Two Is Better Than One
Revisiting the iconic music of four pivotal country music duos
There is something special in having two unique voices and personalities come together in perfect harmony, singing songs that people all across the globe can relate to. Country music has seen its fair share of iconic duos, from Flatt and Scruggs to Brooks & Dunn, but the 1970s was a decade filled with unforgettable male-female collaborations.
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton emerged as a successful pairing in the late 1960s, being the first to win the Country Music Association’s (CMA) award for Vocal Duo of the Year in 1970. Throughout the decade, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and Kenny Rogers and Dottie West would join the ranks and establish themselves as quintessential country partners.
“When you’re starting with someone who is great, and you add someone else who is great, that creates something extraordinary,” says artist Mandy Barnett. Singularly, these artists produced music that is today considered country gold, but together, they created country magic.
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
When Porter Wagoner hired Dolly Parton to replace Norma Jean Beasler as the girl singer on his television and road show, he was not looking for a duet partner. In the seven years that he and Beasler had worked together, they occasionally performed a duet on stage, but they never collaborated in the studio.
In 1967, Wagoner had been on the RCA Victor record label for 16 years and was best known for songs such as “Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company.” He was also reaching an audience of millions weekly with The Porter Wagoner Show, country music’s most-watched show at the time. At 21, Parton, who had been singing since childhood, had lived in Nashville for three years. Her debut album on Monument Records was released in early 1967, but after she joined Wagoner that fall, she too signed with RCA Victor.
But the transition from Beasler to Parton was not all seamless. The first time she joined Wagoner and his band, The Wagonmasters, on stage, the audience did not respond enthusiastically to the new girl singer. Looking for a way to smooth the transition, Wagoner suggested he and Parton first perform a couple of songs together. When the crowd heard their voices blend for the first time, they made it known they wanted more.
Just one month later, the two were in RCA Studio B recording Tom Paxton’s, “The Last Thing on My Mind,” which reached №7 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. Their first album, Just Between You and Me, was released in January 1968, and that year, the CMA named them Vocal Group of the Year. Over the next 12 years, the duo released 13 studio albums, with 11 charting in the top 10, had 21 chart singles, and won three CMA awards.
The majority of their duets were penned by Parton and Wagoner, with Parton contributing such songs as “Lost Forever In Your Kiss” and Wagoner “The Right Combination.” They also collaborated on writing a number of their songs, including “The Pain of Loving You” and the №1 single, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.” When discussing their writing style with Country Weekly, Wagoner said, “By writing songs to fit two people and gathering material for two people, we were trying to project the image of a great-harmony singing team.”
The two weathered a difficult lawsuit after severing professional ties in 1977, but a decade later, the duo had a highly anticipated reunion on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Even after those years apart, the musical chemistry between the two was still undeniable. The reuniting reestablished their partnership, and throughout the next two decades, Wagoner and Parton would continue to work together on stage, in the studio, and on television.
Their final song together was released on Wagoner’s 2006 gospel album, and the next year, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Parton joined him on stage to perform their 1969 hit song, “Just Someone I Used to Know,” with Patty Loveless. Wagoner passed away five months later at the age of 80, with Parton spending his final hours by his side, marking the end of one of country music’s most successful and enduring partnerships.
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
Following on the heels of Wagoner and Parton’s success, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty joined forces in 1970 to record their first collaborative album on Decca Records: We Only Make Believe. Both were successful singers and songwriters in their own right, with Lynn being the top-selling female country artist at that time, and Twitty making the transition to country music after a lucrative rock-and-roll career.
Lynn admitted to being a fan of Twitty’s as a young housewife, even hanging a poster of him up in her home. When their producer at Decca, Owen Bradley, first introduced Twitty and Lynn, they became fast friends. However, it was not until a few years later when Lynn’s husband suggested the two collaborate that they finally cut their first single, “After the Fire is Gone,” at Bradley’s Barn in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
In the next decade, the pair would release a total of 10 studio albums, with eight landing in the top 10 on the country charts, and chart 12 top 10 singles. Five of those singles, including “After the Fire is Gone,” “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” and “Feelins,’” climbed to №1. The two, who were called the “Dynamic Duo,” teamed up on the road as well, traveling with their bands and performing in packed-out arenas.
Twitty and Lynn also racked up plenty of awards. They won the CMA’s Vocal Duo of the Year award in 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1975, and took home a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance for “After the Fire is Gone.” Their last collaborative album, Two’s a Party, was released in 1981, but they remained steadfast friends and often appeared together on stage and television.
Their partnership came to an unexpected end in 1993, when Twitty died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm in a Springfield, Missouri hospital. Ironically, it was the same hospital where Lynn’s husband was recovering from heart surgery, allowing her to say goodbye to the man she remembers as her “best male friend of all time.”
For years after Twitty’s death, Lynn hosted an annual tribute concert in his honor at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Today, Tayla Lynn and Tre Twitty, their grandchildren, perform the “Salute to Conway and Loretta.” They are also a dynamic duo, touring as “Twitty & Lynn” and introducing their grandparents’ music to new generations.
