Johnny Lee on Modern Country: “I Don’t Even Listen To That Crap.”
Johnny Lee was one of country music’s biggest stars in the early 80’s, amassing five #1 hits, twelve Top 10’s, and was the singer of one of the era’s most iconic songs, “Lookin’ For Love” made famous by the movie Urban Cowboy. The movie was inspired and filmed at the club of Johnny Lee’s good friend, Mickey Gilley.
The two country legends are currently out on tour together, and ahead of an appearance near Pittsburgh, Johnny Lee talked to Broadway of Y108 about some of the biggest topics in country music, including what’s been happening with so many pop stars crossing over to country, and if Johnny follows the charts.
“Heck no. I don’t even listen to that crap,” Johnny Lee responded. “People that like guys like me and Mickey Gilley, and Conway Twitty or anybody like that, George Jones, I feel like they got the music taken away from them, with them not having a voice in it.”
Johnny Lee spoke about the monogenre as well, where no matter what station you turn to, all the music sounds the same, and how it’s the record companies, not always radio, that is helping to edge older artists out.
“Mainstream radio, they’re in competition with one another,” Lee said. “You can listen to what they’re playing, switch over to another major station in the area, and their playlist is gonna be pretty much the same. Even the time of day they play the records. And the record companies, if they’re supplying the radio station with their music, with their new artists, they don’t want them playing any older stuff, because it takes a slot away from the newer stuff. So my understanding is they’ve got them a ‘Well, you play ball with us, or we won’t service you.'”
Like so many older stars, Johnny Lee got edged out of country as his career matured. By the time the “Class of ’89” showed up with artists like Garth Brooks and Clint Black, Lee could no longer be found on the charts. But he also admits he can’t complain too loud.
“Who am I to judge? My records crossed over. ‘Lookin’ For Love’ crossed over … They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do … I don’t listen to the new stuff. Music has been changing every since music started. So it’s going to change, and who am I to judge? I’m busy with my music, and busy on the road with Mickey Gilley, and we’ve had nothing but sold out shows. So they can do whatever they want to do.”
You can listen to the full interview below. To check out Johnny Lee’s upcoming tour dates, CLICK HERE.
King Honky Of Crackershire
May 14, 2018 @ 7:51 am
Johnny Lee and I share the same philosophy apparently.
May 14, 2018 @ 7:55 am
I like Johnny Lee even more now. It’s going to take a collective effort from the elderstatesmen/women and the younger crowd with integrity to change country back to being country.
May 14, 2018 @ 8:36 am
I’ve always like Cherokee fiddle.
May 14, 2018 @ 8:58 am
I Totally agree Johnny Lee. I only listen to Golden Classic Country. 50’s. 60’s. 70’s. This crap today is NOT COUNTRY …. ITS MORE LIKE POP MUSIC …. CALLING IT COUNTRY POP. I love George strait Alan Jackson .. They feel the same way … About the so called country music Today. We have very few of good ole real Country Musi Left … Its sad Thank God for Records and CDs and Classic country music channels.
May 14, 2018 @ 10:13 pm
You spell and define this so called country rap in one word . It is spelled capital ” C r a p ” !! Johnny Lee is as country as turnips and sweet taters and has a voice like pure gold !
May 14, 2018 @ 8:59 am
I met Johnny in Nashville once. A real nice guy.
May 14, 2018 @ 9:03 am
Johnny Lee had some good ones, but you were edged out by superstars and legends, not a shift of change in music. The artists in the late 80s early 90s basically Out-Countried the incumbent artisits. Wish I could say the same today.
May 14, 2018 @ 9:06 am
It’s true that he crossed over, but he crossed over with a country song. He didn’t write a pop song that was played on both pop and country radio with purpose of making as much money as possible in both genres. And it’s true that in the ‘Urban Cowboy’ 70’s/early 80’s the pop world was fascinated by country. That’s fine with me. It’s the country world fascinated by pop that I have a problem with.
May 17, 2018 @ 7:31 am
Craig, I agree! What a find interesting is that in the past pop, country, r&b, gospel, etc have influenced each other, but they stayed in their respective genres. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were huge Beatles’ fans, and vice versa. George Harrison copied a lot of Don Rich’s guitar licks, and those licks were inspired by Ray Charles’ piano playing. Country can be influenced by other genres, and still sound blatantly country. And this is the problem that we are facing with modern country.
