Twilley Don’t Stop (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part Two

Now and Always
Amidst all the closet-clearing archival sets, the most notable release of new music from Dwight Twilley in the 21st century would be 2014’s Always. Recorded over a number of years, Always featured a who’s who of luminaries from the power pop universe and beyond. “I got players,” Jan says. “That’s why I became a co-producer: because Dwight said, ‘The job of being a producer is getting the record made.’” Jan says she called up every good player who was famous and who was a fan of her husband and his music.

The Always sessions would feature acclaimed bassist Leland Sklar, members of 20/20 and The Posies, Tommy Keene, Susan Cowsill and Mitch Easter. Bill Pitcock IV also played on sessions for Always, in what would turn out to be one of his final appearances on record (he passed away in 2011). “All these cats that had mutual admiration were working together,” Jan recalls. “It was a beautiful thing.”

Following a pattern that dated back to Twilley’s earliest work, Always earned positive, often enthusiastic reviews; wider commercial success for the tuneful, hooky and highly accessible music remained largely beyond his grasp. Meanwhile, he kept busy. In 2018 Twilley earned a prominent spot on the bill for that year’s Arroyo Seco Festival in Pasadena, California, a two-day festival featuring headliners Neil Young, Jack White, Kings of Leon and Robert Plant. Twilley presented a well-received set that brought his music to new audiences.

But Always would be the final collection of new material released during his lifetime. In the period after that record’s release, Twilley continued writing and recording as he had always done; there was every reason to think that another album of new songs would eventually appear, be it on a small independent label or even self-released.

The evocative nature of Twilley’s music lends itself to use in TV and film. “Lookin’ for the Magic” was featured in the 2013 horror film You’re Next, and Tia Carrere’s cover of his “Why You Wanna Break my Heart” featured prominently in 1992’s Wayne’s World.

In recent years, similar multimedia uses for his music have continued. In August 2023, Twilley’s signature tune “I’m on Fire” was featured in an episode of Reservation Dogs, the popular and critically acclaimed TV comedy series. That placement exposed Twilley’s music to yet more listeners who might not have known it. To date, the song has received nearly 1.7 million streams on Spotify.

Around the same time, Twilley cut harmony vocals for songs to be featured on Paul Collins’ upcoming album, including “I’m the Only One for You,” released January 26, 2024. “I borrowed a $25,000 Neumann mic from the Church Studio where Dwight cut ‘I’m on Fire,’” Jan says. That overdub session would be Twilley’s last.

Any hopes for new music from the Tulsa legend were dashed with news of Dwight Twilley’s tragic and unexpected death on 18 October 2023.

Jan recalls the days just before Dwight’s death. She was fretting that their car was falling apart; it was time to buy a new one. She had her eye on one in particular, a Fiat 500. “Do you really want it?” Dwight asked her. She said yes, as it had heated leather seats and XM Satellite Radio. “You can get the Beatles Channel,” she told him. “Buy it,” he said with a smile. With a nod to the Reservation Dogs sync placement, he told her, “I’m On Fire is buying it.” The Twilleys bought their new car on 11 September.

Just a few weeks later, Dwight Twilley was on his way to pick up lunch. “I assume he was listening to The Beatles,” Jan says. “And he had a massive stroke on the right side of his brain.” His car jumped the median and crashed into a tree. “The car was totalled,” Jan says. “Every air bag was deployed, but Dwight didn’t have a scratch on his face. He came into this world a pretty boy, and that’s how he left it.” After several days in the hospital and on life support, he passed away quietly, with Susan Cowsill, longtime friend and lead guitarist Rat Matthews, and his wife Jan at his side. He was 72.

Twilley Don’t Stop
Jan Twilley owns the publishing and recording masters to nearly everything Dwight ever did (“except Twilley,” she says), so she has creative and artistic control over releases.

Reissues and archival releases drawing from Twilley’s extensive body of work continue to provide opportunities to rediscover his artistry. In 2017, Chicago-based indie HoZac Records released Pre-Dwight Twilley Band 1973-1974 TEAC Tapes, credited to Oister. The high quality and expertly curated 2LP set served up 20 tracks that had circulated – in dodgy fidelity – among collectors and bootleggers for many years.

Another recent title is the first-ever vinyl release of The Best of Twilley: The Tulsa Years 1996-2016, Volume One. The 20-track double LP set is a well-curated survey of his independent label years.

Recalling her perspective from the years during which she first got to know Dwight Twilley, Jan says that – then as now – she believed he was “the best singer on the planet.” With the benefit of many years together, she now amends that assessment. “Dwight Twilley was a damn good songwriter and a really good player, too,” she says. “It all came from his gut. He was born to do it.”