When he returned from serving in the Vietnam War, he was focused on being a highway patrolman for the state of California. He took all the tests needed to be certified and passed.
But he wasn’t satisfied.
“One night I decided to put my old self in the back of a Chevy and come back to Texas,” said Lee in an interview with Famousinterview.ca.
He found himself singing in a band at a club called Cedar Oaks in Dickinson, Texas. The owner told the band that his wife loved country music so they had to learn how to play it.
“Until I had a country hit, I was just a singer,” he said. “Then after I had some hits, they said well, now you’re a country singer.”
Born in Texas City, Texas in 1946, Lee has always had a passion for the pulsating beats of rock ‘n’ roll. Johnny Lee and the Roadrunners was his first band, formed in high school.
In 1968, he met country-singing legend Mickey Gilley. Lee soon began to headline as one of the main nightclub singers at Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, Texas.
Filming for the 1980 movie “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, was set at Gilley’s Club. Irving Azhoff of Dot Records had heard of Lee and asked him to pick three songs for the film. He already had one song in mind but had to find two more. He went to a hotel room and found thousands of songs in boxes. Within the first 15 to 20 songs, he found a demo tape for a song called “Lookin’ For Love.”
“I fell in love with (the song),” he said. “I couldn’t believe I didn’t write it myself. I changed the music up to it, recorded it — and the rest is history.”
The song was written by Patty Ryan and Wanda Millett, two elementary school teachers from Gulfport, Miss. They got the idea for the song from the second-graders they taught.
“Lookin’ For Love” was Lee’s biggest hit. It received upbeat feedback after being featured in “Urban Cowboy” and the song stayed at No. 1 on country Billboard charts for three weeks.
“You might also pinpoint this as the moment in time when ‘country’ music suddenly went cosmopolitan, paving the way for Garth Brooks,” said Bill Holdship, a music journalist in a review for Amazon.com.
“Lookin’ For Love” was one of the biggest country singles of the 1980s. The Recording Industry Association of America certified the song as gold for selling one million units.
Lee began touring, both headlining and collectively, with country bands worldwide. He performed with musicians like Alabama and Charlie Daniels in Germany, England and Ireland.
With five No. 1 hits under his rhinestone-studded belt, Lee feels God put him on this earth to be a country musician.
“Music is my life,” he said. “I’ve been doing it all my life. I’m so blessed to get to do it. “
Lee and his band decided to temporarily leave their homes in Branson, Miss., to go back on tour in 2008.
Lee can be seen Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.janugget.com.