July 9, 2019


Dowdy Ferry Road,

the John Ford Coley Story

By Paul Heckmann, Executive Director Memories Incorporated

Edited by Mary Newton Maxwell and Scott Matthews

Paul Heckmann: Greeting John, Paul here from Memories of Dallas!

John Ford Coley: Thanks so much for calling.

Paul Heckmann: Growing up in Dallas. How your music career started. Tell me, tell me everything!

John Ford Coley: You bet.

I guess you could say I got my musical aptitude from church and my parents. They both sang in our church choir and daddy played violin.

I played a little bit of piano, there was a grand piano that I used. But I didn’t really have lessons before I finally committed to training. Ed Cole trained me on the real way to play. We had a deal where I would play in his classic competitions and he would teach me how to play my first love, rock and roll.

I used to love the Doo Wop, then the Beach Boys came along and Buffalo Springfield – and of course The Beatles. I’ve never stopped appreciating new music trends, but I guess my first and most influential loves would be classical and then church music.

The Beach Boys might have been the most influential. I saw them in concert when I was young. I really loved the way they combined Doo Wop and Pop. Brian Wilson was a genius

Paul Heckmann: And you changed your name.

John Ford Coley: Yes, it kinda made sense as nobody got ‘Colley’ right anyway, and adding ‘Ford’ gave it some flow.

Paul Heckmann: And how did you meet Dan?

John Ford Coley: Although we went to the same school, our paths had simply never crossed. Dan actually would leave the school at about 11am because he was in a school work program. The first time I remember meeting him was when we both went to audition for a band.

Paul Heckmann: He was a year ahead of you, wasn’t he?

John Ford Coley: That is correct.

Paul Heckmann: Did you happen to know his brother Jim while you were at Samuell HS?

John Ford Coley: He was a bit older, but I did meet him later when we toured with Seals and Croft.

Paul Heckmann: Found this little tidbit on Dan and Jim’s father. His dad’s name was Wayland Seals and was a rockabilly singer. Worked in bands for Ernest Tubbs and Bob Wills at one time or another-

John Ford Coley: Very cool. Several members of his family were in music. Jim was a member of The Champs for several years.

Getting back to Dan, he had joined a band called the ‘Playboys Five’. They were looking for a keyboard player but Dan wanted a guitar player. The band hired me as a keyboardist, and Dan wasn’t happy. We didn’t get along until we found our common interest, harmonizing. Dan would always take the lead and I would take harmony. It was really kinda magical the way it all worked ou.

The band morphed into ‘Theze Few’.

We cut a couple of records but we eventually all that changed and we became Southwest F.O.B.

Paul Heckmann: Of course anyone that remembers “England Dan and John Ford Coley” knows that you guys were always pickers. However I read that said neither you nor Dan actually played guitar in Southwest F.O.B.

John Ford Coley: That is correct. Dan played sax and I played organ. And the interesting thing about it I was trained with all the different beats, very much an eclectic musical background. We started off with the pops stuff, Beach Boys and all of that. And then you end up going to the soul era, where we did the current pop stuff, and then we ended up doing the psychedelic stuff. But we actually ended up playing something like fusion jazz.

As for FOB, it was really about five boys who grew up in that band and the journey that turned them into men, of sorts. Rich Richardson owned this company, and he’s the one that came up with the name. FOB stood for “freight-on- board” which we all got a kick out of at the time.

Paul Heckmann: Definitely something different!

So things are starting to take off a bit, you are playing all over Dallas and spreading out a bit into other areas. And about this time you had your first big hit, “Smell of Incense”.

John Ford Coley: Oh yea. let me tell you a funny story about that.

We would play at Louann’s all the time. And they had various acts that would come in. And so this group came in that was called the ‘West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’, and they were really, really good. They had come out of San Francisco during the psychedelic period. And so, we got hold of one of their record, liked it a lot and wound up recording something similar called ‘Smell of Incense’.

