After almost four decades, one of country music's oldest voices is still touring strong and recording new music.
In May 1978, John Conlee's first hit song, "Rose Colored Glasses" hit at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Country chart. It was the title track to his debut album, which ended up with two No. 1 hits, "Lady Lay Down" and "Backside of Thirty."
Since that hot start, Conlee has continued to tour and record, producing 11 studio albums and nine compilation albums. His 1983 album, "In My Eyes," hit No. 9 on the U.S. Country Billboard charts. Conlee has had seven billboard No. 1 hits spanning his career. He was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1981.
Conlee's journey began in his hometown of Versailles, Ky., with gospel music - which he has always infused into his country music.
"I think most of us, particularly in country, started singing in church," Conlee said. "Singing out of the hymn book. That is true for me. The first music I was exposed to was in my home church in Kentucky. I grew up singing in the choir."
He did not immediately pursue a career in music. It was a hobby to begin with. He became a licensed mortician and a DJ at his local radio station. But in 1971, he moved to Nashville to follow his passion for music. He signed with ABC Records in 1976 at age 30.
In recent years, Conlee released three albums that mixed newer material with hits. "Classics" was released in 2000, followed by "Classics 2" in 2015, with "Classics 3" set to be released this year. He continues to tour, citing song selection as a key to his longevity in an ever-evolving music industry.
"People still want to hear me," Conlee said. "My voice has held up very well. It's stronger than ever and it's more fun to sing than ever. As long as that's true, I don't plan on not doing this.
"We are always very picky about finding songs that had something to say; that had meat on their bones, as I like to say it. I think that's made all the difference in the longevity.
"Much of what they're doing now doesn't interest me," Conlee continued. "There's only so much you can say about a pick-up truck. I love them. I have two or three of them. The same ol' subject with no melody, or not enough melody to suit me a lot of times. I just care more about the songs."
Gospel has always been present with Conlee, and over the years, he's shifted focus into recording and performing more faith-based music. The correlation between gospel and traditional country has its roots in a shared musical history, but for Conlee and others, it is more than that common musical DNA. For Conlee, 71, a shift in the culture has led him back to gospel music.
"When you look at the news for 25 seconds, you understand that the nation and our culture is in trouble," Conlee said. "We always try to reach for more meaning when those things occur. That's not a bad thing.
"The next project, I am going to start this year, is a second gospel CD. I've included faith-based music amongst all of our new music on our classic country series. It's the thing that I think about a lot. Again, back to the culture, the only hope is for us to turn back to God. I want to sing about that."
IF YOU GO
What: John Conlee
When: 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Feb. 25
Where: Mars Theatre, 109 S. Laurel St., Springfield
Info: johnconlee.com, marstheatre.com