Gary James' Interview With
John Ford Coley

He's a singer. He's a musician. He's an actor. He's an author. He was part of the Grammy nominated duo England Dan and John Ford Coley.

He is John Ford Coley.

John of late continues to tour the U.S., Canada and the Philippines. He's produced two new Country acts in Nashville and played on the same bill with Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Poco, Ambrosia, Alice Cooper and Terry Sylvester (formerly of The Hollies).

John talked with us about a career in music that's been nothing short of, well, spectacular!

Q - John, let's start with the obvious...where's England Dan these days?

A - When Dan and I split, Dan went off to a Country career. He came under his real name, Dan Seals. Then I went into movies and film and Dan went on to record. He had some really good success in Country and right now he's touring with his brother, Jimmy Seals from Seals and Crofts.

Q - You've written a book about your years in the music business?

A - I haven't really run it by too many people. It's finished. I'm just kind of doing some editing on it and eventually we'll see if somebody's interested in something like that. This book is not about drugs and Rock 'n' Roll and all that other stuff. It's just all the ridiculously funny things that occurred on a daily basis. I thought I might have maybe 20 pages, 30 pages of a couple of stories. 350 pages later I'm having to take things out. But, it's just funny, funny stuff. I'll give you an example: one night after I had finished playing this gig, Dan and I had already split up and so I was in California. After it was over, people were coming up. They were getting their records signed. This one woman steps up, really nicely dressed, pretty woman. When it came her turn, she stuck the album in my face and took me by the hand and began to kind of squeeze it. She said "I want you to know I really love romantic songs. My fiancÚ and I fell in love to your song Night Are Forever. We danced to the song. We loved through the song. He proposed to me to the song. Just everything through that song." Not interested in what her everything might include, I just said "Well, thank-you very much." That woman got within an inch of my face and in some voice that I've never heard before, she said "And then that blanking blank so-and-so left me and I've hated your song ever since." I mean, what do you do? (laughs) Just stuff like that all the time.

Q - You recently portrayed a drug dealer on a recent episode of America's Most Wanted. How did you get that gig?

A - I'd been in a couple of films, a thing called Dream A Little Dream with Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. I've been in another one called Scenes From A Goldmine. So when I did the America's Most Wanted, it was just my agent called and said John, they're looking for this part. I went in and auditioned for it. That's the thing you have to do with acting. It's not like music where people know what you do. You literally have to audition for every single part, even people that are well known. So, I just got that role and at that time it was one of their fastest captures. They got the guy in about 2 1/2 hours. Actually they had him about a half hour before the show even aired on the West Coast.

Q - Did you look like this drug dealer?

A - I don't know if I looked like him or not. I didn't really see any pictures of him. It was pretty interesting in the sense that when you go out and do it, first of all I was lying in the guy's blood because we were way out in the sticks, outside of Bakersfield (California). I mean it was so remote and isolated. We had the helicopter, some of the crew in. When we did this thing, I just acted the part, just listened to what they told me the guy was like. What made it really difficult is that his daughter showed up. And, when his daughter showed up, she wanted to tell me all the good things about her dad. Here I'm getting nothing but negative about this guy to the point where he beats up girlfriends and is breaking teeth. He was sitting on every kind of drug and he was one of the guys that was killed. So, you just kind of have to stick with the script and try not to damage anybody at the same time.

Q - Do you then consider yourself a singer who acts or an actor that sings?

A - Well, it's more like a singer who acts. For some reason it just came really naturally to me. I think I contribute so much of that to the years on the road because Dan didn't talk. When he'd get on stage he wouldn't say anything. If there would be a lull, I would be the one to say something. So, I learned what to say, what not to say, how to act and just kind of throw yourself out there, and that's essentially what acting is. You just have to kind of separate yourself from yourself and do whatever that particular role is. I mean, it's really a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.

Q - How did you and Dan get your "break" in the music business?

