Johnny Lee rocketed to fame in the early 1980s with a string of gold records that began with the hit single “Lookin’ For Love.” The track was featured in the movie “Urban Cowboy” and eventually reached No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.
He wasn’t born into the country music world, rather he grew into it as a boy in Texas City. He liked rock and roll as a kid in the 1950s and early 1960s. His grandfather loved country music, though, and every time he walked into the room, the radio had to switch from doo-wop and boogie woogie to classic country.
Lee eventually aligned himself with his grandfather’s interests and spent the 40 years playing “real” country music. His latest album, the 2016 release “You Ain’t Never Been To Texas,” comes with a good natured cautionary stamp that reads, “Warning: Real Country Music Inside.”
Lee returned to the Kenney Store last night as a part of its Wednesday night concert series. We caught up with him on his tour bus to talk about real country music and the evolution of the recording industry.
What made you stamp your album with warning about real country music?
It was kind of a poke in the ribs to the CMA. I’m all about change and country music has been changing ever since it started. I did it to be funny, and to also be very serious. I chose all the songs on the record and produced it with Buddy Hyatt, and there’s all kinds of stuff in there.
How have you seen the music industry change, particularly with the advent of the internet?
The music business has changed. And the music has changed. Come on, some of this stuff is glorified rock and roll, that’s all it is. You get these people wearing sunglasses and acting all cool. I hope they remember their ride up, because it’s the same coming back down.
How important is originality to young musicians? They want to be identified as country artists, but many seem to mimic what they see from their idols rather than find their own styles.
If they mimic what they see, they might as well mimic themselves down the road and go to work at Walmart. People come up to me and say, “Oh! My son or my daughter sounds just like…”
Well, that’s nice. There’s already a Patsy Cline. There’s already a Loretta Lynn. There’s already a Jerry Jeff Walker. You have to figure out your niche and be persistent. Hang in there. My theory was, I’d make it or die trying.
Are you starting to see anything in country music come back around?
I believe classic country music is going to come back around, I really do.
I ask all of our Music Spotlight artists to name a feature they would like to have on their tour buses some day. What’s the best feature you’ve ever had on your bus?
(laughs) My bunk. And my back room.