Many years later, long after I was part of the Three Dog Night when Jimmy Greenspoon was the organ player. I was talking with Jimmy one night, and we were talking about the experiences that we had. And I said, I was in this group back in Dallas, we had this song called ‘Smell of Incense;

And he said, ‘That was you!’ And I said, ‘Yeah’. And he goes, ‘John, I was playing keyboards and the organ for the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. I was wondering who recorded our song!’

Paul Heckmann: Oh, my God! Sometimes a small world isn’t quite big enough.

John Ford Coley: Ha! (laughs)

Anyway, Dan and I were growing out of the group thing. We used to stand around and sing Everly Brothers and Righteous Brothers songs. I had the higher voice so it was harmony for me. That was what I had learned in church, so that training probably sent me down that path.

So around 1970 we split from Southwest FOB and started singing in folk clubs in the Dallas area. Eventually we ended up in Southern California.

We would show up at the record companies with our songs, just the two of us with our guitars. They would look at us and go, ‘What are you guys? Are you country? Are you pop, rock, classical – well, what are you?’

And we’d go, ‘Yup, pretty much.’ and smile.

Paul Heckmann: Well, that’s true, because in those days, you had to fit into a slot. There were Pop stations, Country stations, R&B Stations. Not a lot of crossover. There was no such thing as ‘Young Country’ or ‘Soft Rock’

John Ford Coley: Exactly. And so they were trying to put us in that little hole, and when they couldn’t put us in a hole, we simply didn’t fit. It took us a long time to get a recording contract because of it.

Even now, I’ve got a new CD that’s called Eclectic, and the reason is, because once again, I don’t fit into a neat little hole. I usually tell people it’s Lithuanian disco polka rap to get their attention. It’s all over the place musically, because that’s just how I play.

Anyway we kept pushing and ended up with a music contract with A&M records about a year later

Paul Heckmann: And I saw you had a lot of heartache there when you broke away from FOB until Herb Alpert came along.

John Ford Coley: Louis Shelton, who was part of the Wrecking Crew out in Los Angeles, had played with Dan’s brothers band, Seals and Crofts. He was looking for someone to produce, and we had played at the Ice House. So, he got a tape from us and sent it to Herb Alpert, and he said, ‘It’s a cross between Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles’. And Herb said, ‘We don’t really have room for that’. So, he said, ‘Well, take the tape. Listen to it. Tell me what you think’. And the story goes that Herb was shaving. He was listening to the tape. He shoved the tape off, wiped the shaving cream off his face, called Louis, and said, ‘Get them out here!’

So, that was how we ended up. And I tell you what, I loved Herb Alpert. That man was one of the last true musicians in the production side of the music industry at that time. And he was so helpful. Even when I went back later when Dan and I had split, he helped me out. I had nothing but admiration for that man.

Paul Heckmann: So, you’re now with Herb Alpert. He’s helped you make a breakthrough, here. You start touring with Three Dog Night and Elton John.

John Ford Coley: Yes. We actually started off with Carole King, this was during her Tapestry album time. She was on the same label, and she was doing a deal with the Troubadour, and they said, ‘Well come on, you’re playing with her for a week’. And things just started falling in place.

So, we’re working with the hottest musician in the world right now, Carole King.

And then we get a call from Elton’s people, and they said, Elton wants you guys to come with him to England, for a month. He’s touring there. So, we were like, betcha by golly, you bet we will be there. And we’re over there for a month about that time we had a number one song in Japan, a thing called “Simone.” 

And Dan and I were just so happy to be there. Three Dog Night, and played, and we were just happy to be playing with Three Dog Night again. That was a great tour. We really loved working with those guys.

Paul Heckmann: So, I’ve seen Atlantic almost passed on arguably your top hit, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.” Can you tell me that story? I’d love that.

John Ford Coley: Actually, they did. The thing is, Susan, our manager, had a good relationship with Bob Greenberg over there. And so, Bob kept the door open all the time, and was waiting for this magical hit to come through the door. And so, she walks him through, and she and I played it for him. And after she played it for him, before they could discuss anything, there was a knock on the door. And two guys walked in. And it was Doug Morris and Dick Vanderbilt from Big Tree Records. And so, Bob introduced them; they were subsidiary with Atlantic.

