Photographs by Courtesy photo
Johnny Lee became a household name thanks to the 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy," filmed at Mickey Gilley's club in Pasadena, Texas, where Lee regularly performed.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Johnny Lee dubs himself the "Original Urban Cowboy."
That cowboy performs Aug. 8 in Northwest Arkansas as part of the 120th annual Tontitown Grape Festival.
WHEN — 9 p.m. Aug. 8; the Grape Festival runs Aug. 7-11
WHERE — Tontitown Grape Festival
COST — Free
INFO — tontitowngrapefestival.com
Lee's rise to fame came with the Western craze started by the hit film "Urban Cowboy" in 1980. The Texas love story centered around Sissy and Bud's drinkin' and dancin', meetin' and marryin', fightin' and reunitin' at Gilley's Club in Pasadena, Texas -- where the film was shot. The world-famous honky tonk outside of Houston was owned by and named for Country Music Hall of Famer Mickey Gilley. At the time the movie was made, Lee was the headliner when Gilley wasn't singing.
"Urban Cowboy" went from the mud of the Texas oil fields to gold at the top of the charts with Lee, becoming the anthem of many heartbroken two-steppers with "Lookin' for Love." The song spent three weeks on the Billboard country music singles charts as No. 1 and No. 2.
Lee drilled more No. 1 hits, with "One in a Million" (1980); "Bet Your Heart on Me" (1981); and "You Could Have Heard a Heartbreak" (1984). His other major hits include "Pickin' Up Strangers," "Prisoner of Hope," "Cherokee Fiddle," "Sounds Like Love," "Hey Bartender," "Rollin' Lonely" and "Save the Last Chance."
Lee also wrote and performed the theme song for the 1980s NBC television series "The Yellow Rose." "The Yellow Rose of Texas" also went to No. 1.
"I love all my songs that's recorded," Lee says. "Except 'Sounds Like Love.' I don't know why I didn't like it, but it went to No. 1 anyway."
Today, Lee lives in Branson, Mo., and still plays with his old pal at the Mickey Gilley Theater in Branson and on the Urban Cowboy Reunion Tour.
"I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere in my life," Lee says. "My friends are here. My banker knows me."
A Texas Country Music Hall of Fame member, Lee's still making new music, most recently a 2016 release titled "Ain't Never Been to Texas," a collection of "songs I've written but never recorded." He also is the author of the 2017 autobiography, "Still Looking for Love," and a cookbook, "Chef Boy R Lee."
The 72-year-old thinks he has one more record in him before he starts "slowing down."
"Retire? Sh*t! 'Welcome to Walmart!'," Lee jokes, when asked about his future plans. "As long as people still come to see me, as long as I'm getting on and off the stage, I'll be singing some good country music. Me and Gilley have always taken care of our fans."
But Lee does admit he plans to stay closer to home during the Ozarks winter. "I'm tired of going places in the snow ... unless I want to."
Lee notes that every day is a weekend when he's not performing. But his mechanical work now is with a recliner -- not a bull. He says, however, that he doesn't find it hard to live on his past successes. "Tell me how many people from my era are still going," he says. "I'm blessed and thankful.
"Besides, I'm still looking for love. It don't hurt to look."
NAN What's Up on 08/05/2018
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