Superstar Blake Shelton posted the sad news on his socials today that singer/songwriter Earl Thomas Conley passed away earlier today.

While it seems there are no boundaries in today’s country music, Earl, sometimes known by just his initials ETC, was definitely pushing them in the 1980’s and setting records along the way.

Born and raised in Portsmouth, Ohio, Conley’s artistry began at a young age. Growing up in the industrial town with few resources, he would take scrap pieces of wood from a local lumberyard, carve the scraps into toys and then sell them to other kids.

Before his own career took off, Mel Street had a hit with one of Earl’s songs, “Smokey Mountain Memories,” in 1975. In less than a year, Conway Twitty would take “This Time I’ve Hurt Her (More Than She Loves Me),” an ETC co-write, to the top of the country charts. In 1984, Earl told me, “That’s when I knew I was a songwriter.”

Conley’s solo successes included “Fire & Smoke,” his first #1 hit as a solo artist, in 1981. From 1975-1992, Earl charted 40 singles, 18 of them going all the way to top of the country charts. He also scored top 10 hits with a diverse list of duet partners, from Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, to Emmylou Harris and Keith Whitley. And his music spanned heartbreaking ballads like “What She Is (Is a Woman in Love)” to the rockin’ “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong.”

Indeed, it was in 1984 that Earl did something that had never been done before in music – in any genre – by scoring four #1 hits from one studio album. Michael Jackson had never done it. The Beatles had never done it. Elvis Presley had never done it. Nobody. The record has since been broken a few times by different artists, but Earl was the first. The album was “Don’t Make It Easy for Me” with the #1 hits “Your Love’s on the Line,” “Holding Her and Loving You,” the title song and “Angel in Disguise.” Conley was also quick to share the credit with his longtime friend, co-writer and producer Randy Scruggs, who passed away just last year.



But Earl was first and foremost a true artist. At the conclusion of our ’84 interview, backstage at a country music festival, I gave him a huge artist sketch pad, having heard he liked to do charcoal sketches. He pronounced the gift as “outstanding.” My gift was getting that album autographed. That and the fond memories of the man and his music. Thank you, Earl.

Sincerest sympathies to Earl’s family, friends and fans.