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John Ford Coley Has Rock Stories—and Some Familiar Songs

The “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” singer is coming to Rams Head On Stage

John Ford Coley sits down with contributing writer Eric Althoff to discuss what audiences can expect at his Aug. 29 Rams Head On Stage show.

John Ford Coley plays an acoustic set live
John Ford Coley playing live - Photo courtesy of the artist.

People took stock of their lives during the pandemic—including their romantic relationships. The musician John Ford Coley, a self-described disciple of alternative medicine, was warned by his wife that if he went out to the grocery store and Starbucks during those early months of the pandemic, she would refuse him reentry into the home.

Perhaps, given that Coley’s nickname for his soon-to-be-ex-wife was “Panic,” the marriage wasn’t going to last anyway.

“I packed a bag, and I’ve been gone ever since,” said Coley, who left their shared house in favor of his Nashville condo. “So it cost me my marriage.  It [also] cost a lot of time not being able to go out on the road. I’m a hugger and I missed that during covid.

“But I’m a belligerent individual,” the singer summed up his outlook—not just on disease but on pretty much anything he’s told. “When somebody says the sky is blue, I’m going to look it up.”

John Ford Coley plays live on stage with band
John Ford Coley plays live on stage with band - Photo courtesy of the artist.

That streak of fierce individualism comes through often during our interview. Coley, who plays guitar and piano, has certainly rubbed some people the wrong way throughout his musical career, but considering he still maintains a full tour schedule, his popularity remains.

The road, it seems, is his first home rather than Music City anyway; he keeps a bag always packed, in case he gets “itchy” to take an extended drive alone. He shares that his daughter once called him worried when she drove by his home to find his truck gone. Coley had up and driven to Maryland for reasons he admits he hadn’t “thought that far ahead” about.

“One time my friend called during the pandemic because she brought some things over for Christmas,” Coley said of another time he took off for Louisiana, leaving his good-natured friend scratching her head at his empty yuletide doorstep. “I took off to see some of the battlefields my great-great-grandfather fought in.”

That fascination with history further underlines Coley’s natural habitat being the byways of this rather large nation. Professional musicians aren’t typically known for putting down roots anyway, hopping as they do from one town to another—including Annapolis, where Coley will be at the Rams Head On Stage August 29.

Coley may be best known for “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” the 1976 soft rock hit he recorded with Dan Seals, aka England Dan. The tune climbed to No. 2 on the pop charts, and remains a staple of the Yacht Rock sound. (Seals died in 2009.)

You’d better believe you’ll hear it August 29.

“We seriously just go down memory lane,” said Coley of his shows. “We laugh. I tell stories.  Nothing political, nothing controversial. We just laugh.”

Coley shares that for his only pre-covid gig at the Rams Head On Stage, he got trapped on a rather circuitous path through Annapolis as he searched for the venue he was co-headlining with Terry Sylvester from the Hollies. The GPS quit on him, and Coley found himself circling through Maryland’s capital city on a roundabout.

“I see a guy on a bus bench playing a dang banjo, and I thought, he’s gotta be local,” Coley said. “When I pulled up to ask him, he screamed at me: ‘Don’t quit now kid, you’re in second place!’”

Asked how he feels about his musical chops these days, Coley, 74, said he plays his instruments constantly, even though he admits his fingers might not be quite as fast. He recently hit the gas to meet up with his friend Danny Hutton after a Three Dog Night gig in Sedona, Arizona. Hutton, who turns 81 in September, told Coley he felt his own voice was better than any time in the past.

“Everybody knows that, especially at this age, you gotta keep going, you gotta keep practicing,” Coley said. “You can’t rest.  So I play all the time.”

Because Coley has been around rock n’ roll for so long, it’s little wonder he opted to share some of his adventures in a 2009 memoir, called “Backstage Pass.” Optimistically, he felt he’d get to 25 pages; eventually it published with 214—many of the same tales he shares on stage. Coley says a sequel book is in the works.

“I’ve got a friend I go antiquing with [who] is a big ’70s music fan,” he said, adding his bargain-hunting friend often dives into used record bins. “She said: ‘I can’t listen to these things anymore because you know the dirt on everybody!’”

One such artist who is no longer around to dispute Coley’s recollections is Eddie Money, with whom he seems to have enjoyed a friendly rivalry—even if Money once accidentally on purpose introduced Coley as the artist behind Seals & Crofts’ hit “Summer Breeze.”

“He just screwed with people. He [once] introduced me as ‘John “Flawed” Coley,’” he said of the “Take Me Home Tonight” singer, who passed away in 2019. “And then he goes, ‘Remember “Summer Breeze”?’  I thought, ‘Screw you, Eddie, you asshole!’

“Eddie was a really tough guy [but] we got to be good friends.”

Perhaps the road will provide Coley with more stories for his next tome. For in addition to learning the larger story of America, the musician says he travels to places that have played a significant role in his own ancestry, from Freehold, New Jersey, to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and Brazos, Texas. He hopes to eventually play a gig in each of them.

On the international front, he’s excited to return to Israel next year and eventually the Philippines if and when the Asian country loosens its vaccination restrictions. (Coley refuses the jab, a decision he says has cost him some friendships.)

Meantime, his bags are packed to come to our area, perhaps to even chase Edgar Allan Poe’s footsteps.

“It’s gonna be fun to come back to Annapolis. I remember the first time I played there, we opened for Bill Cosby…1977 I think,” he said. “I enjoy coming up to that area because [of] Civil War or War of 1812 history.”

He’ll have at least one clean T-shirt in reserve, Coley said, as well as medicines in his bag. Anything he forgets, be it guitar picks or capos, can be gotten on the road.

“It’s been a fun stroll, you know,” he said of his musical journey of over a half-century, both with England Dan and as a solo act. “I look at all the things that we were able to do, and I am excessively appreciative of the amount of time that we got to spend together.

“The fact that people like those songs, I’m very appreciative.”
John Ford Coley *plays the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis August 29. Tickets are available at RamsHeadOnStage.com. *

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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