis vibe at the time.

  5. There are some, definitely. We recently began having a few accomplishment with the melody “Searching for the Magic,” which has been emphasized as of late in some films (counting) You’re Next and all the sudden there are much more youthful children in the group of onlookers, and they’re chiming in and know all the verses http://songlyricssearch.net/

  6. “I Don’t Even Know My Name” is all time great, so underrated. “You Were So Warm” a close second…

  7. You Were So Warm is the greatest Twilley song ever written. The vocals sung by Phil Seymour are brilliant, the bridge is superb….it will always be my favourite followed by Feeling In The Dark. The first 2 Twilley albums are top drawer, that band will never be equalled. Great live performances…

  8. Did Ya See Want Happened? or In My Room. There are so many great ones it’s hard to pick one. The Soundtrack album was a great album. You should seek that one out.

    When is part 2 of the interview? Actually, Dwight should write a book.

  9. Always loved the song “Sincerely.” I still listen to those first two records. And Billy Petcock IV was amazing. I’m glad Dwight is still at it!

  10. ‘TV’ is my favorite Twilley song! Listen to it on cassette in the car a lot. Thanks for the awesome interview!

  11. You Were So Warm from the first album is a true classic. Got the new CD Always sent today by Jan Twilley! Will play it this weekend…

  12. Yes. It does seem like a little magic is lost when one is almost “closeted” listening alone with his headset as opposed to friends listening and sharing music. By the way, DWIGHT TWILLEY does have a ring to it.

  13. I’ve always been partial to a song that was a radio hit, at least here in Albuquerque, “Girls.”

  14. Dwight is a genius. The two Twilley Band albums are as good as anything from the ’70s, and ‘Twilley’ & ‘Scuba Divers’ are superb too. Tulsa’s finest, and that’s sayin’ sumthin’.

    A word for Phil Seymour too – great musician, wonderful guy, terrific singer, great drummer…

  15. I remember hearing Dwight Twilley Band constantly on WMMS, when I went away to college in Cleveland Ohio. I cant remember which of the DJs was the most instrumental — it was probably Flash Fenerc or Jeff Kinzbach, who were both really into Power Pop. They used to play the first album, as well as cuts from a WMMS-broadcast concert at the Agora, and in my little Cleveland Ohio bubble, I assumed that the band was as huge nationwide as it was in Buzzard-land.

    Anyway, thank you for reviving fond memories of those good-ol days. Great to see that Dwight is Still Rocking After All These Years!

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