George Jones & Tammy Wynette
George Jones and Tammy Wynette had been married for two years and were the parents of a one-year-old daughter by the time their first record, We Go Together, was released on the Epic Records label in October 1971. Although they had been performing on stage together since before their marriage, Jones had to buy his way out of his contract with Musicor and sign with Epic, his wife’s label, for the couple to finally record together.
When they married in 1969, both were highly acclaimed solo artists. Jones, who had previously recorded duets with Melba Montgomery, had been topping the charts for over a decade with such songs as “She Thinks I Still Care” and “White Lightning.” Wynette had reached great heights in just a few short years with “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and “Stand By Your Man.” Like Jones had collaborated with Montgomery, Wynette recorded My Elusive Dreams with David Houston in 1967.
Together, Jones and Wynette enthralled both the public and the press. They traveled with Jones’s band, The Jones Boys, on a bus that read “Mr. and Mrs. Country Music,” released a total of nine studio albums over a 24-year span, and landed 14 singles on the country charts. Offstage, the marriage was troubled, largely due to Jones’s struggle with alcoholism, but once the spotlight was on them, their troubles dissipated. “When we were on stage,” Jones once said, “we were in our own little heaven.”
The couple divorced in 1975, but within a few short months, they were in the studio again with producer Billy Sherrill working on another collaboration. Golden Ring, their seventh studio album, was released in 1976 and reached №1 on the country charts. The album’s two singles, “Golden Ring” and “Near You,” also claimed the №1 spots.
Their final album, One, was released in 1995, bringing the duo back together after 15 years. Old feelings of acrimony had faded, but the magic between them had not. Fans relished seeing Jones and Wynette tour together for what would be the final time. Three years later, Wynette, who had battled health problems for years, died at the age of 55. Jones said after her death, “In the end, we were very close friends, and now I have lost that friend. And I couldn’t be sadder.” He passed away in 2013 at the age of 81.
Their daughter, Georgette Jones, released her memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up with George and Tammy, in 2011. A miniseries based on the book is scheduled to air in the fall of 2022. Nearly five decades after their marriage ended, the story of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and the iconic music they made together continues to captivate audiences.
Kenny Rogers & Dottie West
At the end of the 1970s, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West were country music’s hottest duo. However, their coming together was not planned; instead, it was a happy accident that led to timeless music and an enduring friendship. In 1977, Rogers was a celebrated cross-over artist who had recently won a Grammy for his single, “Lucille.” West, herself a Grammy winner, had written and recorded a string of popular songs, most notably “Country Sunshine,” during her nearly 20 years in country music.
West was working in Nashville with producer Larry Butler at United Artists on a new album that featured the single, “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” when Rogers arrived early for his session. According to Rogers, the two were introduced and immediately expressed the desire to record together. There was no need to hunt for the perfect song, “Every Time Two Fools Collide” was it.
The single was released in January 1978, and it quickly climbed to №1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Their first album, also titled Every Time Two Fools Collide, was recorded at Cowboy Jack Clement’s studio in Nashville. It held the №1 spot on the country charts for two weeks and established West and Rogers as another phenomenal country duo.
The two began touring together and consistently performed to overflow crowds that packed super domes. West dazzled the audience in her Bob Mackie costumes, while Rogers charmed them with his suave style and smooth voice. To top it off, the duo enjoyed a warm friendship and loved every moment of performing together. Rogers said in 2006, “The two of us had such a good, warm personal relationship that it always showed up in our music.”
Their second album, Classics, followed in 1979. The album reached №3 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, while the single, “All I Ever Need is You,” hit №1. In addition to their chart success and sold-out shows, Rogers and West won Vocal Duo of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1978 and 1979.
By 1991, the pair had every intention of recording together again, but sadly, that dream was never realized. On August 30th, West was involved in a car accident while on her way to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. After hearing the news that she was in critical condition, Rogers traveled from his home in Georgia to visit with his friend and partner one last time. West died on September 4th at the age of 58.
In 2014, Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he ardently lobbied for his late duet partner to be recognized as well. Finally, in 2018, West joined him in the Hall of Fame. Although he was unable to make it to the ceremony, Rogers released a statement saying, “You did it, Dottie! I knew you would.” He passed away two years later at the age of 81.
“As individuals, these artists were already distinctive and immensely talented in their own right,” reflects Mandy Barnett, “and their partnerships are as iconic, and the recordings are as important, as the hits by each individual artist.”
These four duos, with their unique voices, exceptional blend, and irrefutable chemistry, made country music history together. Many decades have passed since they all joined forces and produced that perfect harmony, but those songs of poignant truth, and the voices that created the magic, remain timeless.
Special thank you to Mandy Barnett for her contributions.
Country Weekly Magazine, April 20, 1999
Still Woman Enough by Loretta Lynn and Patsi Bale Cox (2002)