John Conlee has settled into a comfortable groove.
The 71-year-old country singer performs between 60 and 80 concerts a year, records a new album every couple years and treasurers the time he spends piddling around on his farm on the outskirts of Nashville.
Starting in 1978, Conlee dominated the Billboard charts for a decade.
It was debut classic “Rose Colored Glasses,” and popular follow-ups like “Lady Lay Down,” “Friday Night Blues,” “Miss Emily's Picture” and “Backside Of Thirty” that garnered Male Vocalist of the Year nominations from the Country Music Association in 1979 and 1980.
The incredible out-of-the-gate success led to the unexpected invitation to join the prestigious Grand Ole Opry in 1981.
“Earning a spot on the Grand Ole Opry is my biggest career achievement. I'm really proud of it,” Conlee says. “Through the years, I've been honored to work with legends like Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Little Jimmy Dickens.
“I learned pretty quick that if you played a segment of the Opry hosted by Mr. Acuff, that he expected you to play your signature song. If I tried to leave without playing 'Rose Colored Glasses,' he would always call me back and make me do it.”
Keen on geography, Conlee mentioned it was an honor occasionally working the Opry with the late singer/guitar virtuoso Billy Grammer, a Benton native.
Visiting Grammer's old stomping grounds, Conlee will be in concert at 7 p.m. Saturday in the historic Sesser Opry House. Doors open at 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $35 and the $50 VIP package includes a meet-and-greet with Conlee.
Tickets can be purchased online at iTickets.com or by calling 800-965-9324. For more information, call 618-985-4813.
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
In 1983, Conlee had a blistering streak of four consecutive No. 1 singles with “Common Man,” “I'm Only In It For The Love,” “In My Eyes” and “As Long As I'm Rockin' With You.”
Conlee's chart statistics are impressive. He cracked the Top 10 with 22 of his first 26 singles, which included seven No. 1s. The bottom fell out quickly, however. His last five singles didn't make the Top 40.
Born on a Versailles, Kentucky, tobacco farm, music was not his first choice of vocations. He earned his license as a mortician and work at a funeral home in his hometown. He moved to Nashville in 1971 and went to work as a disc jockey at WLAC. He signed with ABC Records in 1976.
In the early stages of his music career, he devoted long periods to songwriting, penning both “Rose Colored Glasses” and “Backside Of Thirty.”
“After I had a couple hits, guys like Curly Putman, Harlan Howard, Bobby Braddock and Sonny Throgmorton — all Hall of Fame songwriters — started throwing me their best stuff,” Conlee says. “I knew I couldn't compete with that, so I stopped writing for a long time. I still write a little. I've got scraps of paper everywhere.”
Conlee has released 11 studio albums, the most recent being gospel project “Turn Your Eyes On Jesus” in 2004. He also has eight compilations albums, including “Classics 2” in 2015.
“I will be releasing 'Classics 3' in November and that will take care of most of my hits, plus there will be a couple songs added to the album that are not politically correct,” Conlee says. “There will also be another gospel album in the pretty near future.”
While country music theorists try to use a complex formula to explain the demise of traditional music from mainstream radio, Conlee says the answer is simple.
“It's like Ronald Reagan said about the Democratic Party. 'I didn't leave it, it left me.' The same is true with country radio. I'm still the same as I always have been. Radio left me,” he said. “I'm not too worried about it though. You can still find plenty of good country music on the internet and satellite radio.”
Conlee bleeds red, white and blue. He is a longtime performer on Farm Aid, which tirelessly advocates for the American farmer. His song “Walkin' Behind The Star” shows his support for law enforcement.
“Our police officers have been under attack for the last three or four years,” he says. “The song pays honor and tribute to the men and women that put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.”
Sickened by the Sunday mass murder at a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas, Conlee says the cause was easy to identify and it has nothing to do with high-powered assault rifles.
“It's a spiritual issue. The reality of it happening is an indicator that our spirituality in this country is bad and getting worse. The shooter is a representative of pure evil from the pits of hell,” he says.
During a concert at the Kentucky Opry in Draffenville earlier this year, Conlee was presented the first ever Kentucky Legend Award by the Kentucky Country Music Association.