Back in 1981, shortly after the breakup of the popular soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, an attractive woman walked up to Coley during a meet-and-greet event for music fans in Chico, California.
Smiling and gripping Coley’s hand, she told him how one of the duo’s big hits, “Nights Are Forever,” was a special song for her and her fiancee.
“She told me, ‘We danced to that song, we fell in love to the song, we got engaged to the song … that song meant everything to us,'” Coley recalled in an interview. “Then, she got this angry look on her face that looked like it came from Satan himself, and she told me, ‘Then, that dirty blankety-blank broke up with me, and now, I HATE that song!’ “
Coley, now 68, remembered the story with a chuckle in his voice, but he said it reminds him of an important truth – the music that he and his late buddy Dan Seals recorded back in the 1970s had a real impact on some people’s lives.
It might be one of the stories Coley will tell on Nov. 11. when he brings his one-man acoustic show to Samuel’s Grand Manor, 5651 Main St. in Clarence. The performance begins at 7 p.m.
“You know, it’s not something you think about when you’re up there on stage, but these songs mean a lot to people,” he said. “Being able to do this is a gift I have been given.”
For a few years in the ’70s, England Dan and John Ford Coley were on a very fast track. In addition to “Nights Are Forever,” they had several other Top 10 songs, including “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight,” “It’s Sad To Belong,” “Gone Too Far,” “We’ll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again” and “Love Is The Answer.” Some critics branded their records as lightweight and syrupy, but the songs struck a poignant and romantic note with millions of record buyers and radio listeners.
Coley said he and Seals traveled the world and had some amazing experiences. They toured as an opening act for Three Dog Night and Elton John, and Elton frequently touted them in radio interviews. Their dreamy records were popular not only in the United States, but in Japan, Israel, the Philippines and other far-flung venues.
Coley grew up in Dallas, where he began learning to play instruments at age 6. He and Seals first played in bands together in high school. Seals – the younger brother of Jimmy Seals of the Seals & Crofts duo – was an excellent singer who loved the Beatles and other British bands. For fun, he sometimes spoke with a British accent. Hence, the “England Dan” nickname.
England Dan and John Ford Coley began performing as a twosome in 1970. After several stops and starts, their career took off like a rocket in 1976, with the release of “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight,” a sentimental song that still gets plenty of airplay on oldies radio stations. But by 1980, the two men had broken off their partnership.
Egos and outside influences caused the breakup, Coley lamented in a 40-minute telephone interview.
“When you start playing together, there’s a special unity. Then, other people get involved. They start telling you things like, ‘You’re the real star of this group,’ ” Coley said. “And unfortunately, you end up falling prey to that kind of talk.”
He said he and Seals were on bad terms when they broke up. Each began a solo career. For many years, the two men rarely spoke, and when they did, it was awkward.
They reconciled a few months before Seals died in March 2009, after a long illness. Seals was 61.
“For a long time, we were not friends, but I’m really glad I talked to Dan before he passed away,” Coley said. “We had a really nice talk, talked like old friends, just the way it used to be. We made our peace. I am really thankful that we were able to become friends again before he died. I’ve had friends in other bands who broke up and never spoke to each other again.”
Over the years, Coley has done some acting in films and TV shows. He once played a drug dealer in some dramatized scenes that were filmed for an “America’s Most Wanted” show. But music remains an important part of his life.
He keeps alive the music of England Dan and John Ford Coley at his solo shows, where he also performs his own songs, and delights in telling the stories behind the songs. “Two things you won’t hear about at my shows are religion and politics,” he said. “We give you a break from that for a couple of hours.”
Coley and his wife of 32 years, Dana, have four grown children and four grandchildren. They move between homes in Nashville and Charleston, S.C..
In early October, Coley and his wife traveled to Dallas to attend his 50th high school reunion.
“A lot of those people at the reunion, I’ve known since elementary school,” he said. “Some of them ask me about being a musician, and they are happy for the career I’ve had. But to them, it’s no big deal. I’m just ‘Johnny.’ I like that.”