Veteran country performer John Conlee has returned with Classics 2, his first album since 2004. The project is a mixture of some of his biggest hits as well as new material, including his take on a song that Kenny Chesney also had some good luck with: Bill Anderson‘s “A Lot of Things Different.”
“We came across the song because we participated in a 50-year tribute to Bill’s career on Country’s Family Reunion,” Conlee recalled. “They called to see if I would do that show and suggested this song. I’m so happy they did, because I believe it might be one of the best things Bill has ever written, which is saying a lot because he’s written a lot of hits. We got such a great response to it that we started doing it in the live show, and now it’s available on the CD.”
Classics 2 also features new versions of several of Conlee’s hits from his stints with Columbia and 16th Avenue, after a long run with MCA. “We re-recorded the later hits, which is something I’m going to do more of. One of the comments we get from people is that they like my voice better the way it sounds now, in some cases better than the early records. We will probably reach back and do some of the older ones as well. Some of those songs haven’t been available on CD in years, unless you found a copy on eBay.”
One such song was ‘Mama’s Rockin’ Chair,” a hit from 1987. He said it takes him back to a simpler time and place.
“I grew up in a time that I remember going with Dad to pick up our first TV, so the things that song talks about I can identify with — simple things like your mom rocking in the chair, getting read to, and going to sleep. I lived that. It hearkens back to a simpler time that a lot of people yearn for.”
Another new song on the album is his latest single, “Walkin’ Behind the Star.” There have been a lot of divisive news stories about law enforcement over the past year — whether it’s the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina just this past weekend or the two police officers who were shot in Ferguson, Mo., in March following the controversial death of Michael Brown last year. Conlee wanted to do the song to show support to the many police officers who are just doing their jobs.
Conlee said the song had been around a while: “One of the writers, Phil Thomas, sent it to Bud Logan, my producer. He actually wrote the song 16 years ago but couldn’t get it cut back then. With all the turmoil going on, he thought about it again, sent it to Bud, and we went into the studio. He got the idea because both his grandfather and great-grandfather had been part of the sheriff’s department years ago. He thought about them, and that’s how the idea was born.”
How has the reception been toward the song? “It’s been great,” Conlee said. “I think they’re relieved that somebody is paying attention the other way and giving them a pat on the back. The other thing we’ve discovered is that so many people have present or former family members who have a connection to law enforcement. That’s something we hear at every autograph line.”
The whole project was produced by Logan, who has been at the helm of every Conlee recording over the past four decades — a distinction the singer says he wouldn’t have any other way. “We are joined at the hip in many different ways. We see eye-to-eye on songs, and Bud is such a great song man. He has such a great ear. He’s not afraid to speak up when something’s not quite right. He’s just a great producer.”
Conlee still hits the road quite regularly, saying, “We still do about 70 dates on the road, which is about right for me. That allows me to spend some time at home, and also to get in some Opry appearances on the weekend.”
And one of the most popular Conlee souvenirs at the merch stand is a pair of red-tinted glasses, inspired by his 1978 breakthrough hit, “Rose Colored Glasses.” Just how many has he sold over the years? “I lost count,” he says with a laugh. “I used the original pair for the first couple of years of my career. I was always concerned that something was going to happen to them, so they are tucked away in a safe now.”