Singer, classically trained pianist, guitarist, producer, actor and author John Ford Coley is probably most well known for his partnership in the musical duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. They released “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” in 1976, which debuted at number two on the pop charts.
The duo had four top ten hits and two top twenties; they released eight albums, were nominated for a Grammy, and released platinum and gold records by the time they disbanded in 1980. John went on to form another group and to act in a few films.
Coley also wrote songs for film and television and returned to touring. He shared the bill with such acts as Three Dog Night, Lou Gramm (of Foreigner), Edgar Winter, Stephen Bishop, and others. John continues to perform around the world in addition to lecturing about his Christian faith.
John Ford Coley gave Our Prattville an interview:
Where did you get your classical piano training?
I actually trained under Mr. Ed Cole in Dallas. I had played piano for many years before I met him but was more or less just puttering around with it. I was a paper boy and delivered his niece’s newspaper who was about my age. I sat down and played piano one day while he was there and he liked what I did. We struck a bargain that I would train and play in his classical competitions and he would teach me to play rock and roll piano. I got the better part of the deal. I love classical music and still play it to this day.
Whose idea was it to form the duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley? When you split, did you ever think of following Dan into country music?
The idea to form a duo was both of our ideas. Dan and I had been together since high school in same group that changed names several times. It ended up being called the Southwest F.O.B. Our big record was “Smell of Incense” in 1969 on Hip/Stax/Volt Records. Dan played sax and sang while I played a big B-3 Hammond organ and sang. Neither of us played guitar in the band.
However, we used to sing around and sing Everly Brothers and Righteous Brothers songs. I had the higher voice so I always sang harmony. I really gravitated to harmony anyway having learned that in church. About 1970 we split from the band and started singing in folk clubs in the Dallas area. Then we ended up in California and got a music contract with A&M records in 1971.
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.
I’ve read that Dan Seals came from a musically talented family. Were your parents or siblings musically inclined? Do you think your children will enter the entertainment business?
My mom and dad both sang in the choir and daddy played violin and a little piano. Most of my training on that end came from being in church so often. My youngest daughter loves to sing and play. She’s learning how to play the guitar and piano. I think she’ll be the only one that might venture in this industry.
One of your most popular songs is “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.” The line in the song, “I’m not talking about movin’ in” seems to have been misunderstood a lot. Did you actually receive letters from fans asking about that line?
Still do as a matter of fact. I’ve heard some of the craziest lyrics for that particular line. Some of them are honest mistakes. Some are made up and get somewhat wild. A couple of them I won’t repeat.
Do you have a favorite song of the ones that you recorded with Dan? What about as a solo act?
Actually there are many songs that I recorded with Dan that are my favorites. “Soldier in the Rain,” “Love Is The Answer,” “Who’s Lonely Now,” “Westward Wind,” “What I’m Doing,” “Legendary Captain” and “Winning Side.” Of course, my favorite songs are generally not the singles, but the ones that are on the CD’s.
As a solo act, the one that generates the best response is again, “Soldier in the Rain.” I love to play brand new songs. That’s why it’s such a thrill for me to do acoustic shows. That’s probably my most favorite way to play.
You joined a cult in the early 70s. Can you tell us what that was like?
Well, first of all, I really do not like to use the word “cult” simply because most people think it’s something evil, harmful, stealing your children and drinking Kool-Aid kind of things. Some of them most certainly are. A cult, according to the dictionary, is any organized religion. I prefer to say “another religion.”
I was drawn into another religion simply because of the lack of answers and fear that was taught to me in regards to the return of Jesus. It actually scared my socks off. Therefore when I ran into something that solved my fear, I finally jumped headlong into it. It took me 28 years to understand what I had done.
By the same token, it has given me a tremendous insight into the camp of the enemy and the deceptions that are used to deceive people into believing something that is not true. And the enemy is very deceptive, make no mistake about it. During that time, I thought I was quite informed and well-read in the Bible. I was mistaken or else I would not have gotten involved in it.
How did you leave the “cult” and convert to Christianity?
I was raised in Christianity. Over the years, I had found myself more and more on the outs with those in the religion I was in. Things didn’t make sense any longer and I was still searching when according to them the search should have been over. I moved to Nashville with my family.
A songwriter friend of mine kept urging me to come to church with him. That was quite honestly the last place I thought I’d ever find God. To appease him and get him to leave me alone about it, my family and I finally went. As we arrived, we could see the people still in the previous service and they had their arms raised and were singing. My wife was holding on to my arm for dear life and asking me “what in the world have you gotten us into.” I told her we’d sit in the back, close to the door, in the event we had to make a swift exit from the building in case they started passing snakes or killing chickens or something else.
But what occurred was that we ran right into the presence of God. I’d never felt that before. For about 2 months we kept going back to the church, sitting in the back and crying. I’d never experienced that presence before.
Have you released any inspirational albums?
I’ve recorded a semi-classical version of “Angels from The Realms of Glory/Silent Night” for a Christmas CD last year. I’m in the process of recording my very first solo CD project and it will include a couple of inspirational songs. I’ve written several but have just decided to record a couple of them of them on this new CD.
You played at the amphitheater at the riverfront in Montgomery last summer. Are there any plans for a return visit to Alabama?
Incidentally, I had a blast playing at the amphitheater and also at the Hank Williams museum when I was there recently. The train would come by and blow his horn during the most quiet sections of the songs. I finally would just stop, let him blow the horn and when he was further down the tracks, I’d pick up the song again.
We got to see the Biscuits play that evening as well. Montgomery is a very historical town and I love walking around, reading all the historical markers and seeing the sites. A branch of my family had come from not too far from Montgomery, but left after the war for Southern Independence was over and another branch had settled in Marion County in NW Alabama. They left just after the war as well.
I played in Point Clear last year as well and would most certainly like to come back to Alabama. I like it down there. My kids loved it too.
If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would it be?
You do not, under any circumstances, really want to get me into this conversation. I’m into my senator’s and congressmen’s face a little too often over political silliness. My only advice would be: Pick up and READ that Bible on your coffee table, especially Isaiah 42:8 and apply it to what has occurred to leaders from the past. Also, Isaiah 40:23 and chapter 31 from beginning to end. That would be for starters.
Please tell us about your future plans in music, touring, and in your life.
I still tour quite often and will be heading to Asia again in June. I love Asia. An absolutely amazing world. I’ve just finished my first book entitled Backstage Pass. It’s about all of the funny things that would occur to us on the road. I’m working on a book about my coming back to Christianity called Love Is the Answer. I’m trying to finish that one. I’m planning on recording a new CD. It’s going to be more of an acoustic CD.
Life is life. I’m busy. I spend time at the church and the synagogue as well. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the Old Testament from the study at the synagogue. I love to go to the synagogue. I’m involved in a couple of organizations that promote Israel and the misconceptions in the media about her. I teach my daughter guitar and piano, run kids to karate and horse lessons. I play out quite a bit and other assorted things. Life is good.
Interview by Melissa Parker
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