Saturday night, John Conlee will be gracing the stage of Renfro Valley Entertainment Center’s New Barn Stage. Just a short drive down the road, you can view his rose colored glasses on display at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, where John Conlee is also a member of. Recently, John sat down with me for a conversation on his hometown roots of Versailles, as well as his song, “Walking Behind the Star.”
Versailles has changed somewhat over the years, but slow on growth. What is one of your favorite memories of growing up in Versailles, Kentucky?
I loved that Versailles was a small town, even smaller of course when I was growing up. It was always a bedroom community for Lexington, but it seems to be growing together like so many other areas between the two towns. I can remember when the population was a couple of thousand. I’d say now it closer to 8,000 or 9,000. I still have a farm up that way. I go up there every few weeks and check up on things. I still consider it home, but I also consider Tennessee home. I’ve been here since ’72.
When was your first public performance?
I remember my first public performance publicly was “Love Me Tender.” I did it for the whole assembly program for the elementary school in 3rd grade. It was also the most nervous I’ve ever been.
How would you best define music of Kentucky to someone outside of the state?
It runs the gamete. Music of Kentucky, of course, rooted solidly in what we called country and bluegrass. Very few states can claim people who founded a whole style of music like Kentucky can in the case of bluegrass and Bill Monroe. We worked in Powderly, Kentucky, the home of Merle Travis, the Everly Brothers, and James Best. Kentucky has contributed so much to various formats of music. We can be proud of that. Kentucky has a rich heritage in music.
One of the neat things about the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, it honors anyone that has made a mark in music, no matter what form it is. It isn’t just about country or bluegrass.
With your song, “Walking Behind the Star,” you honor our nation’s police force. Do you think we honor those behind the badge as much as we should?
We forget – it’s a busy world. Now more than ever, people are so distracted by their iphones, ipads, all the little gadgets we carry around. It’s amazing to go to a place to eat and look around and everyone is staring at a little box in their hands. So, we get too distracted by things that don’t really matter. One of those things you can see that is easy to forget is the sacrifice of and the way the police put themselves on the line every day. They do a lot of great things that don’t get covered. If there is a bump in the road and it looks like they abused someone, boy that makes the headlines in a heartbeat. In many cases, it turns out to not be true. When they save somebody in a fire, or a wreck, or whatever, a lot of times that doesn’t get noticed. We need to remind ourselves that they are our line of defense between total anarchy and peace. Thank God for them. That’s why we did this song.
What I’m discovering, so many people have a connection family wise, either presently or in the past, to law enforcement. They’ve got a cousin, a brother, uncle, or someone that use to or is currently a police officer. I think it will touch a lot of people.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.