John Ford Coley has ventured into an array of artistic mediums in his career. He’s been to Hollywood, and acted in film and television. He published an autobiography about his career, called “Backstage Pass.” He has worked as a producer for musicians such as Eddie Money. But through it all he has never strayed far from where he got his start — songwriting and performing.
Coley, who will play the Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 22, is compelled to make music.
“I write songs because it’s a creative expression and I can’t not do it,” Coley said calling from his home in Nashville. “I’ve slowed down some, but if you’re a songwriter, you’ve always got your hand in it.”
Dan Seals and Coley met in high school in Dallas and scored a string of Top 10 hits in the 1970s before disbanding in 1980. Seals — who went on to a highly successful solo career in country music — passed away at age 61 in 2009, but the duo’s songs such as, “Nights are Forever Without You,” “Love is the Answer,” and their signature hit, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” remain timeless.
That song also has one of the most misquoted lines in soft rock history, and was analyzed between Geena Davis’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in the film “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”
For the record, the misunderstood line is, “I’m not talking about movin’ in.” The song has nothing to do with “the linen.”
The duo scored six hits, but only one, “Gone Too Far” was penned by Coley. Their recording of Parker McGee’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” almost never happened.
“When they brought us Parker’s song, I had made maybe a $1.98 on music that I’d written,” Coley said. “We thought it was a feminine song and we didn’t want to do it. But when we got that first royalty check and I saw the amount I found myself going, ‘Hey, Parker, what else have you got?’”
Coley’s most recent release, “Eclectic,” features 26 previously unreleased tracks and covers a variety of genres. The album features guest artists Vince Gill, Collin Raye, Jamie O’Neal, and others.
“This record has a little bit of everything on it,” Coley said. “I enjoy writing a lot of different styles. When Dan and I started, we were playing pop. Then we played psychedelic, soul, and fusion jazz. I never sit down and decide to write just a country song. Whatever comes out, comes out. We confused people in the record industry early on, because they weren’t sure what type of music we were into.”
Coley is diverse in his personal interests as well, and he does a lot of reading; he cites his passion for history as one of the perks of touring.
“When I started, we never had time to visit the historic sites. If I’m travelling to a town now I might go a day or two early to see a lot more of the country and learn about it.”
For his Sellersville Theater show, he will be performing some of his new material, as well as many England Dan and John Ford Coley songs, with roots rock band The Cryers.
“It’s a trip down memory lane for people,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that people want to hear what they know and that doesn’t bother me at all. If it hadn’t been for those early hits, you might never have heard of me.”
Coley grew up in Dallas in a family that surrounded him with music, and he is a classically trained pianist, but he insists that he never forced music on his own children.
“For a while, my wife would only let our children listen to Christian music in the car, but not when they were in my car,” he said. “I remember watching my son bop his head in the back seat and he was like ‘This is great!’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s AC/DC.’”
The singer recognizes huge changes in the music industry since his early days and doesn’t feel that there’s as much opportunity for younger artists to get signed today by labels. He does feel, however, that there are more opportunities for artists to release independent music.
“I probably know more about foot surgery than the record execs today know about music,” he said. “But my biggest piece of advice to young artists is to not give up. There’s a lot of people in this industry that will try to get you to give up, but you have to influence yourself because otherwise someone will step in and take your place.”
There may not have been an England Dan and John Ford Coley duo if it hadn’t been for the perseverance of the young artists.
“When we first got together, Dan and I didn’t get along,” he said. “He wanted a guitar player, not a keyboard player. Dan was a phenomenal lead singer and I excelled at harmonies. We found ourselves driving to gigs singing Everly Brothers and Righteous Brothers songs, and eventually we got to be like brothers. We could read one another’s minds.”
Coley is practical about his performances today and knows what audiences expect of him.
“I want audiences to get away from politics and arguments for a few hours and have a really enjoyable time,” he said. “I’m a Texas boy and I like to have fun and tell stories and make people laugh. Dan had a terrific sense of humor — he was very quick and clever, and we kept each other entertained. I’ve got a lot of good memories and I enjoy sharing them.”
Visit Coley at johnfordcoley.com
— Chris Cameron is a freelance writer