A - Well, Dan and I actually started off in high school together. I was a year younger than him. He was in a group called The Playboys Five. So then the guitar player quit and the other guitar player wanted a keyboard player 'cause he didn't want another guitar player. Dan wanted a guitar player and everybody else went with the keyboard. So, I ended up playing there and then we just kind of kept going and changed different names in the group. We had a lot of success. There was a group called The Southwest FOB and we'd actually gotten a break with a label called Hip, which was part of the Stax label. One was the Southwest FOB which Dan and I came out of and the other was a group called the Nobody Else. They later on took the name Black Oak Arkansas. So, they were pretty big. Well, then we had a lot of success with that. Then, we quit the group and kind of wanted to try it as a duo 'cause we were playing a lot of Everly Brothers songs and writing a lot of songs that didn't fit the group anymore. We went to Los Angeles. We would play in the Ice House and places like that and finally Louie Shelton, who was really a well-known guitar player and part of the Seals and Crofts team, heard us and took us over to Herb Alpert. Herb Alpert said "I'm not interested in them." So, he said, "well, listen to the tape," and Herb listened to the tape while he was shaving. He called Louie and said "Get 'em out here." So, that 's essentially how we ended up on A&M. We had some hits in places like Japan and France. We toured England with Elton John for a month. He asked us to come with him. We toured Japan with Three Dog Night. When we left that label, we starved for about a year. I mean, we slugged it out. Jobs were few and far between. We ended up getting on Big Tree Records, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic. Our manager had actually gone in and tried to get Bob Greenberg, who was the A&R guy at Atlantic, to sign us on a couple of things. He kept going "No. No. That's not it. But you're always welcome to come back." So, she brought in a dub that we had done. "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight", and he listened to it. After he was done, there was a knock on the door Susan said, and these two guys walked in. He introduced 'em as Dick Vanderbuilt and Doug Morris from Big Tree's subsidiary. So, they all talked and finally Doug Morris said "Bob, what do you think of that song?" Bob said "Susan, we're gonna have to pass." Susan was just down. Doug Morris said "You sure you're gonna pass?" And he said "Yeah. I'm afraid we're gonna pass." Morris looked at her and said "We want the song. We want the group." So, they had heard it through the wall and that's how we actually ended up being on Atlantic Records with that song.

Q - Did you write all your hit songs?

A - No. That was a big thing for us. We had always written our own songs. So, when they brought us "Really Love To See You Tonight", which was written by Parker McGhee, we didn't really like that very much. We learned to just grab the best song no matter who wrote it. Of all of the hits we had, Parker wrote "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" and "Nights Are Forever Without You". Jeffery Cominore wrote "We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again". Todd Rundgren wrote "Love Is The Answer". I wrote "Gone Too Far" and "Westward Wind", which we had quite a lot of success with. And then Randy Goodrun wrote "Sad To Belong".

Q - Is songwriting something that comes naturally to you then?

A - I think it does, yeah. I just sit down and play a lot. I really love to write. I do it still, all the time.

Q - So, majoring in English in collage was a pretty smart move on your part.

A - No, actually it was pretty dumb. Danny used to always say "Johnny, are you sure you're gonna be able to get a good job with that degree in English Literature?" I made a mistake. But, it was good for me 'cause I read a lot. When I'm on airplanes, I can go through a book in short order. I just like to read all the time, history and just novels.

Q - You're telling me you're a speed reader?

A - No, I'm not. I read pretty fast. I just kind of really like to get lost in books, especially you spend so much time on an airplane. It really gives you an opportunity to sit there and just kind of fill the time up.

Q - You were on The Tonight Show in 1977. Was Johnny Carson on that night?

A - No. He was not. Gabe Kaplan was on one night and David Brenner was on the other night. The night that Gabe Kaplan was on, from Welcome Back Kotter, they got really ticked at us because the house band was playing "Sad To Belong". They were playing it slow and finally about half way through the song I stopped it and man, they were pissed at me, because you don't do that. This is a 'live' show. We never got asked back. (laughs) It was so slow, they were taking seven minutes to do a two minute song.

Q - Were you edited out of the show then?

A - No. They just did a pick-up real quick.

Q - Is it true you performed with Led Zeppelin?

