SPRINGFIELD — Country music’s “Common Man” has uncommon staying power.
Forty years after he burst onto the scene with a lengthy string of hits, John Conlee is still relevant. His unique voice and penchant for selecting meaningful songs have kept him that way.
Conlee is set to play two shows at the Mars Theatre on Feb. 25.
“I am so blessed,” Conlee, 71, said during a recent telephone interview. “My voice has held up. In a lot of ways, it’s stronger than ever. It has mellowed a little bit.
“A lot of people are suggesting to me that I should record a lot of the hits in today’s voice.”
Conlee said he will quit performing if he can’t maintain his high standards.
“A lot of people start to go downhill,” he said. “I’ve given instructions to my wife and people close around me that if I start sounding bad — if I’m getting off key, off meter and all of that other stuff — to strap me in a chair at home. I tell them, ‘Don’t let my embarrass myself.”
Conlee’s career has been an embarrassment of riches.
Between 1978 and 2004, 32 of his songs reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
Seven hit No. 1, including “Common Man,” “In My Eyes,” “Lady Lay Down,” Backside of Thirty,” I’m Only in It for the Love,” “As Long as I’m Rockin’ with You” and “Got My Heart Set on You.”
Conlee has remained true to the lyrics of “Common Man.” He lives on a farm in Tennessee and still owns the Kentucky farm where he was raised.
“I’m sitting here talking to you in work clothes and brogans,” he said. “I do almost all the maintenance on my bus. It frustrates my wife because she will say, ‘Are you going to go to town looking like that?’
“That’s just me. It’s autobiographical and it’s accurate."
Conlee’s trademark song is “Rose-Colored Glasses,” his first hit. He is also known for “I Don’t Remember Loving You,” a tune about a man recovering from a breakdown after being rejected by the love of his life. It includes a facetious reference to crayons.
“There’s no telling how many boxes of crayons I’ve gotten over the years because of that song,” especially when it first came out,” Conlee said. “It was very convenient because my kids were little and coloring all the time.”
Conlee’s latest album, “Classics 3,” debuted Jan. 26 and is loaded with meaningful tunes. One is “Unborn Voice,” a song about abortion from a fetus’ perspective.
“I can’t wait for people to hear that song,” Conlee said. “In the coming weeks and months, I am anxious to see that people think of it. There are some other ones on there, too, that I am really proud of.”
Conlee and his band only recently started performing the “Classics 3” songs live.
“We’ve worked up one or two songs from the new album but we haven’t done ‘Unborn Voice’ live yet,” Conlee said. “I don’t know if we’ll have it ready by the time we get to Springfield but maybe we will. We will begin work on it right away.”
Conlee, still a regular at the Grand Ole Opry, has performed in gigantic stadiums but prefers settings like the Mars Theatre.
“You can be so much more personable in a smaller venue,” he said. “People can hear the music better and I think it’s a better experience for the fans and the artist. I much prefer that.”
Conlee usually devotes part of his shows to Q-and-A sessions.
“Sometimes those can be pretty funny, considering the questions you get,” he said. “Of course, I always hang round afterwards for autographs and to take pictures. That’s the thing that makes the shows different for me — the people I get to meet.”
Still, putting on a high-quality show remain’s Conlee’s top priority.
“We try to reproduce live what fans are used to hearing on the records,” he said. “It always frustrated me to hear somebody get to one of their hits and they’ve changed it all around so that it’s almost not recognizable. I don’t like that as a listener so I don’t do that as an artist.
“It’s the people that come to see us that make it different. We explore that all we can.”
Tickets for Conlee’s Mars Theatre shows at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. can be purchased at www.marstheatre.com, Springfield City Hall, the theatre box office or call 912-754-1118. The cost is $55 in advance and $60 on concert day.
On Monday, 11 seats remained for the early show and 51 were available for the late one.