JACK NANCE – Richard Jackson Nance born April 22, 1935 in Newport, Arkansas, native. In addition to Conway Twitty, Nance worked with top entertainers
including Dionne Warwick, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, the Moody Blues, the Fifth Dimension, the Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, the Temptations, Herman's Hermits and others. The "others" included a group of youngsters called the Jackson Five
as they rose to prominence. One of them, 12 at the time, went on to become the most famous of pop stars, Michael Jackson.
The name Jack Nance doesn't ring a bell with
most folks the way some of Jackson County, Arkansas' more famous musicians do, and that's a shame, because Nance made as many contributions to the world of rock music as anyone who came out of the small town of Newport, and some of the others became famous
worldwide, Newport Depot Days festival organizer Henry Boyce said. ''Nance'', Boyce said, ''never got the recognition from the public that he deserves, although he did become well-known among music producers, promoters and other musicians''. Boyce, the district
prosecutor, has an extensive knowledge of Jackson County communities' influence on shaping the new kind of music in the early days of rock and roll and makes sure the annual Depot Days reflects that 1950s flavor.
Richard Jackson "Jack" Nance, was Conway Twitty's drummer during Twitty's rock and roll years of 1957 to 1965, died on April 7, 2000. Four years earlier, Nance had started writing a book about his life with author James Schefter,
and the quotes from Nance in this article, unless otherwise noted, are from that manuscript, which was never completed due to Shefter's death. The title of the book was to be "It Was Never Make Believe", a play on words of Nance's song, the classic "It's Only
Make Believe", which he was writing while on a tour in Canada when Twitty dropped by and helped finish the lyrics. Nance wrote the music and they co-wrote the lyrics.
Jenkins, later known as Conway Twitty and the Rock House (Rockhousers). That was his group'', Nance said. "Harold had a voice. When he was on, hairs prickled on the back of your neck. He could croon a slow song that would break your heart and he matched Roy
Orbison on high notes that sounded like a silver spoon on crystal. Of course, none of us knew much about silver spoons or crystal in those days. What we knew was Dr Pepper, Mason jars and music. What we learned later was that we were midwives at the birth
of rock and roll''. Nance went to Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) in Conway in 1953 to study music and engineering, then on to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. He was 18 when he left for college on a scholarship,
and after four years he was back in Newport where the real music was.
''Newport was 1,000 people, seven nightclubs and when I was growing up it only had two things going,
music and booze'', Nance said. ''We were the only wet county in any direction and the booze brought the music''. It also had illegal backroom gambling "sort of tacitly allowed" by authorities, Boyce said he has been told. The gambling, which many of the musicians
may not have known about, helped pay the big money the bands got for playing the honkytonks. "You (an entertainer) could get $500 a night at the Silver Moon in Newport, when they might get $50 or $100 in Memphis," Boyce said.
When Nance blew back into Newport from college, he joined five others in a rock and roll band called the Pacers , headed by Sonny Burgess, "playing any club in Arkansas, Mississippi or Tennessee that would let
us in the back door'', Nance said.
Nance was assistant band director at Newport High School for one year after returning from college. At that time, the Silver Moon in
Newport was the largest club in Arkansas. Elvis Presley's group consisted only of himself, Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on doublebass. Nance, at Elvis' invitation, sat in on drums whenever Elvis played area clubs such as Porky's Rooftop and the Silver
Moon. (The original Silver Moon burned down about 1980 and the new Moon, on the recently renamed Rock And Roll Highway 67, is a family friendly center now where no booze is sold.)
Phillips even gave us (the Pacers) a recording contract with Sun Records, but not much ever came of it'', Nance said. "Still, I was a musician and with any luck, I was on my way. That was how I first performed with Elvis Presley, sat in with Carl Perkins and
Buddy Holly, played behind Roy Orbison and met Harold Jenkins''. The two met when Jenkins, who was performing often at Porky's Rooftop near KNBY radio station, visited the Silver Moon just down the street every chance he got, to watch the Pacers perform. The
problem with Harold was his choice of songs. He and the Rock House cut a single for Decca Records and it went nowhere. Right after that he called me and asked me to be his drummer, do some arranging, maybe write a little music. He also said he was changing
his name. That was nothing unusual, it happened all the time (with performers). 'So, Harry, what's your name gonna be,' I asked. 'Something good?' " 'It better be,' he laughed, 'cause it sure is different. You're now talking to Conway Twitty''', Nance said.
The story of how Twitty selected his new name is legend, while looking at a map, he picked Conway from Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty from Twitty, Texas. At least, that's the most popular
story. Twitty and his band were rock and roll artists then.
As a songwriter Nance produced an extensive book of songs. "It's Only Make Believe" earned gold record sales
in the United States four separate times, beginning with Twitty's version in 1958. Recordings of his songs hit the charts in Britain, across Europe, in Canada, Africa and Australia and were featured on movie soundtracks and television shows. Glen Campbell's
version of "It's Only Make Believe" went to number 1 on three different charts in 1970 and Ronnie McDowell's version later went to number 6. After being diagnosed with cancer just months before his death, Nance created "The Jack Nance Songbook'', which contains
sheet music and lyrics of 27 songs he wrote or co-wrote that were recorded, along with introductory comments for each.
