I saw John Conlee play at a bar in Mayville, North Dakota, a dozen years ago. The owners played in a band and somebody they knew knew somebody in Nashville and we got to see John Conlee play live in front of about 100 plow boys and Dakota darlin’s. A good time was had by all.
Allmusic classifies Mr. Conlee as both country-pop and neo-traditionalist country, noting his Urban Cowboy-era breakout:
John Conlee is a benefactor of country music’s complete lack of pretension — he’s one of the most average-looking stars in the entertainment industry and never made a chart hit until his thirties. But his voice is a wonderfully unique and expressive instrument, ranking up there with Randy Travis’ and Jon Anderson’s as one of the most identifiable in modern country — it makes you forget for a moment that contemporary country music has increasingly been taken over by slick smoothies without a whit of personality.
The 1980 LP, Friday Night Blues, was his 3rd album for MCA. The title track was penned by Sonny Throckmorton, an Urban Cowboy-era Nashville songwriter from Texas with over 1,000 songs to his credit.
I often get caught up in the debate over authenticity in music. In particular I get all bent out of shape about the damage the Nashville Sound did to country music, with all the orchestration and market-oriented machinations. If the tune is good it shouldn’t ought to need all that extra flash. Hank and his guitar should have been good enough for the Grand Ole Opry then and they should be good enough today.
Think about that dicotomy in the Allmusic labels for Mr. Conlee. He charted two dozen Top 20 country singles, most of which (like Friday Night Blues) have their share of orchestration and gee-whiz production. Yet he remained also, as his bio indicates, a common man with a personality of his own.
Up on that stage in a farm town in Middle America, John Conlee held his own. Could he have done as well turning songs into hits without the orchestration and production? Should he have spent more time working on his own material, like Backside of Thirty and Rose-colored Glasses?
I tend to prefer the songwriter’s version, the stripped down without all the bells and whistles and distractions. I also realize I’m not the median market. Most folks aren’t so concerned about “authenticity.” Most folks just want to go out on Friday night and be entertained.
Oh she’s wanting to boogie, he’s wanting to lie there,
She’s got the Friday Night Blues.
Maybe on the backside of 40 I can finally appreciate the tension that allowed an artist like John Conlee to chart. Now, I’m not ready to forgive the Murder on Music Row. “Americana or Death!” is still my rally cry. It’s just maybe I can learn something from Mr. Conlee’s lack of pretension and just take the girl out dancing now and then.