John Ford Coley
Playing Lorain Palace Theater
England Dan and John Ford Coley ruled the charts in the 1970s. The duo produced six Top Forty Hits, including three number one Adult Contemporary hits: “I’d Really Like To See You Tonight,” “It’s Sad To Belong” and “Love Is The Answer.”
The duo ran its course and decided to break up in 1980. Dan Seals went on to write and record country music throughout the 1990s and then toured with his brother Jim Seals of Seals & Croft fame in the 2000s until his death in 2009.
John Ford Coley spent the ‘80s acting and eventually returned to music in the 1990s.
On January 26, John Ford Coley will be performing with Ambrosia and Peter Beckett from Player at The Lorain Palace Theater.
We had the chance to chat with John Ford Coley to discuss his career and his upcoming appearance in Lorain.
Greg Drugan: Hi John, thanks for taking some time with me today. Where are you calling me from today?
John Ford Coley: Thanks for taking the time to do it. Yeah, I’m in the Nashville, Tennessee area.
GD: Did you take a break over the holidays or did you play some shows?
JFC: As a matter of fact, I finished up on the first of December and took some time off. I went to Santa Fe and stayed there for a little while.
GD: So you are going to be hitting the road with Ambrosia and Peter Beckett. Are you touring with these guys over the winter or is this a one off show in Ohio?
JFC: We do a few shows with those guys. Actually we did a show in Ecuador back in November. We just play occasionally with each other.
GD: Growing up, who were some of your musical influences?
JFC: I had a lot of them because I was raised very eclectic and everything kinda influences you in regards to what you are going to be playing. I was raised with a lot of classical music, show tunes and a lot of church music. Then there was a lot of Doo Wop when I was younger then drifted over to The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and The Beatles. They really had an influence as far as the writing we were doing. I’m still influenced by people all the time. I jump on Youtube to find some inspiration and find new people.
GD: I understand! Sometimes I get on Youtube and the next thing I know, two hours have gone by.
JFC: This is kinda interesting. I was watching a show on Netflix called The Ranch. Then one night, a song played at the end of the credits and I thought “Who in the world is that?” I couldn’t find it so I typed in the line of the chorus and it was “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell so I looked him up. So I’ve been listening to all of his stuff for the last month.
GD: Yeah, I love Jason, he’s great!
JFC: I had never heard of him before! But he’s been around since 2011 and I was like, where did I miss this guy?
GD: There’s a lot of people out there like that.
JFC: Yeah! It’s kinda fun too because my daughter brings people to listen to that I forgot about. She’s not one to grab the new stuff. When she got her phone, she was loading up Joni Mitchell and Bread and Neil Young. She’s seventeen years old! So she’s fun to have in the car because she streams America and John Denver and a lot of good stuff like that.
GD: That’s great! When did you start playing music and how many instruments do you play?
JFC: I started when I was about six, I started playing the grand piano. Right now I play the piano, the guitar and I did play banjo many years ago until I took up karate. I can’t play banjo anymore because I messed up my finger picking hand. Mamma’s don’t let your musicians grow up to be karate instructors! (laughs)
GD: Right! (laughs) Who was the first artist you saw in concert and how did that affect you?
JFC: That was the Beach Boys. I’m a big Beach Boys fan and that was probably ninth grade. We went out to see them and I was very disappointed because Brian Wilson wasn’t there. They had Bruce Johnston and I didn’t know who that was at the time. The Beach Boys were a big influence on me because they were the ones who successfully combined Doo Wop and pop rock. The melody lines were so enormously memorable.
GD: So was that about 1966 or so?
JFC: Yeah, I’d say about 1966.
GD: How did you end up meeting Dan Seals?
JFC: Dan and I actually went to high school together. He was a grade ahead of me. He was in a band called The Playboys Five and their guitar player quit. Everybody else wanted a keyboard player but Dan wanted another guitar player. I joined and he and I did not get along. He was kinda ticked about wanting a guitar player in the band. It took a long time before we started to make a friendship. We would travel to different gigs together and we found we were singing a lot together. It was like the Everly Brothers and the Righteous Brothers. Dan would take the lead and I would take the harmony. We developed a sound and then we became really, really close friends.
GD: That’s awesome! What was it like the first time you heard your song on the radio?
JFC: Yeah, we had a song called “Smell of Incense” we did with the group Southwest F.O.B. in about 1969. That was the first song I heard on the radio. But the first time I heard one of my songs on the radio, they cut it off! It was a slow song called “Winning Side,” it was on the first record that Dan and I did. They cut it off after the first chorus! I thought, “Oh my god, they’re playing me on the radio! Man, that song really is slow.” (laughs)
GD: Did you guys ever tour with Seals and Crofts in the ‘70s?
JFC: Oh man, we toured with Seals and Crofts almost all the time. We had the same management company and they would rotate bands that would go out with Seals and Crofts. Dan and I had a record deal, so we would go out with Bread or Chicago or Elton John and Three Dog Night. We would just float back in with Seals and Crofts. Actually, Jimmy Seals and Dan Seals, my partner, were brothers. Dan was the younger brother.
GD: That’s right! I just recently found that out. I had no idea because it was always England Dan, I never bothered to look up his last name.
JFC: Right. We weren’t trying to work off of Seals and Crofts reputation. A lot of people would do that, but we wanted to stand out on our own. It worked out great for us.
GD: For sure! What was one of your extravagant purchases once you made it big?
