Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and More Perform in Memory of Earl Thomas Conley
Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean were among the stars performing in memory of Earl Thomas Conley at an invitation-only concert at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Tuesday. Earl passed away this past April in Nashville, and this concert was organized to remember his lasting influence on country music. Earl Thomas’s road band backed up many of the performers on the bill, also including John Anderson, Joe Diffie, Neal McCoy, bluegrass star Dale Ann Bradley, Wade Hayes and Earl Thomas Conley’s daughter Erinn Skates.
Blake has often cited Earl Thomas as his biggest musical influence. He was instrumental in organizing this tribute concert since the late singer didn’t want a funeral, which was in keeping with Earl Thomas’s shy nature.
Blake said, “I always found Earl to be, sometimes, almost an awkwardly shy guy to the point where you’d go, ‘Does he get onstage and sing?’ He’s so shy. Looking back, Earl never believed he was good as he really was as a singer and songwriter. He didn’t have that in his DNA. He was a very talented guy. I truly did worship him.”
Blake recalled getting the call about his hero’s passing from Earl’s wife, Carol, and then breaking down over the news shortly after during a conversation with girlfriend Gwen Stefani.
He said, “I’ll never forget. I was on my four-wheeler. I was pulling a seed broadcaster, and I just started crying. I got on the phone with Gwen and said, ‘I can’t believe…’ I wasn’t surprised that he passed away. I knew he had some health problems and had been for awhile.”
Though Earl Thomas racked up 18 No. 1 hits over the course of his career, Blake was worried that Earl’s legacy would be forgotten.
Said Blake, “I told Gwen, ‘I think I’m sad because I’m afraid nobody’s going to remember Earl.”
Blake was very happy when Carol called to tell him they were doing the tribute concert, and he immediately called dibs on singing “What I’d Say.” Before he performed the song, Blake shared this hilarious and heartfelt story about his first meeting with Earl and their ongoing relationship. Check it out in the video below.
Luke Bryan recalled hearing Earl Thomas Conley’s music on a cassette his dad kept in the tape deck of his truck when Luke was a kid in South Georgia. It was only when he grew up that Luke realized just how deep the emotions went in ETC’s songs.
Luke said, “I remember being kid and going, ‘Man, that guy’s hurting.’ I didn’t know everything he was talking about, but “What I’d Say” was the first time I really heard hurt and real emotion in a song. Historically, that’s my number one favorite song.
For his performance, Luke accompanied himself on piano singing “Once in a Blue Moon” after leading the crowd in a singalong of “What She Is (Is a Woman in Love).”
Jason Aldean remembered meeting Earl in 2006 when the two were playing a show together. Though Jason only had about two singles out, Earl was very encouraging of the newcomer.
Said Jason, “He invited me up on his bus, and we talked music and he told me he liked what I was doing.”
Jason added, “I think as an artist he was ahead of his time. When he hit the scene, he didn’t sound like anything else that was out. His voice was amazing, great writer. To get that pat on the back from him was pretty special.”
John Anderson recalled sharing the right field position with Earl on the Warner Brothers Records softball team in the early ‘80s when they were just getting started in their careers.
He said, “I guess that’s where we got to know each other best standing out in right field talking about our new songs and how we were gonna try to get ‘em put out. It was two young guys standing out there with big dreams and a lot of hopes. In the next few years, we got to see each other’s dreams come true.”
As for his song choice at the ETC remembrance, John added, “I told Earl — I think it was in right field one day — I said, ‘Man, did you write “Smokey Mountain Memories?”’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I’m going to do that song someday.’ And you know what? I am gonna do that one day — today. God bless you, Earl.”
Shenandoah’s Marty Raybon, Little Big Town, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, Oak Ridge Boys, Jake Owen all sent in video messages remembering Earl Thomas, and Toby Keith paid tribute to ETC with a pre-taped performance of “Heavenly Bodies”
Earl Thomas Conley: A Tribute Celebration of Life & Music Set List
Earl Thomas Conley Band — “Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
Erinn Skates — “Too Far from the Heart of It All”
John Anderson — “Smokey Mountain Memories”
Wade Hayes & Joe Diffie — “Brotherly Love”
Jason Aldean — “Nobody Falls Like a Fool”
Neal McCoy — “Holding Her and Loving You”
Walt Aldridge & Michael Pyle — “With You”
Dale Ann Bradley — “We Believe in Happy Endings”
Luke Bryan — “Once in a Blue Moon”
Toby Keith — “Heavenly Bodies” (pre-taped)
Blake Shelton — “What I’d Say”
Earl Thomas Conley Band & Wade Hayes — “Fire and Smoke”
Artists and Earl Thomas Conley Band — “Don’t Make It Easy for Me”