A - Right. In Dallas, Texas in 1969.

Q - You opened the show?

A - Right. That was part of the Southwest FOB. As a matter of fact, when I did one of my first films, we were all talking about people we played with. The producer and director said "Who'd you play with?" "Man, I played with Led Zeppelin." They went "Oh c'mon, you did not." Nobody would believe me. So, I just said OK. The next day I came in with the newspaper clippings. One of 'em says "Southwest FOB Flys over Led Zeppelin." It's got my name in it. So, I just went in and showed 'em the thing and said "guys, I don't lie. I don't have to lie about all of this stuff. I can prove it!"

Q - Is it true you recently performed on the same bill with Alice Cooper?

A - Yeah. Actually, we played on a different stage. I was playing with Ambrosia and he was playing just before us on another stage. So, to say we played with him? No. To say that I played with him in Boston in 1976 when he was the emcee of the RKO Show...yeah. That's true.

Q - You've been performing in the Philippines quite a bit, haven't you?

A - Actually, since about 2000. I'm supposed to back in October (2007).

Q - What accounts for your popularity over there?

A - You know, the Filipinos really like romantic songs. They're such great people. The songs, a lot of 'em that were hits here for other people that were taken off of our records were hits for us there, like "What's Forever For" or "Broken Hearted Me". So, we just had a lot of hits over there. They really love "Sad To Belong". They just like romantic songs.

Q - You're producing Country acts in Nashville? Who would that be?

A - I did some producing for a girl by the name of Lynn Brant and with another friend of mine, Bart Butler, we produced a guy by the name of Tom Worth. Tom is just staggering; is just a truly gifted artist. Even his scratch tracks sound like masters. We really sat down and picked up great songs for him and I think you're gonna be hearing some things from Tom.

Q - Having interviewed so many people, there doesn't seem to be a record business anymore.

A - There's not. There's not at all. It's an entirely different industry than it used to be when I was coming up. We really don't have a very high opinion of so many things that are going on in music. When you look at it, it's not being built the way it used to be. They used to build artists. Now they look for faces. We have a joke here in Nashville: somebody will come up and go "man, I've got a great voice. I can really sing." We go "how old are you?" "I'm 25." "Oh man, if you were just 12. You're 12 years too old. Well, maybe that's OK. What's your belly button look like?" So, it's a thing where they've turned into everybody wants to be stars as opposed to being musicians. This is something that I was so pleased about Tom Worth with is the fact is this kid's a player. He's a singer, and he's written songs for other people like Ty Herndon. So, he's somebody who really has chops and he's really winning to walk the line. He doesn't want to be a star. He wants to be a musician. So, those are the ones I hang around.

Q - Seems like Nashville has been corrupted by Hollywood.

A - Well, Nashville has been corrupted by quite a few things. the drawback with film and music is that everybody wants to be in it. In a lot of cases, most of those people that want to be in it only have marketing degrees. They don't understand music. A lot of 'em should be working on somebody's car. You probably know more about open heart surgery than they know about music. So as a result, you end up with a lot of bad stuff coming out. You have a lot of people that are being picked simply because they're pretty or they've got a good look. They don't have any skills really. I was watching one of these things to where they've got a lot of different songs from the 70s and a lot of big hits. They show what these people look like. These people are not good-looking people like they used to be. Had they come out now, they wouldn't have had a shot, because they're not video material. A couple of years ago I was watching the Grammys, which is something I don't do anymore because it's changed so dramatically. It's not even about music any more. All night long I didn't hear a Karen Carpenter. I didn't hear an Ann Wilson. I didn't hear a Janis Joplin or an Aretha Franklin. These were great people. What they (the Grammys) were touting as great was really mediocre. I played a thing in Vegas about a year or so ago and Randy Jackson from American Idol introduced me, but Jason Alexander from Seinfeld introduced him. Jason Alexander was so funny because he said "I'd like to introduce a man to you who takes minimal, marginally talented people and turns them into famous, minimally, marginally talented people." And I thought, oh, that's funny.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.