When John Conlee takes the stage at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum at 7 p.m. Thursday, he won't be nearly as nervous as he was when he appeared at the old Executive Inn Rivermont in 1983.
Back then, his wife was about to go into labor at any time and he was worried that he would have to leave the stage and make a mad dash to Nashville.
Conlee is no stranger to Owensboro.
He performed at the Big E nine times between 1980 and 2004, the Sportscenter in 1989 and Charley's Yellow Rose in 1990.
"I loved the Executive Inn," Conlee said in a recent telephone interview. "I still miss the place. It was a great place."
The hotel and its Showroom Lounge closed in 2008.
Conlee grew up on a farm near Versailles.
"My favorite singer back then was Ray Charles," he said. "He could sing the phone book and sell it. And people like George Jones and Merle Haggard and Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra. I liked them all."
When he was 9, Conlee went on stage for the first time at a school assembly.
"I was in the fourth grade," he said. "The song was 'Love Me Tender.' It was popular at the time. That's the most nervous I've ever been."
As an adult, Conlee worked as a mortician in central Kentucky for six years and was part of a trio that sang at 75 percent of the funerals there.
In 1971, he moved to Nashville as a rock DJ.
It was another seven years -- when he was 32 -- that Conlee finally hit the country charts with a song called "Rose Colored Glasses" -- a song that became his signature.
More hits followed -- "Friday Night Blues," "Backside of 30," "Common Man" and "I Don't Remember Loving You."
Thirty-two of his songs charted between 1978 and 2004.
Seven went to No. 1 on the country charts and 14 others were in the Top 10.
Could someone like him -- with a distinctive melancholy voice -- make it in Nashville today?
"I don't know," Conlee said. "Every once in a while, someone will sneak through and set the world on fire. I would love to see a new George Jones come along."
Growing up on a 200-acre tobacco farm, he still has farming in his blood.
Conlee owns the family farm near Versailles and has one in Tennessee.
"We don't grow row crops anymore," he said. "Just cattle. That's about it. Family farms aren't the norm anymore. Everything just gets bigger and bigger."
Cutting back on travel
Conlee turned 73 on Aug. 11.
He's cutting back on the days he spends on the road.
"The last two years, I did 80 shows," Conlee said. "This year, it's going to be closer to 60. And that's about right. The miles are a little harder than they used to be. I still want to perform, just not as much."
Owensboro, he said, "isn't far from Nashville. It's all home folks, Kentucky folks, there."
Conlee said, "I'll do the hits and some new stuff too. I'm working on a gospel album now."
He's been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1981.
Conlee had been scheduled to perform at the Hall of Fame on June 2.
But he had to cancel because of illness.
Tickets to Thursday night's show are $57 and $42 -- plus handling fees.
They are available at bluegrasshall.org.
"John represents a lot of the good things about classic country," Carly Smith, marketing director for the Hall of Fame, said of the performer. "He has a great voice and a long string of hits. He's a legend."
Although he isn't known for bluegrass, in 2015, Conlee recorded "Common Man," his 1983 country hit, bluegrass style with Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road.
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, email@example.com.