By Ann Needle
Many folks SAY they have a story to tell. And then there’s John Ford Coley, who is his own story. A Grammy nominee and platinum artist — and Texas native, self-styled historian, former social worker, actor — this half of the former 1970s pop duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley will be playing at Shirley’s Bull Run Saturday night.
And, if a recent hour-long conversation with the animated Coley points to anything, it’s to an evening of old and new songs and stories from just about anywhere.
With Coley and England Dan, the hits started rolling in 1976, with “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight. A host of others followed, including Nights Are Forever Without You, Love Is The Answer, and We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again.
Coley hinted that anyone dropping in to Saturday’s show could expect just about anything — just as a recent audience in Kokomo, Indiana, got to hear a rendition of Living Like a Beach Boy. “I make sure I play some new things, I love playing the old songs. It’s different every night, a different audience, different speed.”
Always a Story
Naturally, the 64-year-old Coley’s own story centers on a very wide range of music from a young age, explaining why he doesn’t blink at playing just about anything. “Believe me, I had such an education in music,” Coley laughed. “My parents spent a lot of time in church, so I was always hearing hymns and gospel. In our house, they played operas, musicals, you name it. I could not sit through Gunsmoke until I sat through Lawrence Welk.”
Coley explained that he and England Dan started out together in high school, where, “We didn’t like one another, but then we found out we could sing. He was a lead, I was a harmony, so we had a natural camaraderie.” Dan’s real name was Dan Seals (brother of another pop legend, Jim Seals of Seals & Crofts), but he earned his stage name through his imitations via a faux British accent. Coley observed, “If you ever heard a Texan mimic an English accent, it’s pretty comical.”
As for rumors of an unpleasant split with Dan years later, Coley remarked, “People got in there, and there you go, they were capable, in the end, of pulling us apart.” Reflecting on Dan’s death four years ago, at 61, of lymphoma, “I was okay at the end, I felt I didn’t have anything unfinished with him.”
For Coley, music after the England Dan days has meant singing with dozens of brand names — Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, and Vince Gill are just a few — and producing music for Eddie Money and others. Today, Coley estimated he spends about 40 days a year singing on the road.
One of Coley’s many adventures along the way involved the break he took in the 1990s for four years, working in California courts on some harrowing child abuse cases. He remarked, “I never want to see another 2 year old stretched out on another autopsy table.” As tough as this was, Coley said he needed the change, tired of the people running the music and film industries. Though Coley maintained, “They wouldn’t care if they were selling lawn chairs and not music, they are just in it for the money,” he said. He later got back into the industry once he made peace with the notion, “that’s the nature of the beast.”
On the lighter side, the well-read Coley can discuss just about anything in depth, including American history (“I have such a deep love for this country”), highways, angry driving, Californians, spirituality, George Washington crossing the Delaware, and so on. But experience seems to have produced Coley’s best stories.
Touring in the Philippines, Coley reported sitting through a bombing in Manila during the country’s civil unrest. And, proud of striving to live healthy, Coley talked about the time he was eating in Singapore, and got a piece of pineapple lodged in his throat. His companion successfully cleared him with the Heimlich, but, “Another 45 seconds, and I would have been out. So I’m thinking, I’m doing all the right things, and I’m going to die of ‘pineapple’?!”
Those attending Saturday’s concerts should be prepared to hear these and whatever other stories Coley sees fit to tell, something Coley stressed that he often uses to break up the music.
Coley was originally slated to perform Saturday with Terry Sylvester, formerly of the Hollies. But, as Coley put it, “Terry is unable to make it this weekend. It’s just me that will be performing. I’m bummed because I really like performing with Terry, but I perform solo all the time and we’ll still laugh.”
The Bull Run show takes place this Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m., at $30 per ticket. For more information go totickets.bullrunrestaurant.com.