“I just really love to play. If I miss it for a couple days, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel right.”
That’s really all the reason John Ford Coley needs to hit the road again after decades in the music business. The joy he feels on stages that have taken him to venues around the globe has him back out on tour, with a date at Fayetteville’s Southern Ground Amphitheater on Saturday, June 1.
He saw his greatest commercial successes as one half of the duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Formed with his high school classmate, Dan Seals, the band churned out soft rock hits, soaring far higher than the modest expectations they had for themselves.
“We never focused on becoming stars,” Coley said. “For us, it was just we liked to play, and it was a better way to make money. We never had designs on going that far, it just took on a life of its own.”
The success of chart toppers like “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Nights Are Forever Without You,” and “Love Is the Answer” took them around the world. It showed Coley that music is not bound by geography, it is its own universal language. He can play a show anywhere on the map and hear an audience that does not speak english belt out the words to his songs.
“Man, that is the most amazing feeling in the world, because when they’re singing lyrics back to you louder than you’re singing it to them, I get teared up,” he said. “It’s amazing how music touches people.”
Coley recounted an astonishing moment in the Philippines, where he’d been handed a requested list of songs to play, including “Just Tell Me You Love Me,” the title song from the soundtrack for an obscure 1980 movie.
“I can hear the audience louder than what I’m singing. I was so shocked I stepped back and stopped playing and said, ‘How in the world do you know this song,’” he remembered. “Come to find out, every kid in Asia knows this song. It’s one of the biggest songs over there, and I never even knew it.”
While FM radio still spins their soft rock classics, the repertoire of England Dan and John Ford Coley spread much wider, and its a spirit Coley keeps in his solo work. You have to keep it fresh and try different things or it gets stale for both the audience and the performer.
“We were very eclectic with our sound. They’d look at us and ask, ‘Are you guys country? Are you folk? Are you rock? Are you pop? Are you classical? What are you?’ We had played all those kinds of music,” he said. “When somebody plays the same song after the same song after the same song, it’s like c’mon, branch out a little bit.”
The band split in 1980, and Seals, who passed away in 2009, pursued country music, while Coley dipped into several different venues. He still recorded, but he also dabbled in producing and tried his hand at acting. In 2013, he released a book, “Backstage Pass,” that recounts stories from the road.
“There was a period of time I couldn’t get arrested,” he joked.
Coley eventually found his way back to focusing on original music, releasing his first true solo album in 2017, dubbed, appropriately enough, “Eclectic.”
“It’s not an England Dan and John Ford Coley record, this is a John Ford Coley record,” he said. “This was 26 songs nobody’s ever had heard before, ones you write over the years and just collect them.”
The double album flows with all of the musical elements that have influenced him from the beginning, from rock and pop to country and ballads and even a little boogie woogie.
“It’s got everything but Lithuanian disco polka rap,” he joked.
It’s hard to put the classics down when they’re in your blood though, so Coley still relishes the opportunity to take his fans back to fond memories of tuning in on the radio. You’ll put your car into gear and cruise down memory lane with him as the driver.
“I play a lot of music that Dan and I did because people want to go down memory lane,” he said.
Coley brings a night of musicianship with a great backing band to the double bill that also includes a set from Firefall, another popular 70s rock band known for hits like “You Are the Woman” and “Just Remember I Love You.”
Tickets are still available to the Saturday, June 1 show. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.southerngroundamp.com.