May 17, 2018 @ 8:17 am
What I find, sorry
May 14, 2018 @ 9:24 am
Although some may criticize Urban Cowboy as ruining country music, I disagree. Folks like Johnny, Micky Gilley and Charlie Daniels all got massive exposure thanks to it. Johnny had a decent voice, good stage presence and some excellent songs that fit perfectly at the time. He was never gonna be George Strait but he managed to make a respectable career in country music. Glad he’s getting a nod on this blog. Folks like him don’t get mentioned much these days. And yes he’s spot on about radio. In my area our country stations avoid oldies like the plague.
May 14, 2018 @ 9:35 am
I met Johnny Lee just last week in Tucumcari NM it was a great concert at a very small venue… still didn’t miss a beat at 71
May 14, 2018 @ 9:58 am
It seems like the only way to find an oldies country station is online or on the am radio dial in my perspective.
May 14, 2018 @ 10:33 am
Johnny Lee is 72 years old and Mickey Gilley is 82.And they still have sold out shows. At this age most of today’s biggest stars will be forgotten,
May 14, 2018 @ 11:53 am
The question is whether Keith Urban will sing about Teenage girls at the age of 65 +
Hum… oh wait! Steven Tyler did already with his epic fail country Album! ahahaha
May 14, 2018 @ 12:06 pm
I certainly agree that most of today’s country “stars” will be forgotten — or, at best, the butt of a joke. While no music is timeless in the literal sense, there is a type of music that reaches beyond its time/place and resonates across generations. That will not be Kane Brown or Sam Hunt or Keith Midlife-Crisis Urban, I can guarantee that.
But I’m curious about the venues that Johnny and Mickey are selling out. My guess is that they are fairly small. It’s not like they’re attracting anywhere close to what the big names in mainstream country are attracting. So, “sold out” is relative, of course.
May 14, 2018 @ 11:21 am
Today’s pop/crossover/ ACR/hick-hop is garbage. I’ll make this simple. St. Hank, St. Lefty. Brother Waylon, Sister Tammy and Deacon George. There’s a good start
May 14, 2018 @ 11:25 am
I’ll say, as old as he sounds, it seems to me that he still might be a tad clueless in regards to the actual country artists that are selling records today- the ones talked about on here. Not just the mainstream people that sound nothing like country. These past two Saturdays I went to two types of country shows not far from me. I went to Sunny Sweeney’s, Ward Davis’s, and Tennessee Jet’s show the previous Saturday, and then the following Saturday I went to a big corp radio station hosted country concert starring Billy Currington with some disgraced Disney-signed bad band that opened up for the night that did covers of mostly old pop songs and mainstream country songs. I can say that the fans at the Sweeney/Davis show were so loyal and kind for the most part, and just loved their country music–while the attendees at the big corp show were so rude, pushy and when Currington and Scotty McCreery (who was also there) both decided to at least sing covers of some of yesteryear’s country songs, the crowd didn’t even cheer or know when to sing along–But when the radio station decided to blast “Meant to Be” on the speakers between sets, the audience was so loud as they sang to every word. I don’t even know why I would have attended the latter show, probably because I figured Currington and McCreery would at least deliver in some manner. So what I’m getting at is one loyal crowd VS one gullible crowd is what I recognized between enjoyers of country music VS followers of the mainstream. Thanks for reading folks. I just felt like I had to say that upon reading Johnny Lee’s comments on the established VS the gullible. It’s sad how I don’t remember the mainstream fans acting that way in the past, and it’s clear how most of them are just pop turned “country radio” fans who don’t like any of what country music actually is.
May 14, 2018 @ 11:39 am
Wow! Chilling stuff to hear. I wouldn’t be caught dead at a Currington show, but that’s really sad to hear just the same.
It really is coming down to two very distinctly different audiences, the pop country zombies with a disdain for country music versus the rest of us who love it, the real stuff.
Interestingly, I attended a Steel Woods show the other night and they play some covers by John Anderson, Waylon, Haggard and Jones , only half the crowd seemed to recognize the songs. The others had no idea they were hearing classic country.
May 14, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Yeah it is sad. Especially how both Currington and McCreery told the crowd that they were hearing classic country songs, to of which the crowd courteously cheered and screamed when they said that, but when they did as little as covering Hank Jr and Conway Twitty while also allowing for some dobro and steel guitar solos, to of which Currington said “you don’t hear these too much these days on the radio”, the crowd didn’t as much give a damn until they heard either of them sing their newer stuff as well as hearing things blasted that are both purposefully hip hop or mainstream pop, and they were all ears and sang to their hearts’ contents. Definitely not the brightest of people as a whole other crowd of them (maybe 20 folks) were jaywalking after the show away from the venue pretty closer to the freeway ramp when the light before was already green for me.
