Twilley Don’t Stop (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

Looking for the Magic
Meanwhile, encouraged by the success of their first single and undaunted by the problems that sank their first album, Twilley and Seymour – with longtime associate Bill Pitcock IV on lead guitar – began work on a followup to Sincerely. Co-producing the record with Bob Schaper, the group recorded ten songs, nine of which ended up on Twilley Don’t Mind. Their friend and fellow Shelter Records artist Tom Petty played guitar on the session for “Looking for the Magic,” one of three singles eventually released from the LP.

Though “Looking for the Magic” was merely one of several strong tracks on the LP, released in September 1977, Twilley Don’t Mind performed only modestly (No. 70) on the US album charts.

Swaggering numbers like the title track served up sharp hooks; gentler cuts like “Sleeping” displayed Twilley’s range as a songwriter. From a creative perspective, album was far from a disappointment. But the record’s lack of marketplace success led to the band breaking up early the following year, with Seymour launching a solo career. “It was called the Dwight Twilley Band, and Phil always wanted the limelight, too” Jan says. “And thank god he flippin’ got it.” She emphasizes that there was never any falling out between Twilley and Seymour. “Phil just wanted to go his own way,” she says.

Seymour continued on his own, releasing two albums, one each in 1980 and ‘82. His self-titled debut included a track that would become a minor classic, “Precious to Me” (U.S. #22, U.S. Top 40), featuring lead guitar work by Pitcock.

Having been the Dwight Twilley Band’s songwriter and lead vocalist, Twilley continued as a solo artist. Sessions for his solo debut began in earnest, with Pitcock on lead guitar. Today Jan refers to the record as Checkerboard, a nod to the cover art designed by a longtime Twilley friend and associate known as Zox. In a sign that while their professional relationship had ended, their friendship and creative collaborations would endure, Phil Seymour provided backing vocals on what would be released in 1979 as Twilley.

The smoldering yet hooky “Runaway” was typical of the album’s quality. An epic ballad released as a single from the LP, “Out of My Hands” showed yet another side of Twilley’s artistry. The song is a dead ringer for the best balladry of Jeff Lynne, all while maintaining Twilley’s own style. The song’s lyrics make reference to the devastation a nuclear war could bring (“When the walls around you melt, you can’t pretend”), but the whole thing is wrapped in a gorgeous string arrangement that engages the listener.

Here She Comes
But for live dates, Seymour’s vocal harmonies were missed. And harmony was a central feature of Twilley’s catchy power pop melodies. Jan recalls Dwight’s frustration. “Fuck,” he’d say. “I sure am missing that harmony vocalist.” But it quickly dawned on him that he knew of an excellent singer, one who – as Jan wryly puts it – “was right there in Dwight’s kitchen, making a meatloaf.” Twilley asked Susan Cowsill if she would join his band.

Beginning with Twilley’s second solo album, 1982’s Scuba Divers, Susan would be credited with harmony vocals (she’s also listed as a recording engineer for that album). Her brother John played drums and sang harmony as well. At that point, Jan and John Cowsill were a married couple, having wed in 1978. Pitcock played guitar, keyboards and bass, and famed session guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar contributed to the sessions as well.

Prior to making Scuba Divers, Twilley had in fact recorded another entire album’s worth of songs (provisionally titled Blueprint) with famed arranger Jack Nitzsche producing. Scheduled for release but eventually rejected by Arista (Shelter’s parent/distributor), that record went unreleased. When Twilley’s Shelter contract expired, he signed with EMI America, and Scuba Divers would be put together from Blueprint tracks and new recordings.

A second album for EMI America, 1984’s Jungle would also be Twilley’s last for the label. Though the record included a hit single in “Girls” (U.S. #16), Twilley left the label. His next release, 1986’s Wild Dogs disappeared in the marketplace when the label releasing it (Private I Records) became embroiled in an ethics scandal wholly unrelated to Twilley. But Wild Dogs’ failure to launch likely contributed to the departure of Pitcock. Thus began a relatively quiet period for Twilley’s musical endeavors.

In retrospect, Twilley seemingly had time on his hands between the mid 1980s and late ‘90s. Other than a pair of retrospective compilations (1991’s Rock Yourself, and The Great Lost Twilley Album from 1993, both featuring ‘70s material) Twilley wouldn’t release anything for a decade-plus.

Lizard King of Tulsa
But he wasn’t idle. In fact, a long-standing rumor has swirled around Twilley: was or wasn’t he considered for the role of Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s controversial 1991 biopic The Doors? Jan is initially circumspect on the subject, admitting only that “it was talked about,” and that she and Dwight “kinda liked the mystique” that the rumor engendered.

The role eventually went to Val Kilmer, though a parade of other names had circulated. Actors considered for the part included Johnny Depp and John Travolta, and other actual musicians (Bono and Michael Hutchence among them) made their interest known as well. Pressed for even an additional morsel of information, Jan relents a bit.

“Everything about The Doors film was super hush-hush,” she explains. “From pre-production all the way to post-production. The set was always closed.” She adds that anyone involved in any way with the film was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Choosing her words with great care, she finally offers this terse statement: “To the best of my knowledge Dwight was asked to audition for the role of Jim Morrison.”

Meanwhile, Twilley continued to write and record. Receiving some belated acclaim for his earlier work thanks to the release of several retrospective collections, he resumed releasing albums of original material (and with Pitcock back in the fold) by the middle of the ‘90s. And when the first volume of the highly regarded series Yellow Pills: The Best of American Pop! was released in 1993, the opening track was Twilley’s “Remedies.” That placement helped make Twilley a household name, at least among ‘90s aficionados of power pop.

In hindsight, Twilley’s post-major label period was a more creatively fertile one; he would certainly be more prolific, releasing new and previously unheard archival material at a steady pace (the discography that accompanies this feature doesn’t even include a spate of more than a half dozen CD-r releases under the Rarities banner).

In 1994 Twilley embarked upon a passion project far removed from his music, authoring a book about long-distance divorced parenting. A small press publication, Questions from Dad: A Very Cool Way to Communicate with Kids was well received, and the book offered a rare glimpse into Twilley’s private life. Asked to elaborate on the topic, Jan is mum. “I can’t talk about it,” she says. “That would be breaking a promise.” She does allow that “being away from loved ones” would be her late husband’s deepest regret.

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