Johnny Lee - You Ain’t Never Been To Texas

Self Released

I have to admit I’ve never been much of a fan of Johnny Lee and his music. He came to prominence in the early 1980s via the Urban Cowboy movie and the country-pop crossover smash Lookin’ For Love. Prior to that breakthrough, he had played the Texas honky-tonk scene for years, mainly ensconced at the legendary Gilley’s nightclub in Pasadena. He was a third division country singer with a pleasant, easy-going baritone, who happened to be in the right place at the right time to land a role in the hugely popular John Travolta movie. Over a short five-year period from 1980–85 he scored five number one country singles and another seven that hit the top ten. Just as rapidly as he made the top so he faded into relative obscurity.

He still tours regularly in the States, playing barrooms and oldies venues in Branson. This is his first album in ten years and at 70-years-old he has the kind of heartfelt, wizened voice that lots of veteran country vocalists have: It’s a warm, pull-up-a-barstool-and-I’ll-tell-you-a-story-of-heartbreak-my-friend kind of a voice. It’s most effective on Wish I Could Love That Way Again with his semi-spoken vocal being most appealing in an old-fashioned way. He also scores points with me for the western-swing styled Lonesome Love List with its nod to Ray Price and Bob Wills and a pleasant version of the latter’s Deep Water. Rafe VanHoy’s emotional What’s Forever For suffers in comparison to the far superior version by John Conlee. Of similar vintage is Jim Weatherly’s Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, given the full countrypolitan treatment with lush strings behind his slightly cracked voice that adds to the emotional impact.

 What’s Left, Who’s Right is somewhat preachy and disjointed, but many will really connect with the ‘heart’ in it. There’s no ‘heart’ in Bullets First, an obnoxious song that in less than three minutes sums up all that’s wrong with America’s attitude to human life. Its out-dated approach to the right to shoot first and ask questions afterwards, which smacks of the lawless society of the frontier days, should have no part to play in today’s world. This song and the title song blot what could and should have been a rather pleasant, if not exactly earth-shattering, trad-sounding country album.