May 14, 2018 @ 5:37 pm
This comment is spot on.
I was dissappointed with Currington also a few years ago when he played Top 40 covers to finish off his show. I left early.
The bit about classic country is so true it hurts. An artist can always get fans cheering by asking them if they like the old stuff but than when they play well-known classic songs you don’t hear a thing because nobody there knows any classic songs.
May 14, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Billy Currington has a great voice in my opinion. People are crazy and Good directions are two very good country songs. It’s too bad he went and chase trend and release crappy songs like most others. I didn’t listen to his albums but the “singles” that I have heard recently are nowhere near the quality of those two songs.
May 14, 2018 @ 12:07 pm
I like his older work, and luckily he performed them on the show as they were supposed to sound. Total trend chaser yes–especially bad when the artists even slip it up or mention it at their shows.
May 14, 2018 @ 1:14 pm
Let’s hope he can get back to where he were. Paisley delivered a much better album than the horrible moonshine in the trunk. This was beyond horrible for someone like him.
May 14, 2018 @ 12:51 pm
it’s clear how most of them are just pop turned “country radio” fans who don’t like any of what country music actually is.
Yep. I have made the observation that fans of mainstream “country” music don’t really give a damn about any music that was made before about 2010.
May 14, 2018 @ 12:31 pm
Just think Blake Shelton said we all dumb
May 14, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for the junk music that’s coming out now. But I am an old man
May 18, 2018 @ 2:49 pm
what’s a plug nickel
May 14, 2018 @ 2:09 pm
To be fair though, Lee was pretty pop country for his time
May 14, 2018 @ 2:40 pm
What we have now is POP/EDM/ROCK/RAP-“country” .
Tom Petty said in 2013 (there is an article on SCM): “Bad rock with a fiddle”.
Call the “Urban Cowboy” & early to mid-80’s sound country-pop or pop-country…the roots were still intact & younger artists knew who paved the way.
May 14, 2018 @ 3:37 pm
Yes, especially lyrically. If you go back and listen to stuff from that era the music might be poppier but the subject matter and lyrics are still firmly in the country genre. Now nothing is really rooted in the country genre.
May 14, 2018 @ 2:25 pm
It’s like the new listeners are settlers into the country genre, bringing their own preferences and culture, with no intention to assimilate. They’ve taken the genre over and don’t give a hoot about what came before. I began listening to country 27 years ago beginning with Clint Black and then proceeded into the genre from there. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the new listeners.
May 14, 2018 @ 7:32 pm
Yup. I understand why people point to the Class of ’89 as the beginning of the end, but Clint Black and Alan Jackson both made no secret of their admiration of the folks that came before them. The best way I know to put the difference between the way it was then and the way it is now is this:
Back in the late 1990s, mainstream country music was Alan Jackson covering Jim Ed Brown and Charley Pride and talking about how much he loved George Strait and Merle Haggard. Today, mainstream “country” “music” is Thomas Rhett ripping off Sam Cooke and War (on the same fucking album, even!) and talking about how much he loves Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake.
May 14, 2018 @ 2:31 pm
I know I am in the minority here, but continuing to compare everyone to George Jones, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty is the equivalent to comparing rock music to Elvis, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Each genre evolves with each passing decade. Am I happy that Top 40 on the pop stations are filled with a bunch of pretty Taylor Swift-type girls and Justin Bieber wannabes? NO! But I do not compare current pop to my favorite era, 1980s, of Journey and Bon Jovi.
There are a lot of people in classic country HATED the Urban Cowboy era, which produced a soundtrack of Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee, Anne Murray and Kenny Rogers. Once the Class of 1989 singers came, Mickey, Johnny and Anne virtually disappeared.
I would love to have another crop of “Class of 1989” like Clint Black and Alan Jackson. But, I am a realist. I pick and choose who I like and if I don’t like what I am hearing, I change the channel.
Corporate radio is killing mainstream music. How many times are we supposed to hear Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line before we say “enough is enough?” Nothing against those singers, but I heard Jason Aldean’s new song last week on three country stations at the same time. I understand it is a popular song, but how will women or other acts ever break if the same stations play the same song EVERY hour?
