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John Ford Coley
Playing With Ambrosia At
Goodyear Theater

Two Yacht Rock favorites, Ambrosia and John Ford Coley will be bringing the sounds of the '70s to Goodyear Theater in Akron on March 23.

We had the chance to do a Zoom call with John Ford Coley to talk about his time playing with England Dan, touring in the '70s compared to today and how social meda is using older songs and giving them new life.

Greg Drugan:  Hey John, it’s good to see you!  I haven’t spoken with you since before the pandemic, how have you been?


John Ford Coley:  Was there a pandemic?  Was it called Fauci 19?  I can be a real asshole about that.


GD:  What did you do during lockdown? You are a touring artist and there weren't a lot of tours going on during lockdown, how did you keep yourself busy for the year and a half or so?


JFC:  The ironic thing is, you can’t keep me in one spot.  Everyday, I went somewhere.  You can’t keep me in the house.  I played.  I ended up writing what I call “epic songs.”  Most songs are two to three minutes.  These things are ten to twelve minutes long.  I played a lot in here. We really weren’t allowed to go out, but I did sneak out a few times and played.  You don’t want to get out of practice and get rusty.  I did a lot of things like songwriters in the round and I went to people’s houses and played and stuff like that.  


GD:  Now that we are back to normal, how many shows do you play in a year?


JFC:  This year looks like it’s pretty heavy.  Last year was about forty shows.  I’m gone quite a bit.  The good thing is that we are mainly weekend warriors now.  We go out on the weekends, maybe leave on a Thursday and come back on Sunday.  We’re  not gone like we were before, going three months at a time or two months then home for two weeks and then back out again. It’s gotten more sane.


GD:  When you and England Dan teamed up, was there any competition between you and Seals and Crofts since both brothers were in different bands?


JFC:  No, not at all.  As a matter of fact, Jimmy Seals was the one that gave us our name, England Dan and John Ford Coley.  We toured with those guys.  Jimmy was really supportive.  Dash (Crofts) was a little more in the background but Dash was just a stellar human being.  If you can’t get along with Dash Crofts, I can tell you who the problem is.  He was just so good.


GD:  Was there any point that you thought of joining together and forming a super-group like the Eagles?


JFC:  No, I think it would have been better to maintain our own separate duo’s.  We are all pretty aggressive so I don’t know if that would have been healthy. (laughs)


GD:  Looking at your catalog, you had so many Top Ten hits, how did you find “Love Is The Answer,” did Todd Rundgren give it to you or did someone give you that song?


JFC:  The record company brought that to us.  When I heard the song, I knew the song because I was a Rundgren fan and a Utopia fan.  I went, “seriously, you want us to do this one?”  They said yes, it will be a hit.  So I said, “I’m In! Let’s do this!”  We kinda took the things that Utopia had done and added some embellishments and things like the choir.  I can speak for Dan on this, that was probably our best song on the radio.  It was classical, it was rock, it was gospel.  It had that spiritual ambiguity.  To me it was our favorite song to play on the radio.


GD:  When you guys toured, what was your favorite song to play live?


JFC:  Gosh, for me it was always “Soldier In The Rain.”  We even did that on Midnight Special.  When we started out, we had a certain sound and it was like a Simon and Garfunkel kind of thing.  We sang a lot of unison then we sang some things that were a little more intense.  When we got “I Really Love To See You Tonight,” they were just looking for commercial songs.  Dan and I weren’t writing the songs on the album per se.  The only song that I wrote was a hit was “Gone Too Far.”  All those other songs were written by other people.  We evolved to a certain sound, but the old sound we had was a lot more musical.  Most people think Dan and I are just singers, but we are players.  I was classically trained, played a lot of fusion jazz.  Dan was a terrific saxophone player.  He played soprano and alto. 


GD:  When you were touring in the 70s, who were some of the other artists that you toured with?


JFC:  We got so fortunate on that.  Dan and I were playing acoustic guitars, were didn’t have the piano yet.  We were so easy to get off stage.  We opened for Elton John and his guys said, “that’s it?”  We said, “Yep, were’re easy!’  He said, “we love you guys!” We ended up being with Bread, Three Dog Night, Chicago, Carole King.  We played with Carly Simon and it just went on down the line. It was really exciting and fun, but they were just people.  They just said come along with us and we did.


GD:  Man, that’s something.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see you guys back then because I was born in 1970, but I heard it all on the radio as a kid growing up.  I’ve made up for it since then though! 


JFC:  You missed a lot! (laughs) 


GD:  You kinda mentioned it, but what was touring like in the 70s compared to today?  I know you said you are more weekend warriors, but was it more of a grind getting on that bus in the ‘70s?

JFC:  Fortunately, Dan and I didn’t get on a bus because those things beat me up.  We flew everywhere we went.  I think one time we toured on a bus and it was in Canada.  We were scheduled to go all the way to Kamloops (British Columbia) and we made it to Seskatchewan and Dan and I looked at one another and said “screw this!”  I got on stage and I hurt everywhere.  


The thing that’s different now is that I play by myself, I rarely travel with a band.  I never had to deal with personality issues since I’ve been out on my own.  Playing with a band, you start dealing with everyone else’s tiredness and personality issues.  They guys in the band just wanted to talk about music and women.  Nobody could talk about diagraming a sentence in Latin or philosophies in French.  Nobody knew about nuclear fission.  But it was a fun time and a lot of fun stories came out of that.  I ended up writing a book called Backstage Pass, it wasn’t about the drugs, sex and rock and roll, it was about the rediculous things that went on.  I spent most of my time curled up in the fetal positon, laughing my butt off.  


GD:  Being from Cleveland, I have to ask if you ever stayed at the legendary Swingo’s hotel and do you have any stories from there?


JFC:  No, I did not. When we were traveling, we were in a town less than twenty-four hours.  We were in and out. 


GD:  What is your view on social media using “classic rock” songs on their videos and giving them new life whether it be TikTok or Instagram or whatever


JFC:  Absolutely, I love it!  Nobody I knew really had a life once they were off the radio. These things coming back like this plus the casinos opening up there’s places for us to play.  None of us thought we would be out doing this again.  Your career’s dead, and you are done.  This whole thing has been a resurgance and brought it back together, and the audiences are getting younger. They love the songs, the songs of that time had so many great melodies and you could sing to it and you knew it.  The kids like getting that today.  


GD:  Back then, people actually played instruments too, it wasn’t just done on a laptop.  I think younger people want to hear that.  Wow, there’s a guitar and bass and keyboards, what ever it is.


JFC:  I have admiration and respect for people that can play an instrument.  You have some great singers, but I need to be behind an instrument to be a part of the band. 

GD:  You will be playing with Ambrosia at the end of March in Akron.  What can fans expect from your show?  Do you have a backing band or are you just playing acoustic?

JFC:  Ambrosia is a complete band.  These guys are dyed in the wool musicians and they can play.  Those guys are top notch musicians.  When we play these shows, we kinda go down memory lane.  I’ll play four or five hits that Dan and I had, then Ambrosia comes on and they play the hits that they had.  The great things about all of us, is that we aren’t there to stirr up any controversy and make anyone angry.  We  don’t talk politics, we are there for you to walk out and go “wow, I haven’t thought about those songs in years.”  You want to escape from all that stuff. 


GD:   John,  I wish you all the best.  We hope to pack the place for you because it sounds like a good time.


JFC:  Come on out, I think  you will enjoy yourself! 

Be sure to check out Ambrosia and John Ford Coley at the Goodyear Theater on Saturday, March 23.  Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased here

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