Since country singer John Conlee debuted in 1978 with the Top 5 hit “Rose Colored Glasses,” he’s racked up 18 Top 10 country hits, including a string of four consecutive No. 1 records in 1983 and ’84.
But Conlee, a stout, mustachioed man whose wire-rimmed, rose-tinted glasses have become his trademark, looks less like a thriving country musician than a Southern farmer--and that’s exactly what he is when he’s not touring or recording.
He lives with his wife and three children, including a month-old son, on a 32-acre farm in Tennessee, and also owns and operates the 250-acre farm in Kentucky where he was raised and where his parents still live.
Not surprisingly then, he’s deeply concerned and directly involved with the plight of the American farmer, which was brought to national attention through last year’s Farm Aid benefit concert.
For Conlee, both as a musician and a farmer, the concert was a major success.
“An abundant number of people in urban areas weren’t aware that a crisis existed in agriculture,” Conlee said during a recent phone interview from Salt Lake City, where he was beginning a two-week tour that brings him to the Palomino tonight.
“So it helped just from the standpoint of getting the word out that there is trouble in rural America. And the proceeds from Farm Aid have helped a lot of farmers.
“But,” he added, “the long-term solution to the problem does not appear to be at hand.”
On the career level, Conlee’s facing another problem: Despite his solid showing on the charts and his reputation as a singer’s singer, he hasn’t achieved nearly the recognition of peers like Lee Greenwood, who has performed at the White House, or Gary Morris, who recently joined the cast of “Dynasty II: The Colbys.”
It’s not that the Kentucky-born Conlee wouldn’t like to have a higher profile, but he says there are things more important to him than fame.
“I’m not interested in being a TV star as such,” Conlee, 39, said. “Too many times they ask for sacrifices to benefit their show that don’t necessarily benefit what you do.”
In one major career move earlier this year, Conlee left MCA Records, where he had recorded for the last seven years, and signed with Columbia, which in February released his first single and album for the label, both titled “Harmony.”
The move wasn’t prompted by a decline in record sales, as so many label changes are--his last two MCA singles also were Top 10 hits--but because, he said, “in the last couple of years at MCA, I think the excitement had waned a bit.”
He’s gotten some excitement elsewhere, though. While Conlee offers the disclaimer that “awards are not a goal,” he’s a two-time nominee for the Country Music Assn.'s male vocalist of the year award, and the 1979 winner of that title from the West Coast-based Academy of Country Music.
“They felt good, and if nominated again I’d show up, and if I won another award I’d go get it,” Conlee said. “But if I was never nominated again, it wouldn’t matter as long as people still buy the records. To me, every hit single is an award.”
‘If I was never nominated again, it wouldn’t matter as long as people still buy the records. To me, every hit single is an award.’