Even Parkinson’s Disease can’t stop the country music great from playing music for his fans.
Johnny Lee is celebrating more than just another birthday today. He’s also celebrating that he’s still alive and performing for his fans.
Lee — who was born July 3, 1946 in Alta Loma, Texas — has been impeded by Parkinson’s disease, but not immobilized. Indeed, taking a cue from poet Dylan Thomas’ mandate to not go gentle into that good night, the country music great is smack dab in the middle of a long goodbye to his fans. “Hey Bartender, Last Call: The Farewell Tour” began last April, and will continue through the end of December in Branson, Missouri.
And he appears to be looking for love in all the right places: Even now, new dates are being added to the tour because of ticket demand.
“The good Lord has given me a wonderful life and the absolute most loyal fans in the world,” Johnny Lee said at the beginning of this sentimental journey. “The music and fans have meant everything to me. Over the last couple of years, Parkinson’s has been a pain in the… butt. This is a big announcement and one I am not making easily. So come on out and join us for a night of music and memories as we kick off the ‘Hey Bartender, Last Call: The Farewell Tour.’ This isn’t the end… this is only the right now.”
We were fortunate to have a brief chat with Johnny Lee between tour dates. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Cowboys & Indians: Let’s start with the most important question: How are you feeling?
Johnny Lee: I’m doing pretty good, I guess. Pretty good.
C&I: But you have some days that are better than others?
Johnny: Yeah, I do.
C&I: Well, we don’t want to keep you too long, but we’d like to ask you about your “Hey Bartender, Last Call” tour. How many stops do you think you’ll wind up having?
Johnny: I don’t know, actually, because we’re still adding them. I’ll do it as long as people want to come and see me, I guess.
C&I: Are you taking any special precautions, to keep your health up during the tour?
Johnny: I guess that I am. Got to be careful what I do, yeah.
C&I: What do you think keeps you going these days?
Johnny: My fans.
C&I: Do you get still get requests shouted out to you? Like, “I want to hear ‘Looking for Love,’” or “I want to hear ‘Cherokee Fiddle.’”
Johnny: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, I still get those. That makes me feel good.
C&I: Do you ever still get stage fright?
Johnny: No, I don’t. Although, I hate riding my scooter out on stage. I used to command the stage, walk back and forth and all that, but now I can’t.
C&I: Well, we’re sure your fans will still want to see you and hear you. I mean, you could sit down in a Barcalounger for your whole set, and people would still be happy.
Johnny: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.
C&I: Are there songs that you’re surprised people still want to hear? Like, some of the deep cuts on your albums?
Johnny: Yeah, I am. But I used to have a band that knew every song I recorded. Now I’ve got a great band, but some of the guys weren’t even alive yet when I recorded some songs.
C&I: But is there a song that, even now, you still get a special amount of pleasure performing in concert? Maybe one we wouldn't expect?
Johnny: Well, ‘Looking for Love’ comes to your mind first off, you know? Sometimes I’ll start with it and end with it.
C&I: Hey, you couldn’t perform a concert without singing it at least once. Otherwise, the fans might riot.
Johnny: Yeah, you’re right. Not saying that’s a problem, though.
C&I: We should all be so lucky.
Johnny: [Laughs] Yeah.
C&I: What are you doing on your days off to relax these days?
Johnny: Oh, get in my recliner and watch TV. Or I ride my bike.
C&I: OK, if we came over to your place and asked what do you want to watch on TV right now, what would you pick? What are some of your favorite shows?
Johnny: Chicago PD. And Chicago Fire. And of course, The Wall and The Weakest Link. But I start my day off with The Price is Right.
C&I: Finally, what’s your idea of a perfect concert? The kind of performance where, when you walk off the stage, you go, “Yeah, that really worked tonight.”
Johnny: I don’t know. When my songs are good, I guess. I guess I’m fortunate to still have those kinds of nights.
C&I: You’re going to keep on going until you can’t go anymore, huh?
Johnny: Yeah, I am. Yeah.