Country singer John Conlee is a guy rooted in consistency -- and it's always been that way. "Anybody who ever tried to get into a style change discussion I pretty much nipped pretty quickly," Conlee said, reflecting on his career during a recent phone interview.
The Kentucky-born artist saw his first major hit, “Rose Colored Glasses,” in 1978. It was followed by a string of No. 1 tunes through the ’80s. Among his other standouts? “Common Man,” “Miss Emily’s Picture” and “Friday Night Blues.” Conlee comes to Phenix City Sunday for a show he hopes will revisit as many of his 30 hits as possible.
He’ll be joined by “Little” Jimmy Dickens, a performer known for his country novelty songs and stature — he stands at less than 5 feet tall.
Both singers are Grand Ole Opry inductees.
Conlee said he follows the current era of country music only from a distance, adding that he sees promise in select artists like Brad Paisley.
But he also takes issue with a genre he said is increasingly “designed to catch the eye first.”
“They’re willing to bend themselves in whatever way it takes to make it happen,” Conlee said of some contemporary country stars. “I don’t hear the distinctive voices that I’d like to hear.”
The artist has long been a fan not only of country music, but also of genres like rhythm and blues. He names legends like BB King and Etta James among his favorites.
Among Conlee’s hits is “Busted,” a take on a tune that was a hit for Johnny Cash and Ray Charles in the ’60s.
In addition to its chart-topping power, Conlee’s version of “Busted” has raised more than $176,000 for Feed the Children. It’s a result of a tradition that began when concert goers once threw dollar bills on stage during the song.
The artist was in the Army National Guard, and his son is in the military as well. Conlee’s single, “They Also Serve,” is a tribute to military families.
Conlee, who most recently released his “Classics” CD, said there’s not a song he wishes he would have performed, or a topic he wishes he would have addressed.
“We’ve been blessed to find a lot of great songs,” he said.
That satisfaction doesn’t mean he’ll soon be leaving the country music scene, though.
“Retirement is not a word in my vocabulary,” Conlee said.