Illustration: Jonathan Fehr

Country singer Johnny Lee talks to C&I about his classic hit song “Lookin’ for Love” and his recently published autobiography, Still Lookin’ for Love.

Cowboys & Indians: How much time do you spend on the road these days?
Johnny Lee: I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been staying really busy. Last year, in fact, I did 137 shows on the road. I’m old-school — I feel like I’ll play at a garage door opening if they pay me enough. My friends sometimes say, “Why do you do that?” Well, because I can. And if I don’t go out and make that money, some other redneck is going to go out and get it. Might as well be me. I don’t make a lot staying home and watching The Price Is Right.

C&I: Do you think it would be possible for you to give a concert and not sing “Lookin’ for Love”? Or would that be like, say, The Rolling Stones performing and not singing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”?
Johnny: Well, I could do it — but I don’t think the fans would appreciate it. Somebody once asked me, “How many times do you think you’ve sung ‘Lookin’ for Love’?” And I said, “Not enough.” I’ll tell you another song that’s real popular, too. Last year or the year before — I don’t know, the years run together for me — I did a gig on an Indian reservation in Arizona, and it was actually in my contract that I sing “Cherokee Fiddle” at least three times in my show. As for “Lookin’ for Love,” well, sometimes I’ll start with it, and then I’ll say, “That’s in case some of you need to go home a little early.” But I always finish with it, too. You know, sometimes I do it twice in a show, sometimes I do little bits of it, and sometimes it might be three times. You never know. But nobody’s ever left because I’m singing it.

C&I: Well, see, that’s a good sign, a mighty good sign.
Johnny: Heck yeah, it is. A lot of people go through their whole career and never have a song even close to as big as that song was, and still is.

C&I: What do you think was the strangest or most surprising place you ever heard “Lookin’ for Love” played?
Johnny: Well, the strangest place is one I didn’t actually hear for myself, but I heard about. It was at some guy’s funeral. That was his favorite song, and he wanted it played at his funeral. But I’ve also heard from a lot of people who say, oh, “That was the first song I danced with my wife to,” or, “That’s the first song that got me into country music.”

C&I: In your recently published autobiography, Still Lookin’ for Love, you describe your brush with cancer a few years back. Was it difficult for you to go back to that?
Johnny: It was. I’ll never forget when my doctor called to say, “Why don’t you stop by and see me?” I said OK — but I’d forgotten I’d even done a test. To back up a little bit on that situation: I guess God was working with me, because I never had had a physical since I left the military. At the time, I was in my 50s, and I figured I needed to go get everything checked out, just to make sure everything’s good. Well, when the diagnosis came back — the doctor told me I was in the beginning stages of colon cancer, and I needed to have surgery. And I’ll never forget how I felt: I almost hit the floor on my knees. You see, my son and his two buddies were waiting outside in the truck. We were on our way to go fishing. And when I went out there — well, Lord, I couldn’t tell my son. And at the time, my mother was living with me, because my ex-wife had passed away, and she was helping me with my son. I went home, and when everybody was gone except my mom, I just blurted it out, “I got cancer.” And I busted down crying, you know. Then, I got pissed off, and I said, “All right, you’re not going to lay down here and just take this.” So then I did the surgery, and they took a foot and a half of my colon out. And I never had to go through any other treatments or anything. And I’ve been cancer-free ever since. Thank you, Lord. And so I advise anybody, “Don’t put that stuff off, man.”

To find out more about Still Lookin’ for Love, visit Johnny Lee’s Facebook.

From the August/September 2017 issue.