After nearly two years full of ups and downs, country music hitmaker Johnny Lee will return to his adopted hometown of Branson next week when he takes the stage at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre alongside the reunited Shenandoah.
“I’m really looking forward to playing Branson again,” Lee said. “I have a lot of friends who live there and I’ve been great friends with the guys in Shenandoah for a long time.
“Plus, I still love to perform.”
Lee was born in Texas City, Texas, and began pursuing a career in music immediately after returning home from Vietnam in 1968. Soon after, he began a working relationship with Mickey Gilley, both on the road and in the nightclub in Pasadena, Texas.
He was then asked to perform in the film “Urban Cowboy,” which starred John Travolta and Deborah Winger, and for which he also recorded several songs used in the soundtrack. “Lookin’ for Love” became his signature hit and first Gold Record, spending three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Music Singles chart and reached as high as No. 2 on Billboard’s Pop Music Singles Charts. He followed that with “One In A Million,” “Bet Your Heart On Me,” “The Yellow Rose” and “Cherokee Fiddle.”
Lee became a fixture in Branson in the 1990s, but found himself playing more dates on the road and less in Branson as time progressed.
“I hate to say it, but when you’re in town all the time folks kind of take that for granted,” he said. “They can come and see you whenever they want, so the need to go isn’t there.”
Last year, Lee moved back to Texas shortly before the loss of his son, Johnny Lee Jr., to a drug overdose at age 23. Lee said there isn’t a day that goes by he doesn’t mourn.
“I’m OK, you know,” the somber Lee said. “The loss of my son is something I’ll have to deal with every day for the rest of my life.”
While the death of his son was tragic, Lee said he is committed to making sure something positive can come from it.
“I’ve been talking to Barbara Fairchild and we’d like to get together and do something to make a difference in the lives of some of the kids around the area,” Lee said. “There are drug epidemics in every town and it is a terrible thing for a parent to have to go through.”
Lee said he also plans to meet with Mayor Karen Best to discuss several ideas, including helping the Branson Police Department get a drug dog.
“Whatever we can do to get any drugs off the street, I’m all for it.” Lee said.
As far as his Branson performance, Lee said he is looking forward to seeing many of his old friends and fans.
“I do all my hit songs because that’s what the people come to see. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have those hit songs, and that people still come out to see me. People don’t get to hear good old country music anymore and we’re happy to play it for them.”
Lee also said having a fan base hungry for country music and a career that spans nearly 40 years has opened the door for new generations of fans to enjoy his music.
“It used to be a beautiful girl would come up to me and say, ‘Boy, my mother sure does like you,’” he said. “But nowadays, it’s ‘Boy, my grandmother sure does like you.’
“I love it, and I get a big kick out of it.”
Lee said he will do a meet-and-greet with fans after the show.
“Mickey Gilley and I have always posed for pictures and signed autographs and we always will do it,” he said. “That’s how we’ve built our fan base, by taking time out for the hard-working people who paid their money to come out and see us.”
“I’m going to go out there and give it my best. I’m going to have a good time and entertain every butt that’s in those seats.”
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