Everything's Gonna Be Alright, Johnny Lee's first collection of new recordings since 2016, serves as more than a trip back to the crossover-friendly country music made prominent in the early '80s by the John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy. The Feb. 12 release also reminds us that well-written songs about dim lights, thick smoke, loud music, hope and family always connect with country fans, with or without mainstream buzz.
Though it was written before "social distancing" became part of the vernacular, the title track connects as if it's specifically about our current situation.
"I started writing that song a couple of years ago, before I knew everything was going to go crazy," Lee says. "I met Tony Ramey. We were playing a job in Fort Worth somewhere, and he came to my bus. I said, 'Tony, what do you think of this?' He loved it, so he made up a couple of verses on the spot."
The Lee and Ramey co-write offers folks in trying circumstances hope for a better tomorrow.
"It's really touched a lot of peoples' lives," Lee adds. "I've heard from some friends of mine. One girl said it made her cry because she lost her sister and needed to hear a song like this."
"I heard Lee Ann Womack sing it on some TV show, and it made me cry," Lee says of "Take Me Back to Texas." "It really moved me. So I found out they weren't going to release it on her, so I said, 'Well heck, I'm going to do this song.' I thought it should've been in Lonesome Dove. It's just one of those songs. It made my mother cry when she heard it. Great song, great song."
Throwbacks that sound like they're from some other decade include the hilarious "If You Drive Your Husband to Drinkin' (Drive Him Here)."
Nelson plays guitar on an album cut Lee wrote with the Red Headed Stranger in mind, "Did You Enjoy Hurting Me." Another nod to old friends comes in Lee's cover of the first country song he ever learned, the Jack Greene hit "Statue of a Fool."
The album closes on a tender note, courtesy of Lee's daughter with Dallas star Charlene Tilton, Cherish.
"My daughter did a song on there, 'Father's Daughter'," Lee says. "Every time I'm mad at her, I listen to that song and I'm not mad at her anymore."
Of course, it's impossible to separate Lee's current or future music from the career boost he and longtime friend Mickey Gilley received from Urban Cowboy.
"Me and Mickey had been working our butts off forever, and I figured it'd either catapult our careers up 10 years or set us back," Lee says. "Fortunately, it catapulted us up."
"I was singing 'Cherokee Fiddle' the night (Urban Cowboy co-producer) Irving Azoff first heard me," Lee recalls. "He came up to me on a break and said, 'Hey man, do you want to sing in a movie?' I said, 'Sure, as soon as I finish this watermelon.' I didn't know who the hell Irving Azoff was."
Shortly after agreeing to take part in the film, Lee found himself in a hotel room filled with boxes of cassette tape demos of potential soundtrack cuts.
"It must've been meant to be because within the first 10 songs I pulled out, 'Lookin' for Love'," Lee says. "Wow. I couldn't believe I didn't write it myself. I recorded it, and the rest is history, man."
"Lookin' For Love" became one of Lee's five No. 1 hits between 1980-'84: with the others being "One in a Million," "Bet Your Heart on Me," "The Yellow Rose" (with Lane Brody) and "You Could've Heard a Heartbreak." Lee also found country chart success with "Country Party," "Hey Bartender," "Pickin' Up Strangers," "Rollin' Lonely," "Prisoner of Hope," "Sounds Like Love" and other hit singles that still help draw crowds when Lee comes to Branson, Missouri and other live music meccas.