They ask ‘Bob, what do you think of that song?’ And Bob looks at Susan, and goes, ‘Well, Susan, I’m going to pass’. And she’s dejected. And then Dick Morris says, ‘You sure you’re going to pass on that song?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, we’re going to pass this. I’m sorry.’ And Morris looked at her, and said, ‘Susan, we want the song!’

They had heard the whole thing through the wall!

Paul Heckmann: Who knows what would have happened, if that hadn’t been heard through the wall? It would have sat on a shelf along with the 10,000 other tunes they rejected.

John Ford Coley: Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I’m one that does not believe in coincidences, for what it’s worth. If something doesn’t happen, or does happen, there’s definitely a specified reason why it did or didn’t happen. So, I don’t get upset. But it took me just a little while to learn that. But these days, I’m moving on either way. 

Paul Heckmann: So, now I’ve got one that’ll bring you back to Texas. How did you guys choose ‘Dowdy Ferry Road’ for the name of the one album?

John Ford Coley: Well, first of all, it was a great song, Dan wrote it.

Back when we were kids, we would to go down to Dowdy Ferry Road years ago with our pistols. And we would shoot at the cottonmouths. We probably killed half the cottonmouth population over on Dowdy Ferry.

Dan was always looking for something that’s a little bit more unique. And so, that was one. It was like ‘Dowdy Ferry Road’ was short, and every other song we had was like, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Nights Are Forever Without You,” “We Don’t Ever Have to Say Goodbye” it was like, geez, let’s just pick something that’s three words.

Paul Heckmann: So, things are really starting to fly along. You had, let’s see here, six top 40 singles between 1976 and ’79. The ones you mentioned, along with “It’s Sad to Belong,” “Gone Too Far,” and “Love is the Answer.”

Now, you come up in 1977, you are Grammy nominated for “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”. And I sat there, and I went back to look for the songs that you were up against in 1977. So, you had “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” with Elton John Ford Coley and Kiki Dee. “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Queen. “Afternoon Delight” with Starlight Vocal Band. And then the one that won it that year was “If You Leave Me Now,” by Chicago. Those were some heavyweights right there.

John Ford Coley: They were great songs.

Paul Heckmann: God, what a great year for music.

John Ford Coley: Yes, it was. ‘I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” got all the way to #2. Well, the only question that we would get, do you remember which song hit the No. 1 spot? I’d grin and go, ‘Y’up. “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”

You know what, we were just so darn thankful just to be in the game, because we had gone through these lame years. We’d played with everybody in the world and toured with many of them.

And then there was the time we got a call to be on Johnny Carson. There was a group that was going to be on Johnny and ended up having to cancel. So we got the call. Gabe Kaplan from “Welcome Back Kotter” was covering for Johnny as the host. Anyway, we were using the house band to back us up on “Sad to Belong”. They were playing it about half speed. I just stopped about halfway through the song. They were ticked off, ‘you don’t do that, this is a live show. (chuckles) We were never asked back. They were taking 7 minutes to play a 2 minute song!

Anyway, we go out on tour with Bread. Our manager gives us a call. She and I do not get along.

So, she gets a call from the agent she is there, and he goes, ‘What did John and Dan say to Dave Gates of Bread?’ And she went, ‘Oh, my goodness, no, it was probably John Ford Coley if anything bad was said. What happened?”

And he’s just like, ‘I got a call from David this morning. He says they weren’t going to book them out on the road unless you get Dan and John Ford Coley to open for us’. And she said, ‘Oh, it was probably Dan then!’

Paul Heckmann: Your reputation precedes you!

John Ford Coley: Being out on the road like that for so many years, with people who had the experience and young blood. You learn how to live on the road. Elton John’s big deal, ‘Don’t Be Late!’ I mean, you know… You’re not late. When we say, we’re leaving at 9:00, you better be there at ten ‘til. Okay? That’s it. You’re responsible. So, you really learn how to live on the road.

Paul Heckmann: And how did that work out?

