Nearly three decades after recording his No. 1 hit, “Lookin’ for Love,” Johnny Lee continues to wow audiences with ‘real’ country music. Lee, along with fellow country music legend John Conlee will share the stage at Whiskey River in Beaumont on Thursday, June 21 with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets for the show can be purchased online at whiskeyivertexas.com for $20 or at any Florida Tans locations.
After growing up on a dairy farm, Lee joined the Navy and served on the USS Chicago then returned to his home state and began playing music in the ‘60s. He met fellow musician Mickey Gilley in 1968, or as Lee says, when “Moby Dick was a minnow,” and started touring with him and playing weekly shows at the new Gilley’s Night Club in Pasadena.
Before the Urban Cowboy days, Lee was starring in movie roles and his first came in 1979 alongside Barbara Eden and Susan St. James in a made-for-TV movie filmed in Houston, The Girls in the Office.
It was after that when he was asked to perform in Urban Cowboy. Several of Lee’s songs were used in the film including “Cherokee Fiddle” and “Lookin’ for Love,” which could have been subtitled “The Love Theme from Urban Cowboy.”
That song spent several weeks atop the Country music charts and even crossed over and hit No. 1 for a brief time on the Pop charts. Lee then followed that up with another No. 1 hit, “One in a Million,” and then several more charted in the Top 5 with “Pickin’ Up Strangers,” “Prisoner of Hope” and “Hey Bartender.” Lee also hit No. 1 in 1983 with “The Yellow Rose” with guest vocalist Lane Brody. Other chart-toppers included “You Could’ve Heard a Heart Break” and “Bet Your Heart on Me.”
Despite his musical success, Lee also gained even more popularity with guest roles in television series such as “The A-Team,” “Fantasy Island” and “The Fall Guy.”
Lee took time between playing rounds in a charity golf tournament to speak with The Examiner about numerous items including new music, cooking, comedy, and of course, the movie and nightclub that started it all.
What are your thoughts on country music?
Country music has been changing since it started. Just like rock-n-roll has. In fact a lot of the new country music sounds like rock and Hank Williams will flip over in his grave if he heard some of it. Some of it’s good and some of it sucks. It’s all new music now. It’s not like when you heard Conway Twitty, George Jones or Mickey Gilley. You knew who they were with their distinct voices. You turn on the radio now and you don’t know who the heck they are. The business is even cold-blooded now. If the record company isn’t happy, then you are gone because there are thousands waiting in line wanting to take your place. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good ones out there like Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood. Carrie can sing with anyone in the world.
What made ‘Lookin’ for Love’ so special?
The simplicity of the lyrics plus it’s got a melody that you don’t forget. I couldn’t believe I didn’t write the song myself. It is the story of my life and many others and that song still holds up. I feel very blessed to have that song.
Last time we spoke, you told me about your new cookbook ‘Chef Boy ‘R’ Lee!Hell yeah, I love to cook. When I was a kid, I used to hang out in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmother. Plus when I was single, if I wanted to eat then I needed to learn how to cook something. Hell, I’m still single and still kinda young.
There’s a recipe in your cookbook called Elephant Stew.You take a small to medium size elephant and you cook it for three or four days. Then, you add carrots, potatoes, onions, salt, pepper and a little garlic and right at the end you can add a rabbit. You might want to skip the rabbit because some people don’t like hare in their soup.
Any new music planned?
I’m working on a deal now with a record company that is signing older artists. They want me to re-record ‘Lookin’ for Love,’ ‘Cherokee Fiddle’ and ‘The Yellow Rose’ and bring those up to date. So I’m going do those and everything else is going to be new and that will happen within the year. Plus, I’ve been threatening to do a comedy album for a long time.
Are you serious?
Why not? I’ve got some funny sh*t to say and some people might want to buy a Johnny Lee comedy CD.You get to share the stage with John Conlee in Beaumont.
John and I have known each other for a long time. He’s a great guy and has some great songs. It’s a pleasure to be working let alone be working with John Conlee.
Why was country music so good in the 80s?
No doubt — it was the ‘Urban Cowboy’ movement. It exposed country music to a lot of people who may not have gotten in to it. And that opened the door for many country music artists. Prior to that, you didn’t hear a lot of Charlie Daniels on the radio.
And of course, Gilley’s became a vacation destination.
Yeah, people came from all over the world. Right down the road from Pasadena was the Houston Ship Channel. Hell, I ended up on a couple of ships some nights partying my ass off with some of them guys.