Meeting someone long-admired can be better than expected

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By Jeff D'Alessio

Early last month, I was able to meet someone I have long admired.

You know how sometimes you finally meet someone and they’re really nothing like you imagined? Many professional athletes — and even a lot of college athletes — are like that.

Some are just like you thought they would be.

Former University of Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch was as folksy in person in a crowded locker room as he appeared with a TV camera on him after throwing for four touchdowns.

For many, their egos get in the way. Not with John Ford Coley.

Being 12 days shy of turning 53, I grew up with the music of England Dan and John Ford Coley. Their ballads are many that I have held onto for years.

So when Coley performed April 6 at the Historic State Theater in Elizabethtown, it was a real thrill for me. Heck, we could have landed the Beatles in their heyday and I still would rather sit and listen to music and stories from John Ford Coley.

A fan for more than three decades, I first came in contact with the man when he sent me an email after he received a Google alert. I had written a column about the kind of music that teenagers listen to these days compared to my youth and I, of course, mentioned the hit-making duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley as some of the best I have listened to.

When my email inbox opened a day or so after that column and there appeared an email from someone with the last name of Coley, I just about passed out.

And so a relationship began. Over the years, we often have exchanged emails and we became friends on Facebook.

I read articles about him over the years and really felt like I knew him.

So when my wife and I headed to the concert he performed with Roxie Dean and Byron Hill, I knew there was something I could check off my bucket list: I wanted to hear his music live.

It was even better than I could have imagined. You see, Coley is a history buff and his family has deep roots here. After we parked our car, I looked over and saw this guy taking photos of an old church downtown with a Boston Red Sox hat on.

I told my wife, “I think that’s John Ford Coley.” Sure enough, it was.
I walked over to him, extended my hand and told him who I was. Shoot, we almost hugged it out.

The neat thing was he acted like he had known me for years and I returned the easiness. We talked, I introduced him to my wife, he tipped his cap like a Texas gentleman would, and we decided to extend the conversation after the show.

When I was 19 and trying to decide after a year off from high school to either put my savings into a black Trans-Am or attend college in the United States, I played England Dan and John Ford Coley’s 1979 hit “Love Is The Answer” over and over again, day after day, trying to decide.

Why? I’m not sure really. There are no lyrics about a car or an education in the song.

But it is a song I was clinging to that summer and still do today, soon-to-be 34 years later.

We did talk after the show. I told him what a thrill it was for me to finally meet him and to talk with him. We talked about his travels and religion and his late partner, England Dan Seals, who died in 2009 from cancer.

Really, John Ford Coley wasn’t as I imagined him — he was even better.

Jeff D’Alessio is news editor at The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1757 or jdalessio@thenewsenterprise.com.