JFC: Yeah, I went out and bought a Porsche. Then somebody went out and stole it about two months later! I do remember one of the purchases Seals and Crofts made for me. We were out touring with them and everybody was getting into cameras. I had been into camera for about five years. The road manager of Seals and Crofts came in and he said, “I’m going to the store, do you want anything?” I said, “Yeah, pick me up a Nikon 135, 2.4 lens.” He said ok. I thought, “Yeah, right!” He comes back and drops the camera lens on the bed. I said, “Hey man, I was joking. I can’t afford to pay for that thing!” He looked me and said “Ahh, it’s a gift from Seals and Crofts.” I was like alright!
GD: That's pretty awesome. Have you done anything with the newer DSLR cameras?
JFC: I don’t really like digital that much. I have my iPhone and a little, what I call one shot camera. I’m old school, I haven’t really done much with it.
GD: You guys had a very successful career with numerous Top 40 hits, why did you guys decide to call it quits in 1980?
JFC: There were a lot of bad influences that were coming in that shouldn’t have been coming in. Musically, we were on a different path. The record company was doing everything they could to thwart the disco invasion that kinda overtook us and we weren’t involved in that at all. We had been there for about five years and it was kinda coming to that point. Musically, we are going in different directions. Dan was going more country and I’m going more classical. The record company is not behind us the way they should be. We had “Love Is The Answer” that was in the Top Ten, so why don’t we just call it?
GD: What made you decided to get into acting in the ‘80s?
JFC: It was actually dropped in my lap. There was a friend of mine, Alex Rocco who played Moe Greene in The Godfather who got shot in the eye. His stepson, Mark wanted to be a director. They had a film, it was a rock film, and they said “Would you be the drummer in the film?” I said, “I don’t know anything about the drums.” But I did that, and Timothy B. Schmit played the bass player, Joe Pantoliano from The Sopranos was in the film. It was something that I just naturally fell into.
It goes back to being with Dan. If you ever knew Dan, he was one of the funniest people you’d ever come across in your life. He was quick, he was clever, he was witty. But when he stepped out on stage, it was like a big steel trap went over his mouth and it was one of the most unnatural things for him being on stage. He wouldn’t say anything, he wouldn’t open his mouth, it was painful to watch. Well, I learned to talk during all of that. I learned what to say and what not to say. So because of that, I became a ham. They ended up giving me extra lines in that first film because they would give me a line, and I would walk all over it. Then they started created scenes for me to be in. It was a lot of fun.
GD: It seems like there has been a resurgence of ‘70s music and artists. They are calling it “yacht rock” now, why do you think that is?
JFC: Every generation has their own thing. In the ‘70s, there was a lot of melody in those songs. You could sing ‘em. The lyrics were pretty good. You had Bob Dylan, or a Joan Baez or a Joni Mitchell. The lyrics they had were very clever and kinda deep. Then you had the other end where you had the KC and The Sunshine Band kinda thing. People are gravitating back to that kinda music to make you think a little bit. It also not only has a meaningful lyric but also a beautiful melody. You can sing along with it. A lot of this stuff just has one note and I’m like, meh. I personally enjoy music with meaningful lyrics or says something and a good melody that connects with it. You can have a great lyric and a lousy melody, and it’s not gonna sell. You can have a lousy lyric and a great melody and it’s probably gonna sell. My favorite along that line is “Jump” by Van Halen. You think, “Man, that’s one of the best pieces of music but the lyrics! Dave, were you on the fourth day of a drunk when you wrote that lyric? (laughs)
GD: That is true, those lyrics are bad. What is your favorite song to perform live?
JFC: Dan and I did a song called “Soldier in the Rain.” It was written during the Vietnam War era. A lot of people think it’s an anti-military song but it’s not. It’s about soldiers that come back. When you go out on this adventure, you have certain ideas on what it’s going to be like. When you are there, and come back and everything has changed and nobody can relate to the experiences that you had. It’s a devastating event. A lot of soldiers longed to go back because they had a comradery, so that’s what that songs about. At the same token, when I play on stage, I don’t get political or religious or anything else. I’m there to take people down memory lane. We laugh and joke a lot.
GD: So you will be playing in Lorain at the end of the month, how long is your set and what can fans expect from the show?
JFC: I play about five songs. We all play about five or six songs. Peter Beckett is great! He was in Player and he still has a great voice. The guys in Ambrosia are probably some of the greatest players that I’ve ever run across. If I don’t see those guys for six months or a year and we only get a line check, it’s gonna sound like we played last night. They are that good. Plus they’ve got great songs. Peter Beckett of course has “Baby Come Back” but people are unaware that he was in The Little River Band for a while. He’s got those songs he plays as well. One of the guys in Ambrosia, Joe Puerta was an original founder of Bruce Hornsby and The Range. So you’ve got some history with these guys. They are just good players and good musicians.
GD: Sounds like a great show. I’ve actually never seen any of you guys perform so it’s going to be a treat for me to check you guys out!
JFC: We have an enjoyable time and I think that you will enjoy it! It’s the people that you play with, they are all good people and we are all good friends, so that makes it better.
GD: John, thank you so much for your time and I look forward to seeing you at the end of the month!
JFC: Thank you! I look forward to seeing you there.
Be sure to catch John Ford Coley, Peter Beckett and Ambrosia at The Lorain Palace Theater on January 26th. Tickets start at $37.00 and can be purchased here.