It has been many years since Johnny Lee has released an entire album of new material. Born in 1946 in Texas City, Texas, Johnny was a good journeyman county singer playing the honky-tonks of his native Texas, with moderate recording success for GRT records between 1976- 1978 with five charting singles, with Johnny’s “Country Party” (a country cover of Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party”) reaching #15. Along the way Johnny became friend with Mickey Gilley and worked Mickey Gilley, on tour and at Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, Texas. The soundtrack from the 1980 hit movie Urban Cowboy, which was largely shot at Gilley’s, catapulted Lee to fame. The record spawned several hit singles, including Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love.”
In addition to “Lookin’ for Love”, Lee had five songs reach the top of the Billboard country singles chart: “One In A Million” (1980), “Bet Your Heart On Me” (1981), “The Yellow Rose” (1984), and “You Could Have Heard A Heartbreak” (1984). His other major hits include “Pickin’ Up Strangers” (1981), “Prisoner of Hope” (1981), “Cherokee Fiddle”, “Sounds Like Love”, “Hey Bartender” (1983), “Rollin’ Lonely”, and “Save The Last Chance” (1985).
The top twenty hits ceased at the end of 1985 but Johnny had some additional smaller hits through 1989, at which point he disappeared from the charts. Johnny continued to tour and as his hit recordings fell out of print, we occasionally released new recordings of his older hits with some newer material mixed in.
Johnny’s new album has a decidedly country album with a few songs having a distinct western swing feel to it, with Mike Johnson & Scotty Sanders on steel guitar and Brent Mason on lead guitar and an unacknowledged fiddle player.
“Lonesome Love List” is an up-tempo western swing number written by Wil Nance, Ted Hewitt and Jerry Kilgore, that I think would make a good single.
Next up is the Rafe Van Hoy composition” What’s Forever For”, a song that Michael Martin Murphey took to #1 in 1982. Johnny Lee’s version compares favorably to Murphey’s version.
“Who’s Left, Who’s Right” is country ballad written by Bill White and Allen Ross. It’s a bit moralistic but still a nice country ballad.
“Deep Water” is a classic western swing number, written by Bob Wills and successfully covered many times by such classic singers as Carl Smith and Gene Watson. Buddy Hyatt plays some classic swing piano.
“Never Been To Texas” was written by Roger Springer Tony Raymee & Jerry Lane. The song extols the virtues of Texas. The song has a solid seventies-eighties production.
“Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” was a 1973 hit for the great Ray Price, Ray’s last #1 record. Johnny is not Ray Price but his version holds up well. The song was written by Jim Weatherly and later poached by Gladys Knight & The Pips who took it to #1 on the R&B charts.
“Good Lovin’ Woman Bad” was written by Bill White, Mark Morton and Gary Lloyd – it sounds like a song that could have been a hit in the mid-1980s.
“Wish That I Could Love That Way Again” was co-written by Johnny Lee and Tony Raymee, Johnny’s only writing credit on the album. If Brooks & Dunn ever reunite to record another album they should cover this song.
“2 Steps From The Blues”, written by Don D. Robey & John Riley Brown, finds Johnny invading T. Graham Brown territory, complete with horns.
Mel Besher and Bobby Taylor teamed up to write the nice ballad “Who Did You Love”.
“Bullets First” by Kelly Kerning and Tony Raymee is an anti-gun control song (“if you’re coming for my guns, I’ll give them to you bullets first”).
“Worth Watching” by Tony Raymee and Trey Matthew, recounts the moments in a life worth watching.
I would like this album more if Johnny had spent more time exploring western swing, but all of the cuts are country, all of the songs are good, and Johnny Lee is in good voice throughout.