"In 1957, I was playing drums for Conway Twitty.
We were in a tavern in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada named the Flamingo Lounge. We played there for nine straight weeks... The Flamingo Lounge was being remodeled while we were playing there and, since we didn't use a piano, they had moved theirs upstairs. Being
so far away from my home and family, I guess I was a little homesick and would go upstairs during breaks (we would play for 30 minutes and then have a 30-minute break) and monkey around on the piano. On one particular night I started a song, ''It's Only Make
Believe'', just as it was time to go back on stage. I told Conway, 'I had a good song started, and that I would like him to hear it. During the next break we went upstairs and I played piano and sang him what I had. Conway picked up, the lyrics, where I had
stopped and we finished it. It took a total of seven minutes to write it. Conway didn't want to go as high as I had written it, but I convinced him that it needed to build to a climax. This was the first and most successful song that we wrote together. Conway's
musical background was in country and gospel music while mine was in big band and jazz. The combination was good and we wrote some wonderful music together for the next three years'', Nance said.
However, even Twitty and Nance were convinced the best of four songs recorded on May 7, 1958 at Owen Bradley Studio in Nashville was "I'll Try" rather than "It's Only Make Believe'', so "I'll Try" was put on the A-side of the single and "It's
Only Make Believe" on the B-side. The single was released during the summer and "I'll Try" went nowhere. "We were really disappointed'', Nance said. "We felt that we had given it our best shot and that if this wouldn't sell, nothing we could write would. We
decided to give up the music business, go back home and do something else. "We had been at home about two weeks and I was really feeling down and defeated when Conway called. He was really excited and shouting, 'We've got a hit record''!
"A disc jockey in Columbus, Ohio, named Dr. Bop had flipped the record over and played ''It's Only Make Believe''. The people had liked it and bought it and it had become number 1 in Columbus'.
The song was rereleased, so new records had to be pressed and new ads published in trade magazines. The band went to Columbus to perform and do radio interviews to push the record. The people treated us like stars, with thousands of fans flocking to the concerts
and mobbing the group's car in the streets'', Nance said. "That was something new and exciting and a feeling I'll never forget. The song slowly worked its way up the charts until on November 24, 1958, "It's Only Make Believe" became the number 1 record in
the United States. It went on to become No. 1 in all of the free world countries'.
Nance's widow, Newport native Vicki Lowery Nance, and stepdaughter Melissa, both of
Cabot, said recently that as impressive as Nance's achievements in the music world are, they pale in comparison to him as a person. "He never, ever had a bad thing to say about anybody'', Mrs. Nance said. "He was so thoughtful. He always wanted to give people
recognition (they deserved). Jack helped so many entertainers. He was so humble. He was so intelligent. He never bragged on himself''. Nance also has a son, Richard Nance, and daughter, Melanie Nance Anderson. His sister, Franchelle Nance Harrell, still lives
After Twitty switched to country music in 1965, Nance left the band to spend more time with his family, but after a brief time away from music, was called
by Dick Clark for a job in concert tour management and promotion for Dick Clark Productions, followed by similar jobs with Concerts West and Motown Records. "... Jack was smart enough to get into the business end of the music'', Boyce said. For many years,
Nance worked with top entertainers including Dionne Warwick, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, the Moody Blues, the Fifth Dimension, the Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, the Temptations, Herman's Hermits and others. The "others" included a group of
youngsters called the Jackson Five as they rose to prominence. One of them, 12 at the time, went on to become the most famous of pop stars - King of Pop Michael Jackson. Later, the King of Pop called on Nance to be road manager for his 1984 Victory Tour (USA
and Canada) and the world tours that followed.
In 1996, Nance and his wife Vickie were in a K-Mart when she spotted a Conway Twitty tape on a rack. She handed it to him.
"I don't think you have this one'', Vickie said. "Want it''? Nance looked at the back of the cassette box, where 10 songs were listed. "You know what''? Nance mused. "I wrote eight of these songs and I played drums on all 10. Yeah, I want it''. That same year,
Nance sadly recalled Twitty and his bandmates from those years. "They're all dead now. There were four of us riding the charts to the top. Conway was the name and the voice. I was the drummer. Newport native, Joe Lewis was on guitar. I was 13 and he, Lewis,
was 12 when we first played together. He was good. ... Good enough to go for a long ride in the world of rock and roll. Blackie Preston was on bass.... He looked good onstage; he was a showman. They died too young. Blackie drowned in a boating accident. He
was maybe 40. Joe died in a car crash at 42. Conway was 57 and had a lot of music left to sing when an aneurysm checked him out in 1993. A lot of others died, too. Elvis is gone. Roy Orbison is gone. You know about Buddy (Holly), the Bopper (J.P. Richardson,
known as the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens (who all died when their airplane crashed in an Iowa cornfield on February 3, 1959)... 'the night the music died.' "But the music didn't die. The rest of us kept it alive'', said Nance. He died April 7, 2000 in Nashville,
Texas, as a result of long cancer.