I was one of the millions of overly-sensitive American children of the Seventies who loved England Dan and John Ford Coley, much as our older brothers and sisters had loved Seals & Crofts -- the even bigger mellow duo that included Dan's older brother Jim Seals. For me, England Dan and John Ford Coley were an extremely pleasant, easy listening step along the path to many edgier musical delights. I still love "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" and secretly prefer the duo's slick version of "Love Is the Answer" to the original version by Todd Rundgren, one of my heroes. I even remember being thrilled that they had a cool, country rock song called "New Jersey." Still, I think England Dan and John Ford Coley were the kind of pop act that doesn't get the credit they deserved -- or any at all, really -- because they existed in some strange, commercially successful yet utterly hip-free zone despite making a lot of actual people happy.
Eventually, I lost touch with this soft rock childhood passion until a few years ago when I was in Nashville working on the CMA Music Festival, a fantastic annual event for country music fans that evolved out what was long known as Fan Fair. Most of the biggest acts in country play the Festival in Nashville's giant LP Field, the massive home of the Titans, but there are other great smaller performances around Music City including shows held right across the Cumberland River at Riverfront Park. One day a few years back, I found out that Dan Seals and Jim Seals were playing a free concert there in the middle of the afternoon, and so I snuck out of a production meeting and rushed across the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge and happily took my place on the grass with maybe a couple of hundred other England Danheads.
For the next hour of so, the Brothers Seals and a top-notch band -- including the legendary session sax player Jim Horn -- played a picture perfect set of Seals & Crofts, England Dan and John Ford Coley and Dan Seals country hits. Here were two guys with dozens of hits between them playing and singing their hearts for a couple hundred fans on blankets and giving it everything they had. It wasn't remotely hip, or hot, or cool, but it was some kind of wonderful.
England Dan, I know it's no longer possible, but rest in peace knowing that at least one aging rock critic would really love to see you tonight.
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