Coley was born John Edward Colley in Dallas, Texas, United States. He grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, early rock and roll, singing church hymns and was trained as a classical pianist. At 16, while at W. W. Samuell High School in Dallas, Coley, along with schoolmate Dan Seals, joined the group Theze Few, which later became Southwest F.O.B. and toured the Texas music scene where they had one hit, "The Smell of Incense", which in 1969 rose to number 43 on the charts. This band played on the bill with Led Zeppelin and other acts.