May 14, 2018 @ 3:34 pm
I think we all know how often REAL country singers and acts have said what Johnny Lee said . Its just that for most of them its bad for business to say it publicly . Guys who’ve been at it as long as JL don’t give a damn . They call it like they see it ( like Merle did )
If ONE person visits this site and ‘ gets it ‘ from honest comments , reviews , interviews , opinions , experiences and such….. its worthwhile . That MIGHT just be the one person/artist with enough respect for authenticity ( and intelligence ) to understand that she isn’t alone in that respect and her disdain for folks who display lack of same . I’ve mentioned here before how some of my young music students and my own son find the shallowness of contemporary mainstream country absolutely laughable once they’ve heard the real thing .
In fact several of my students were aggressively pursuing a ‘ country music ‘ career as a duo ( trips to Nashville , writing sessions , expensive demo sessions , interviews with labels etc) when ‘ the light ‘ went on for them and they switched tracks . They detested what passes for country music and what the industry expected them to write /record . They’ve since landed a deal here in Canada and have TOTAL artistic control with the ‘contemporary rootsy ‘ sound Nashville wanted them to ‘ adjust ‘ .
Of course since then we’ve heard Stapleton , Miranda , Ashley , Kacey and others ignore the flavour of the week radio stuff to follow their own respective artistic visions with considerable success .
But yeah …wouldn’t it be terrific to hear a half dozen ‘Johnny Lees’ a week calling that shit what it is ?
May 14, 2018 @ 3:46 pm
Johnny’s the real deal. He recorded four of my tunes on his latest Album, including the title cut “Never Been to Texas,” and we’ve had many conversations about what “wrong” with Country Music…Mostly “what’s wrong” is there aren’t enough folks talkin about what’s right with it…
May 14, 2018 @ 6:28 pm
4 cuts ….congrats tony
May 14, 2018 @ 4:12 pm
He’s actually right about the stations having similar playlists. There’s 3 major country stations in my part of town. One day I tuned into one and it had some Jake Owen song playing. I flipped to the next one. Same song. I thought the 3rd station would be my saving grace, but it also had the same damn song playing! Ridiculous! Funny thing is I waited about an hour and tuned back in and all 3 stations were playing Small Town Boy by Dustin Lynch. You’d think they’d try to outcompete each other, but it seems like whatever station has the least static will be the one that gets the most plays.
I’ve also noticed that the one iHeart radio station out of those 3 actually speeds up their songs by like 2 or 3 bpm. I thought it was crazy but I guess it gets more plays? It actually made Kane Brown’s voice easier on the ears though.
May 15, 2018 @ 3:45 am
They play the “newest” (worst) country song. Just like a pop station playing the same top 10 song the whole day.
99% of the time they will play EDM Hip hop “country song” with predictable fake beat and predictable lyric.
May 14, 2018 @ 6:07 pm
Not sure why we are talking about this when Carrie Underwood is apparently still not comfortable with her grotesque injuries. Does Johnny have an opinion on the lack of females on Country Radio?
May 14, 2018 @ 10:14 pm
May 14, 2018 @ 7:49 pm
Hank 3 ,Wayne the Train Hancock, the Dead South, Trampled by Turtles
May 14, 2018 @ 8:20 pm
need some johnny lee for my broadcast library.
May 15, 2018 @ 10:10 am
Cody Jinks, Whitey Morgan, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapelton…it’s out there, it’s just not on the radio. The radio sucks anyway though. I don’t want to hear talking and commercials, only music. Amazon Prime Music, Pandora (subscription), or buy the music and make playlists (mix tapes). The Nashville scene has always sucked. Just ask Waylon. I was 10 when Urban Cowboy came out, and my Mom played the soundtrack over and over, and I am still lookin for love in all the wrong places.
May 15, 2018 @ 1:31 pm
Just in case anyone was won
May 15, 2018 @ 4:28 pm
I’ll never forgive Johnny for wooing Charlene Tiltin away from me.. I waa so close
May 15, 2018 @ 4:30 pm
Tilton..was. you get the picture
May 18, 2018 @ 4:33 pm
What is a plug nickel it is like a washer with a hole in it can’t buy anything with it so what is new country music I really don’t know you can have it I’m not gonna have any more of this stuff anymore thanks
KATHY G FISHER
June 18, 2018 @ 5:54 pm
I attended the urban cowboy reunion show in Pennsyvania, I enjoyed every bit the crowd enjoyed and the hospitality of both Mickey and Johnny after the show was a great appriciated extra to the show. Hope when I take a friend to Branson they will be ther I will see them again.