John Ford Coley: We learned the lesson the hard way. We missed a train going from London to Newcastle upon Tyne. And, unfortunately, it happened to be quite a distance away from London. And we got there late, and we missed the show. We actually missed the whole thing! I mean, how was I to know that English trains would follow German efficiency? And 9:02 means 9:02, not 9:03. So, you learn for airplanes and everything else, they don’t wait.

Paul Heckmann: So, tell me, but how did Elton respond to that?

John Ford Coley: They were all pretty ticked at us, and deservedly so. It was our fault. We just got there late, and thought we could make it, but simply didn’t.

Paul Heckmann: So you are around all these different groups, which one was your favorite group to work with, before you started touring with Seals and Crofts?

John Ford Coley: I loved all of them. And I think that they all brought their own personalities to it, and they were fun in different ways. Jeff Beck, Collin, Neil Young, and Three Dog Night, and Carole King, she was such a sweetheart. There’s only one or two groups that I did not click with. But most of these guys? It’s like saying, who do you like best? Your mama or your daddy? If Elton were to call right now, and say, If want you to come out here and play, I wouldn’t ask him how much. I wouldn’t ask him where I’m going. I’d just say, ‘Whoo, yeah! I’ll be there!’

Paul Heckmann: Now, I have read that “Soldier in the Rain” is probably your favorite tune from your duo days. Would that be correct?

John Ford Coley: That would be correct. I think probably of all the songs that I was blessed enough to write, if I never got to write another song, that one would completely satisfy me.

Paul Heckmann: Some folks have called it a protest song, yet I understand you don’t agree.

John Ford Coley: Well, it’s not. As a matter of fact, a couple of years back, I was on YouTube looking and somebody had put that song up. And they had written a comment that said that this is a perfect example of an anti-military song during the Vietnam War era. And I wrote them back, and I said, ‘Well, first of all, it’s not a protest song. We used to put on some of the biggest military support shows in your cities, so you got your information incorrect. I said, what this song is about, is that when soldiers go out, a lot of times there’s the anticipation of the glory and all the things that go on, but when you’re out there, there’s the reality of it.’

When you come home, it’s not what you left. You may dream about it, you may have all these fond memories, but people change. Situations change. You’ve changed. And it can be quite depressing, and you actually want to be back with the soldiers that you were with, because you had somebody back in Europe all the time. And you find yourself alone, so that’s pretty much what this song is about, is coming home, and having to deal with it not being what you left, and what you were longing for.

Paul Heckmann: That makes sense. Did you serve, John?

John Ford Coley: I did not. I was listed to go up. My number was up there because of the draft, I went in and they said, ‘have you ever had high blood pressure before?’ And because of that, I ended up not being able to serve. But I tell you what, I certainly did have admiration for those that did serve.

Paul Heckmann: I love the fact that you guys started touring with Dan’s brother and his group Seals and Crofts. How did that come about?

John Ford Coley: Well, we were with the same company, they were trying to keep us all working. Seals and Crofts were hot at that time. They were doing very, very well. So, there were a couple of different groups that they tried but with Jimmy and Danny being brothers, that was something special.

But I’ll tell you, they were some of the best people that Susan Cross were able to get. They had a couple of brothers Jeff and Mikey. Both of them ended up playing with Poco. Jeff ended up doing the demo on, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” for us. And Mike was really, probably, one of the nicest guys. He ended up dying of ALS a couple of years ago.

But he came to Dan and me, not I one time, we were playing, just the two of us, and he said, I want to play bass for you guys. And we said, Mike, man, that’d be great, but we just don’t have the money to pay you. And he said, I just want to play with you. I don’t want to get paid. We went, wow! What a cool guy! So, they had some good people like that.

And then our guitar player from the Southwest F.O.B., we introduced him to Jimmy and Dash over at Seabirds. He ended up playing guitar for Seals and Crofts for about four years or so.

Paul Heckmann: So tell me about the back-up band that you traveled with.

John Ford Coley: It was actually Ovid Stevens, a group called Shadowjack with Greg Orwell was drums, John Reno on bass, and Michael Nash on keyboards, and Bubba on vocals and guitar. And Bubba had played with the James Gang. So we had those five guys, and then Dan and I. I played piano and guitar. Dan played sax and guitar.

