John Ford Coley loves a good story almost as much as he loves a good song.
“When I lived in Charleston a few years back, I went into this place where they sell jams and jellies and fresh produce,” began the 73-year-old entertainer who was half of the 1970’s soft-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley.
“I’m looking at the jams and notice this hippie-looking woman eyeing me pretty good,” he remembers. The woman approaches him.
“Oh my goodness, it’s you!” she exclaims. “Your music was the soundtrack of my life.”
Coley, whose hits include, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever,” moves in for the punch line while recalling the encounter.
“And then she says, ‘I just want you to know that ‘Margaritaville’ is one of my all-time favorite songs.’” He laughs for a minute and pauses.
“Can you believe she thought I was Jimmy Buffet?”
The two look and sound nothing alike. However, like Buffet, Coley is still performing decades after first tasting success.
Coley will share stories and songs from his enduring career at a fundraiser on Sept. 1 for 23-year-old Katey Rogers.
Rogers, a 2017 graduate of Gallatin High School, fell three stories from an apartment building breezeway on June 16 in Franklin, Tenn. She spent two weeks at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with several life-threatening injuries before being transferred to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center where she is re-learning how to walk and talk.
The fundraiser is organized by five members of the real estate, mortgage and title company community in honor of Rogers and her mother Melissa, who is assistant vice president of Hendersonville’s Warranty Title.
They include Brian Stewart and Cheryl Huber of One Stop Realty; Darla Hunley of Parks Lakeside and Carolyn Cole and Melissa Luman-Phillips of Highlands Residential Mortgage.
There will be a silent auction and live auction featuring a guitar signed by Coley and an autographed album. Admission is a love offering, according to Luman-Phillips.
“You can donate a dollar, or you can donate $100,” she said. “We just want people to come out and support the Rogers family and hear some great live music.”
Melissa Rogers said she’s been overwhelmed by the support her family has received.
“Everybody in the community has been wonderful,” she said. “The outpouring of prayers and love… we are just so thankful and grateful for everyone.”
Coley, who has lived in Franklin, Tenn., for the last eight or nine years, said he’s happy to do his part as well.
“I get asked to do a lot of fundraisers and I’m always willing to help someone who needs it,” he said.
Duo’s hits were recorded in Hendersonville
The Texas native whose legal last name is actually Colley, had been playing in a band with high school friend Dan Seals when the two decided to break off on their own in the late 1960’s.
Coley says it was Seals’ brother Jim who actually named the duo.
England Dan came from a nickname Dan Seals received as a teenager while trying to mimic a British accent in the wake of the Beatles’ popularity.
“And for some reason people have always had trouble pronouncing Colley, so we just took out an “L,” he said.
The two moved to Los Angeles and signed with A&M Records in 1970.
Jim Seals and his musical partner Dash Crofts (Seals and Crofts) were starting to see success, and introduced Coley and Dan Seals around L. A., Coley recalled.
After A&M dropped the duo in 1972, the two ended up recording in Nashville – or more specifically Hendersonville – in the mid-1970’s with producer Kyle Lehning.
Coley recalled recording three or four albums at Studio by the Pond, a studio in the basement of producer Lee Hazen’s home on Old Hickory Lake.
He remembers recording three albums in the studio: “Nights Are Forever” in 1976, “Dowdy Ferry Road” a year later, and the 1978 album “Some Things Don’t Come Easy.” The duo’s signature song, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” was also recorded in Hendersonville, he added.
Coley said he had a lot of fond memories of recording along Old Hickory Lake.
“Everyone knows that Dan was an avid fisherman,” Coley said. “He would throw in a line while we were in the middle of this session, and go back up to record. And he’d use a telescope while we were up in the studio to check his line. If it started moving a lot, he’d run down and pull something out of the lake.”
Coley and Seals ended their musical partnership in 1980. Dan Seals, who along with his brother Jim called Hendersonville home for several decades, went on to chart several hits as a country music artist. Dan Seals died in 2009 from a form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Jim Seals died in June.
Coley, who released a double CD of 26 songs called Eclectic in 2016 and the CD Long Way Home in 2020, often plays with the group Ambrosia, and occasionally joins other bands on the road, he says.
Still, what he likes best is sharing his music and stories acoustically with just a guitar or piano.
“I truly enjoy playing by myself,” he says.
Coley says he plays all of the hits people are nostalgic for and shares some of the stories behind the music, including tales of growing up in Texas and touring over the years with groups like Bread, Chicago, Elton John and Carol King.
“I’ve found that people enjoy the stories equally as much as the songs,” he said.
Coley admits he’s sometimes surprised by the staying power of those soft rock songs recorded decades ago in Hendersonville, Tenn.
“God reached down and kissed us on the head. And he still does,” he said. “I just got blessed.”