By Steve ElliottSeptember 2, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- With a perspective borne from personal experience, longtime country artist John Conlee and his band stopped by the Warrior and Family Support Center Aug. 27 to say thanks to those serving in the military.
"We want to thank these people for their service and sacrifice," Conlee said. "I was in the Kentucky Army National Guard in the Vietnam era in 1973. While I did not go to Vietnam, I remember the treatment of our veterans during that era. It was sorry and sad.
"This country has learned a lesson since then, or at least I hope it has," Conlee added. "I just want to do everything I can to keep that feeling alive. What happened before was wrong, but we can make it up to our veterans today."
Conlee has also seen the military on a more personal note through the eyes of his son.
"My son, Johnny, went in the Marines in 2004," Conlee said. "He went to Fallujah in Iraq twice and was injured and was awarded the Purple Heart. That was the genesis for me to pay much more attention to what is going on."
Born and raised on a tobacco farm in Versailles, Ky., Conlee took up the guitar as a child, performing on local radio at age 10. He went on to sing with the town barbershop chorus, but didn't initially pursue music as a career, instead becoming a licensed mortician. He also worked as a disc jockey at numerous area radio stations, and moved to Nashville in 1971.
Five years later, his demo tape landed him a contract with ABC. He released a few singles, but didn't find fame until 1978's "Rose Colored Glasses," a song he'd co-written with a newsman at his radio station, rocketed into the country Top Five.
He has released 29 singles since 1978, with 26 of them charting in the top 20 or better. Eight of those 26 have reached the No. 1 spot on the national country charts.
Conlee said his songs are about the lives of everyday middle class, hardworking people, and those who've been unable to attain even that level of economic ease. "There are more of us ordinary folks than anybody else," Conlee said.
Conlee is also known to be generous with his time, and when music superstars Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp announced plans for the Farm Aid concerts back in 1985, Conlee called and offered his services. He has since helped organize and entertain at nine Farm Aid concerts, which have raised millions of dollars to aid the family farmer.
He has also raised more than $140,000 for Feed the Children - one dollar at a time - for the charity from the dollar bills tossed on the stage when he sings his 1983 hit version of "Busted."
"I've also been working with Terry Johnson at ShowofSupport.org and I've also had several friends who have been patients at (Brooke Army Medical Center) BAMC," Conlee said of his WFSC visit. "We ended up with a day off here in San Antonio between shows and I had some different contacts help us put this together so we could come and visit."
ShowofSupport.org is an organization in Midland, Texas, created by Johnson in 2004 to demonstrate public support for military members by providing outdoor opportunities to those injured in service to the nation. The nonprofit organization also looks to bring public awareness to the outdoor sports of hunting and fishing, respect for natural resources, and the care and preservation of those resources.
"I've been concentrating on the wounded warriors in general the past several years," said Conlee, who recently released a DVD titled "They Also Serve." The DVD is a tribute to the Family and friends of those serving in the armed forces, and it portrays the lives of Families and friends dealing with loved ones affected by current U.S. military actions.
"Their sacrifice now is so great," Conlee said. "Back in the 70s, there was a draft. Now this is an all-volunteer military, and that makes even more of a difference."
Conlee and his band performed six of his hit songs, signed autographs and posed for pictures with Soldiers and WFSC staff. They also took a tour or the facility and surrounding grounds and each of them were very impressed on what has been provided for the wounded warriors and their Families.
"This is such a beautiful facility," Conlee said. "I hope they can bring places like this to other military bases."
Touring is a way of life for Conlee, a member of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry since 1981, who said he's been on the road for more than 30 years, although most of it now on weekends.
"I spend all of my off time, what I have of it, with my family on our farm outside Nashville," he said. "I enjoy it. There's no glamour to it. Woodworking, gunsmithing or driving a tractor require getting grease or varnish all over you. It's dirty work, but I like it."