What a great time, a fun group. We toured with those guys, gosh, about four years.

And I can’t keep up with Ovid. I just saw him a couple of months ago at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas. I always loved having Ovid come in and play. So, it’s nice to be able to connect with old friends like that.

But we play, quite a number of shows like that. I’ve bumped into Ambrosia a lot. And they always back everybody up. So, I come up, I play four songs, and then I go back and eat, that’s pretty much how it goes, yeah.

Paul Heckmann: Playing for your food. It goes back to the old days.

John Ford Coley: Absolutely. The thing is, they always say, we want to put you in this slot. And I go, no, man, look. I play piano. Let me play first. I don’t mind opening at all, and that way, you strike the keyboard, because everybody else either stands up and plays guitar, or just stands up and sings. Strike the keyboard. But what I’m really saying is, guys, the food’s still hot by the time that I’m done, okay? So, I go into the back, and I eat all I want!

Paul Heckmann: You are the troubadour.

John Ford Coley: Absolutely, man, you know. And I got an agenda, and it’s pretty out there, you know?

Paul Heckmann: It’s a smart one. You don’t need the spotlight anymore, and that’s the great part about it, you know?

John Ford Coley: No, man. You know, the spotlight –something supposed to be here?

Paul Heckmann: Been there, done it!

John Ford Coley: Yup.

Paul Heckmann: Okay, so, your duo days are over. Dan has moved on to country music, and I know that wasn’t really your forte in those days. What comes next for you?

John Ford Coley: I wasn’t blessed with the great country voice that Dan had. I have always leaned more toward rock or folk. So, he went into Country music and I headed to film as an actor and also put songs into different films. I really enjoyed doing that. Although I was raised watching and listening to people like Porter Wagoner and Buck Owens I didn’t really play much of it. I only came into the Country music genre in the 90’s

Well, I stumbled around for a little while, trying to figure out precisely what I was going to do. And then I ended up getting called on the phone. It was an old buddy of mine, Alex Rocco. And Alex had played Moe Green in The Godfather. He was the guy who was the gangster that got shot in the eye on the massage table?

Paul Heckmann: Yeah, I know exactly who you’re talking about!

John Ford Coley: So, the thing with Bo is – Alex Rocco, we called him Bo. And his son was starting to do a film. He wanted to do his directorial debut. And so, Bo’s calling all of his favorites. Steve Railsback who played Charles Manson, Helter Skelter, and Joel Pantoliano, who ended up going to Sopranos, and Goonies, and all those films. And so, he’s pulling us in. It’s a rock band thing, so I had to learn to play drums. And they pulled in Timothy Schmit, because, The Eagles are broken up, and Timothy is wondering what is next.

And I had played with Timothy in Poco, so I knew him pretty well. So, they ended up getting a couple of other actors, and it was my first film. And I had the best time of my life, because they kept feeding me lines, because I was very improvisational. And there’s lines written on the page, and you look at that, and it finally clicks, those are just a guideline.

They had a lot of day players, so you’ve always got people coming in for two days, maybe three days, whatever. And so, Pamela Springsteen is Bruce’s sister, and they give her the gig, because again, she’s got some name value with the Springsteen thing.

And she and I just hit it off like brother and sister. It was like we were cloned at the hip. So, she’s saying, ‘I’m working really hard. I’m studying all the time. I’m trying to get into the acting class, just trying to do as many little things as I possibly can to get out from under Bruce’s shadow. You know? So, I can make it on my own, just wanting to be able to excel on my own.’

So, the next day, she comes in, runs over to me, and she goes, John Ford Coley! She said, ‘I talked to Bruce, my brother, last night, she says she knows the lord loves your music, would love to get together with you sometime. Maybe write, maybe play. Do some studying, except we need to get you his telephone number.’

