John Conlee talk with C&I about the success of his hit song "Rose-Colored Glasses" and the releases of new material.
Cowboys & Indians: Do you remember the time — the moment — when you knew you’d scored your first success as a performer?
John Conlee: That would have been in 1978. I realized we probably had a hit on our hands while I was riding from my home in Tennessee to my farm in Kentucky late one night. Of course, AM radio stations in many cases were still playing music in those days. I turned to a station in Chicago — and heard our song “Rose Colored Glasses.” As soon as it finished playing there, I tuned over to another station out of Fort Worth [Texas] and heard it there. That is when I realized, “Hey, maybe we got a hit on our hands that is going to keep moving up the charts.”
C&I: Which is just what happened. And rose-colored glasses became your trademark. Do you still wear them at concerts?
John: [Laughs.] Well, I sure do when I play that song. I keep them in my pocket, until we do the song, which is near the end of the show. I pull them out and put them on my face, and then we go from there. So, yeah, they will always be a part of my uniform, if you will.
C&I: How much time do you spend on the road these days?
John: We still do 60 shows a year, plus or minus a few. That keeps us out just about every weekend. Predominately weekend work. I make it home in time for church many Sunday mornings, depending on where we are in the country. But we stay real busy.
C&I: After all this time, do you ever get stage fright?
John: No, I got over that when I was in grade school. Literally. My first public performance was when I was in the fourth grade. “Love Me Tender” was the song I committed to memory to do for the school assembly program. That is still to this day probably the most nervous I’ve ever been — doing that in front of all the other kids who know you. Because, you know, kids being kids, they would have laughed at you mercilessly if you didn’t watch out. After that, I’ve always been comfortable going out on stage. I don’t get nervous, no matter the size of the crowd. And I’m thankful for that blessing.
C&I: For your Classics 2 album in 2015, you recorded a new song — “Walkin’ Behind the Star,” a tribute to police officers who have given their all in the line of duty. You must have been proud when the Tennessee State Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police adopted it as the organization’s official song for law enforcement.
John: I certainly was. The funny thing is, Ronny Scaife and Phil Thomas wrote the song about 18 years ago. But they couldn’t get it recorded when they first wrote it and started showing it to people. I’ve said that I guess the song was waiting for the proper time when it would be needed more. And, unfortunately, that time is [now]. Our law enforcement folks have been under such vile attack in the last couple of years. This song pays honor and tribute to them and reminds all of us just how important they are to our security and our safety.
C&I: Like many songs these days, “Walkin’ Behind the Star” reached many people through digital platforms like iTunes. It must be great to know that, whether or not your music is in heavy rotation on the radio, you can still attract an audience by using the new technology.
John: Oh, yes, it is great. You know, I’m 70 years old — I’ll be 71 in August if I make it that long. People my age and older are embracing some of the technology mainly because of their grandchildren. You know, a lot of people sign up to Facebook just so they can see pictures of the grandkids who live in a distant city. But along the way, many of them get hooked on it, and they venture out into iTunes and Amazon.com. And they find other ways, like YouTube, of listening to music they love. It’s wonderful. [Laughs.] At the same time, that same technology can help expose some of us who have been around over 15 minutes to a younger crowd who might not hear us on the radio otherwise.
COMING UP: John Conlee has a new album — Classics 3, a mix of hit tunes and new material — set for release later this year.
From the May/June 2017 issue.