Born John Lee Ham on July 3, 1946, in Texas City, Texas, Johnny Lee was raised on a dairy farm in Alta Loma, Texas. His main interest was rock 'n' roll, and he led a high school band, Johnny Lee and the Roadrunners. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, he worked through the '60s by playing cover tunes in Texas clubs and bars.
In 1968, he began a 10-year working relationship with Mickey Gilley, both on the road and at Gilley's nightclub in Pasadena, Texas. Recording for the ABC/Dot and GRT record labels, Lee charted his first single in 1975 with "Sometimes." Moderate chart success followed with "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "Country Party," the latter adding new lyrics to Rick Nelson's pop hit, "Garden Party."
He made an appearance in the 1979 television movie, The Girls in the Office but became a major star after being featured in another film -- Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger. Shot largely at Gilley's club, the 1980 box office hit spawned a series of hit singles. Lee became a primary beneficiary of the media attention surrounding the film and the soundtrack. His 1980 single, "Lookin' for Love," spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard country singles chart.