And I said, Really? And she said, ‘No, I was just acting, but tell me, did you believe me? I’ve been working really hard at this’. And I’m thinking, you’re going to die. You’re going to die. You give me the picture that I’m going to playing with your brother, and it’s an act? (chuckles)

And then we had one, there was a girl there. She had written a couple of songs in the film. And they gave her a nominal acting thing, that I think ended up on the floor of the cutting room. A really nice girl. So, she said, I’m writing stuff, and would you maybe like to get together and write sometime. And I said, I’m really not doing anything. I’m just trying to be kinda normal for a while, work on projects and stuff. Maybe later on? Just not right now.

Six months later I see her on stage, Melissa Etheridge is taking home a Grammy. And I’m sitting there going, John Ford Coley, you idiot. Next time somebody asks you to write, just say yes.

Paul Heckmann: So, you are out in LA. You are having a good time, doing this and that, and whatever musical little tidbits come by. And you get an offer to write the theme song to James at 15. Tell me a little bit about that.

John Ford Coley: That was just a fluke. I mean, we were kind of hot at the time. We were hot, they grabbed us, they said, can you write this? We said, yes, of course we can. And that’s pretty much how it happened. And then we ended up being on the show. And they had a different – It was James at 15, but then, you know, the next year comes up, and they wanted a new theme song. And so, we did a James at 16, and it ended up being on the show.

Paul Heckmann: You said we. Now, “who is we?”

John Ford Coley: Dan and I.

Paul Heckmann: Oh, I see. Oh. So, now, was this after you guys had already kind of moved on?

John Ford Coley: No, actually, this happened about ’77, I think. And then Dan and I didn’t split until about 1980 or so?

Paul Heckmann: Right, yeah. Okay. So, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” was also in a Shane Black movie.

John Ford Coley: Right. (laughs)

Paul Heckmann: Yeah, I’m a big fan of his. Yeah. Tell me, what you laughing about?

John Ford Coley: We didn’t know that that song was in the film. Nobody knew about it until it came out. All of a sudden, we’re staring at a bunch of money that we didn’t know it was coming. But, I said, yeah, you bet. So there is Samuel L Jackson singing our tune! 

And I was kind of hoping they were telling them what we were singing. I didn’t know – I’m not talking about money around or what – and what I was laughing about was, the other day, somebody told me about a young girl that had recorded “I’d Love to See You Tonight.” And I’m listening to it, and I went back to that chorus, and I said, I’m wondering how clearly she’s saying “moving in.”

I said, goodness, I was on the floor rolling. Because she said, “I’m not talking about my lunch.” That’s hilarious, you know! Because, for us, I mean, it was just as clear as it could be. Moving in.

Paul Heckmann: Well, I can go back and listen to that. That’s for sure.

John Ford Coley: Oh, man, I hear things like “M&Ms”, and “my lunch”

Paul Heckmann: The old “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” thing, you know. Nobody got that one right for months.

John Ford Coley: Absolutely. You’re kidding. It’s nice to be up there with people like. Who’s the group that did “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?”

Paul Heckmann: Oh, Iron Butterfly.

John Ford Coley: Iron Butterfly, yeah.

Paul Heckmann: We’re dating ourselves. We know these things, you know?

John Ford Coley: Hey, man, you know what? We had fun. You know, I’ll tell you something. Years ago, I went to school – I went back to school. So, I was taking French, and Spanish, and things like that. But I took an astronomy class. And so, when I’m in there, the teacher said, put down the last math class you’d had, and the year. So, I put down 9th grade, 1963. The girl next to me leans over. She saw what I had written, and she said, I wasn’t even born in 1963. And I looked at her, and I said, you’ve missed a lot. So, that’s my answer to you. You missed a lot.

Paul Heckmann: Well, come to the ‘70s, you started to get so much stuff that was really produced in studios, as far as music goes, and by the ‘80s and ‘90s, I mean, it just – There’s so much that was really more produced than, you know, the days when you and your old groups would get in your garage, and you know, banging. One guy had a set of drums that he got from Sears, and you know, the guy had his first Strata, or something.

John Ford Coley: You bet. You also associate yourself to the other people that were better than you. When Louis Shelton grabbed us, when we first went into the studio, we had people like the bass player for Simon and Garfunkel. I mean, Hal Demange played for the Beach Boys, and, you know, all these different people coming now, and they add their element to it.

