Until very recently the only way to be a recording artist was to have a deal with a record label. No record deal, no recording. Even for acts with a hit or two, if sales slumped or the "suits" decided another act was a better investment, the label would pull the plug. No more record deal, no more career.
For that reason, back in the ’70s, no one would have blamed Dan Seals and John Coley if they’d been disheartened when A&M Records decided to cut them loose.
By the mid-1970s the label had released three albums by the duo — Texas friends since high school who were known professionally as England Dan & John Ford Coley. None had charted, though an early single, "New Jersey," reached No. 103 on Billboard’s "Bubbling Under" chart, a junior varsity version of the Hot 100. Another had done well in Japan and France. That was it.
The label decided to cut its losses. The duo wasn’t ready to quit, Coley recalled.
"We bolstered one another other up a lot. Dan would be down, I’d be up. I’d be down, Dan would be up. … Then also, we had a couple of people who believed in us," Coley said earlier this month, calling from his Tennessee home.
He and Seals found a song they liked, recorded a demo version and started shopping it around. The first label passed on it, but a rep from another thought it had potential.
The rep was right.
Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Cost: $53-$103 ($103 VIP ticket includes after-party and meet & greet
Info: 528-0506 or www.hawaiitheatre.com
The song, "I’d Really Love to See You Tonight," peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 and was certified "gold" with sales of more than 1 million copies.
The duo’s first album for the new label also went "gold" — among the other songs on it was "Nights Are Forever Without You," which was a Top 10 hit for them later that year.
The popularity of those songs and other Top 40 singles in the second half of the ’70s — including "Love Is the Answer," "It’s Sad to Belong" and "We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again" — gave England Dan and John Ford Coley a career in music. And the continuing affection of fans for Coley’s music is bringing him back to Honolulu for "Love Rocks!" tomorrow at the Hawaii Theatre.
COLEY is sharing the stage with fellow hit makers Benny Mardones of "Into the Night" fame and Joe Puerta, a founding member of Ambrosia. Angeli Callo, WT Greer and the J Michaels Band are also performing.
"I’m looking forward to coming to back to Hawaii and playing with those guys because we had such a good time last time," Coley said.
"Benny was great, a lot of fun (and) a great voice. I’ve worked with Joe and Ambrosia quite a bit, and I see J Michaels in Manila all the time."
"England Dan" Seals died last year, after a second act as a country-music performer, but Coley said he is working to keep their musical legacy alive.
Time hasn’t changed his affection for his ’70s hits, the performer said.
"The thing for me is that I truly just enjoy playing (those hits) all the time," he said. "I don’t try to attach a different meaning to them; I just pretty much let them be what they were."
That doesn’t stop other people from coming up with their personal interpretations of what the songs are about — and, in some cases, getting the lyrics wrong.
"Normally when I’m on stage, I joke a lot — (about) the thing with ‘Really Love to See You Tonight,’ for example. That lyric has been so messed up, and people are still trying to figure out what we’re saying, so I’ll joke with them about that."
It isn’t only fans who read things into the music. Coley says he recently recorded an acoustic version of the song, and afterward the producer told him he’d gotten the lyrics wrong.
"He said it’s ‘A warm wind blowing, the stars are out.’ I looked at him and I told him, ‘Trust me, it’s not. After 30 years of playing the song, trust me.’"
It’s actually been 34 years, and the duo’s hits continue to resonate. Coley will be leaving Honolulu on Sunday for concerts in the Philippines and Malaysia. He’ll then return to the Philippines to work on his next album, and from there return to the mainland, where he’ll work his way east from Nevada to the East Coast.
"Fortunately enough for me, I really enjoy traveling," he said. "I love going out and playing. I love going to see new people. I like going into places now because I’ve got more time. I’m a history fanatic, so to be able to go into Boston and spend three days instead of 22 hours and be able to walk around and see things means a lot."
The self-described fanatic has traced his ancestry back to a colonist who arrived at Jamestown in 1611, and also to another early Jamestown area resident, Richard Pace, who saved the colony from annihilation in 1622.
On another branch of his family tree, Coley is related to famed ’30s bank robber Homer Van Meter. ("If you’re a Van Meter, you’re my family," he said.)
"It’s fun to know this stuff. It gives you an idea of how deep your roots go," Coley continued.
Coley’s interest in history is about more than his ancestors in the United States. He’s also a keen student of Philippine history and has had friends there take him to historic sites in Manila and Bataan during his visits.
Looking ahead, Coley has a new CD on the way to join his book of career-related stories, "Backstage Pass," and a concert CD, "Live from the Philippines" — both currently available at www.johnfordcoley.com.
The upcoming release is a studio project that includes "songs that we had done previously but with more of an acoustic flare to them," he said.
"There’s also a couple of songs that I really like that I’ve wanted to do for a while, like ‘Leader of the Band’ by Dan Fogelberg … and a brand-new song that no one’s heard before called ‘Not for Me.’"
He is also recording "Sometimes When We Touch" with Philippine recording artist Ciara Sotto.