Dwight Twilley was an American singer-songwriter and musician best known for his work in the power pop genre. Born on June 6, 1951, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Twilley’s early life and career have been marked by a lifelong passion for music.
Twilley grew up in a home where his father always had musical instruments available. Twilley was fueled to pursue a music career after seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and it was his love of the Beatles that led to a fortuitous encounter with musical partner Phil Seymour. He attended Edison High School and later Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College from 1971 to 1973.
Twilley visited the Boman Twin theater to see a double feature that included the Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and a surfer movie. Seymour, who lived a block away from Twilley, also happened to be there and they chatted each other up about the Beatles. Twilley and Seymour went to Twilley’s house and began recording music as Oister. After continued sessions, they wondered if anyone in the record business might listen to their demo tapes.
Twilley and Seymour eventually decided to leave Tulsa and try to be discovered in Memphis, Tennessee. After listening to a cassette of their folk, pop, country blend, Jerry Phillips (son of Sun founder Sam Phillips) referred them to the Tupelo, Mississippi studio of former Sun artist Ray Harris, whom both Twilley and Seymour credited for introducing them to rockabilly and adding a harder edge to their sound. In 1974 they went to Los Angeles and signed with Shelter Records co-owned by Denny Cordell and Tulsa’s Leon Russell.
Cordell promptly changed the group’s name from Oister to the Dwight Twilley Band, which sowed the seeds for future problems arising from Seymour’s anonymity in the partnership. They recorded “I’m on Fire” in one night at The Church Studio, a recording studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma established in 1972 by musician, songwriter, and producer Leon Russell.
Located in a converted church building, the studio has since been cited as being the heart of the Tulsa Sound. The debut single was very successful, released in April of 1975 it peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single has a unique mix, with added reverb and vocal overdubs compared to the LP version.
He peacefully departed this world, surrounded by the love of his life, Jan, and close friends. The loss is immeasurable, and our words can’t capture the depth of our grief. Dwight’s musical prowess touched countless lives, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of many. We are profoundly thankful for the enduring musical legacy he has bestowed upon us all.Church Studio
Sincerely is the debut album from the Dwight Twilley Band, released in 1976 on Shelter Records. The extensive delay in release of the album after “I’m on Fire” contributed to Sincerely’s lack of sales success. It topped out at #138 on the Billboard album charts—even though the album used the same cover photograph as the front of the “I’m On Fire” single (a photograph of Twilley taken in a photo booth) to play up the connection.
During this time, Seymour and Twilley befriended labelmate Tom Petty and Phil sang backing vocals on “Breakdown” and “American Girl”, creating a long-lasting friendship. In 1977, the Dwight Twilley Band performed on the short-lived CBS Saturday morning kids show Wacko!.
Twilley Don’t Mind, their second LP, proved to be another commercial disappointment in 1977. Tom Petty played on “Looking for the Magic,” a track that album. Seymour left the band the following year, pursuing a solo career with some success until he developed what proved to be terminal cancer. He died of lymphoma in 1993.
Twilley continued as a solo act, keeping Bill Pitcock IV on lead guitar and adding Susan Cowsill on harmony vocals. This lineup released the album Twilley for Shelter/Arista in 1979, although the album’s most successful song, “Darlin'”, featured backing vocals by Seymour. Twilley’s next album, Blueprint, co-produced by Jack Nitzsche, was rejected by Arista after the failure of the 1979 single “Somebody to Love” although it was assigned an Arista release number.
Blueprint ultimately was never released, keeping Twilley out of circulation until his Shelter contract expired at the end of 1981. Twilley then moved to EMI America for Scuba Divers (1982), a combination of rejected Blueprint tracks and new material. Some of the drums, percussion, backing vocals were provided by John Cowsill.
His follow-up album, Jungle (1984), produced his second national hit single, “Girls”, featuring a counterpoint vocal by Petty, which also reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. His follow-up single, “Little Bit of Love”, reached #77. Twilley’s 1970s and ’80s songs became a time capsule from the era, later featuring in films and TV shows like Wayne’s World and Diary of a Teenage Girl.
He continued to release material throught the years including Rarities volumes 1-8, and the EP Have a Twilley Christmas released in 2004. He released a Beatles covers album in 2009 with 19 Beatles tunes. Twilley wrote a book in 1994 with Joe Klein called “Questions from Dad: A Very Cool Way to Communicate With Kids”, a parenting book based on his long-distance relationship with his daughter Dionne.
Dwight Twilley died on Wednesday, October 18, 2023, at the age of 72. He had revealed that he had broken his leg. He posted on Facebook: “Dwight Twilley broke his leg! Has to hang up his Dancin’ shoes for a while.” He then added that he was due to have surgery on his tibia, writing: “I’m not feelin’ that great today… My leg is Very Messed up… Nighty, night, night [sic].” Twilley is survived by his wife, Jan, and his daughter Dionne.
- Ray Harris (September 7, 1927 – November 13, 2003) was an American rockabilly musician and songwriter. He formed a band with Wayne Powers, and wrote the songs “Come On, Little Mama” and “Greenback Dollar, Watch and Chain”. He eventually recorded these at Sun Records with Sam Phillips. He also produced artists at Hi Records. Like others such as Sonny Burgess, Hayden Thompson, Billy Lee Riley and Warren Smith, chart success largely eluded him. [Back]
- “Dwight Twilley dies: Girls singer dead just days after sharing surgery news” (UPDATED10:39, 19 OCT 2023) https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/us-celebrity-news/breaking-dwight-twilley-dies-girls-31226305
- “Dwight Twilley” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_Twilley
- “Tulsa music artist Dwight Twilley dies” (Oct 19, 2023) https://tulsaworld.com/life-entertainment/local/music/tulsa-music-artist-dwight-twilley-dies/article_19c2525a-6e32-11ee-8c80-b3b7fc7dc636.html
- “Dwight Twilley, Pillar of 1970s Power Pop, Dies at 72” (October 19, 2023) https://pitchfork.com/news/dwight-twilley-pillar-of-70s-power-pop-dies-at-72/
- “Dwight Twilley, Tulsa-Born Star Of ‘I’m On Fire’ And ‘Girls,’ Dies At 72” (October 19, 2023) https://www.udiscovermusic.com/news/dwight-twilley-dies-at-72/
- “Dwight Twilley died, What happened to the singer? Cause of death explained” (October 19, 2023) https://medicotopics.com/dwight-twilley-singer-cause-of-death/
- “Dwight Twilley” https://www.last.fm/music/Dwight+Twilley/+wiki
- “Dwight Twilley” https://www.discogs.com/artist/297949-Dwight-Twilley