And what was really cool, was that, when I got in that studio situation, especially in LA, I started running into people that I never knew. And there was one guy we had, he was an engineer, his name was Henry Louie. And Henry was German, you know, he and his wife were big into transcendental meditation, and so, he would always take a break, and then he would kind of collect himself. And I think it is kind of tedious when you’re an engineer.

So, one day, it was just Louie and me, sitting in the studio, waiting for everybody to come back, and Louie just looked at me. He said, John , is there anybody out there today that you like? Because there’s a lot of people out there. Who do you like?

And I said, Henry, there’s this girl, man, you’ve probably never heard of her. This girl knocks me out. She’s got some of the most phenomenal lyrics, and music I’ve never heard in my life. I said, Henry, do you know of a girl by the name of Joni Mitchell?

And he looked at me, and he went, are you serious? And I said, yeah. Have you ever heard of her? And he goes, John Ford Coley, I produced her. She’s over in Studio C on Saturday. Come by.

So I show up and watch Joni Mitchell record two songs on the Blue album. And I just missed James Taylor by about an hour, because he had just left. So, you run into things like the Carpenters were always just walking through, or this one or that one. This business, its just nutz. I mean, this is just so cool.

Thinking back to something I failed to mention earlier. When we played with Carole King, I’m looking down at this audience, but I went, Damn man, that’s Judy Carne staring right up my nose. And there’s Barbara Streisand over there. Crazy! And you start going, geez, man, what have you gotten yourself into? So, it was an exciting time.

Here’s one for you about another Dallas kid. This back in the early days, 1971 I think, B.W. Stevenson used to come visit me out in Los Angeles. We played a lot in Dallas back in the day. Well, B.W. used to come sleep on my couch, because he’s trying to get a deal out there when we moved to LA. I introduced him to Carole King and had him do all my own songs for her, which she loved.

And so, B.W. is sleeping, and I get a call early in the morning. And this really gravelly voice says, is B.W. here? And I said, ‘You know what, he’s sleeping right now. Can I maybe get a number and he can call you back?’ And the guy goes, ‘Oh, okay. Just tell him Steve McQueen called.’ I said, ‘You know what? Won’t you hold on for a second, and I’ll get him up!’

And so then – I’m telling people! Oh, yeah, man, you’ve got Steve McQueen calling my house.

John Ford Coley: Oh, yeah, you know. We had – Heck, I got my first earthquake in 1971, too. So, I was on top of the world, man.

Paul Heckmann: And Steve McQueen calls!

John Ford Coley: And Steve McQueen calls!

Paul Heckmann: I saw some notes here about a funny story about “Nights Are Forever,” about the lady that came up and told you how her and her husband loved it. Can you relate that story?

John Ford Coley: Well, yeah. As a matter of fact, I wrote a book a couple of years ago, called Backstage Pass, and that story actually opens the book up. I was playing in Chico, California, and after I finished playing, this really nicely dressed lady comes up, you know, kind of corporate looking, kind of lawyerly looking, and dressed in black. And she had one of the old LPs, and she gets pretty close to me, takes me by the hand, and says, I want you to know my fiance and I fell in love to your song, “Nights Are Forever.” We danced to the song, we proposed to the song, made love through the song, we did just about everything to that song.

And then, you know, knowing me, not being – because I hear this all the time – not being remotely interested in what her everything might possibly include, I just said, well, thank you very much. Honest to goodness, that woman squeezed my hand so tight? and got right in my face, and in a voice that I didn’t recognize just coming out of her before, she said, that so-and-so left me. I’ve hated your song ever since. I think I’m staring down the devil, and the only thing that I could do, honestly, was I looked at the lady, and I said, cool.

What do you do, man?

Paul Heckmann: Oh, my god. I love it. I love that one. So, I got a question for you. Have you ever got up on stage and totally forgot a song, or the words?

John Ford Coley: Absolutely. I’ve had to stop in the middle of songs. And sometimes, you can’t remember the lyrics. But the line that I fall back on was one that Byron Hill taught me. Byron Hill wrote country for Alabama, and just, Gary discovered Gary Allen, and all these things. Because he would forget a lyric, and he said, well, if you can remember the lyrics to all the songs that you’ve recorded, you simply haven’t written enough of them. And that works for me. So, I use that line now. But, seriously, there are times when you just draw a blank.

Paul Heckmann: So, about about 10 years ago, Dan passes away. That must have been horrible for you.

John Ford Coley: Yeah, that was a shock at the time, and it was horrible at the way he ended up passing away, because he had lymphoma. It was actually the complications from the disease that. You just never expect it. I’ve lost other friends, but not one that close.

People periodically that aren’t aware of Dan’s passing, will come up, and they go, well, are you guys going to do a reunion tour? And I go, not anytime soon.

Paul Heckmann: Hopefully, many years from now.

So, tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself recently? What do you have coming up?

John Ford Coley: Well, I just released a new CD about two years ago, called Eclectic. It’s 26 brand new songs. You’ve not heard any of them. And the thing is that yo u continue to write all those years, you start having a place to put them. It’s like now, I continue to write, and so we just kind of put all these songs together. One side is produced, with a band, and things like that. The other side is pretty much acoustic. A lot of ballads.

I write all the time. I tour all the time. I’m gone quite a bit. I see a lot of friends from that time period, and then I went to a Samuell High School reunion. And I said, I’m really sorry. I’ve missed so many reunions, but it seems like I was somewhere else. And I went, ha, now I’m always somewhere else. And even when I am home, if I’m home for any extended period of time, I mean, I get cabin fever. And my kids are going, dad, go to Savannah for the day. Just get the hell out of here. Do some family research. Get out of here!

And it’s like my stepson, yesterday, because he’s having to travel a bit. I said, you need to get very, very used to and accustomed to being alone. You’re alone all the time. And I don’t mind it at all. As a matter of fact, I kind of look forward to it. I know how to entertain myself. I read. I work on my ancestor research, I read all the time. You keep up with this, or that, or you’re writing, or you’re playing, or you’re developing something new.

And one of the things that I tell on stage is that, one of the really great things that I enjoy about being a songwriter, is that you can ignore more than a man can think. You can be staring out at the mountain, looking at it, and literally someone can come up and go, what are you doing? And you can honestly say, I’m working. I was thinking.

Paul Heckmann: So, is there anything you’d like to say that we haven’t covered?

John Ford Coley: Gosh. We’ve covered quite a bit. I think I probably talked your ear off.

Paul Heckmann: I love it, man.

John Ford Coley: It’s just, you know, there are stories that come all the time. I’m in the process of probably looking at another book. Because, again, I just had these ridiculously funny things that happen to me all the time, and the book itself – It’s not about drugs, sex, or rock and roll, it’s just funny stuff that goes on. So, just keeping busy.

Paul Heckmann: Like the lady with the, I hate your song!

John Ford Coley: Yeah. Oh, the other night, you know, it’s really funny. I was playing that down in Georgia, I’ve never had it happen before, but I’m signing autographs and some CDs, and stuff. And this one guy came up, and he said, I thought you were hilarious on stage. Have you ever thought about doing a comedy thing? He said, my wife didn’t think you were funny at all, but I thought you were hilarious. And I went, your wife didn’t think I was funny? And he said, no, she stared right there. And I said, what is with that face? And she just walked off, and I thought, oh, I must have said something. And it was fun to tell the other guys that were playing, I said, man, I’ve never had that happen before.

Paul Heckmann: Hey, well, listen, I really want to thank you for your time today, man. I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoy our and our Memories of Dallas Facebook page.

John Ford Coley: I read it all the time

Hey, John Ford Coley, man, it’s been a blast, man. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, my friend.

John Ford Coley: Call me anytime, this was fun!

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  1. Trisha Ritter

    March 1, 2020

    Paul. This interview is truly amazing! Thank you and John Ford Coley ❤ the memories

    • pheckmann

      March 5, 2020

      thanks trisha. John was soooo easy to talk to.

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