Gary Morris — Texan by the Grace of God

| June 2, 2018 | Reply

Story by Mary Jane Farmer, courtesy photos

“Texan by the Grace of God,” is how iconic singer Gary Morris describes himself, and spends as much time as his still-active career allows him to in Texas. And one of those gigs will happen at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 10, at Love & War in Texas, the Plano location. Morris starts at 5 p.m., with a as-yet unlisted musician or band opening at 4 p.m. Tickets are on sale now, go to LoveandWarinTexas.com

How that gig came about is a story both L&W owner Red Byboth and Morris told, with no variation in the telling.

“it was back in the early 80s,” Morris said. “I had a group of guy friends and together we went hunting in Colorado. There was one, a guy named John Richardson, a 9th-grader. He called me and said, ‘Hey, I wanna come and I have a buddy, we’ll drive his truck up.’ Good plan. But, it was a disastrous trip for them. They dropped the motor out of the truck. But they made it, and we hunted together for a week. That friend of John’s was Red.

“Then, we I learned that Love & War had a new owner and that new owner was named Red, I just had to call him up and see if it was the same one. It was, we had a great visit, and now this concert.”

Morris’ recorded twelve albums which spawned 16 Top 10 and five No.1 hit singles, including “Why Lady Why,” “The Love She Found in Me,” “Baby Bye Bye,” “100% Chance of Rain,” “Leave Me Lonely.” In 1984, his original rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings” won both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year Award. In 1982, he was also named Billboard’s “Male Artist of the Year.”  “Wind Beneath My Wings,” quickly a classic, has since been recorded by a couple of hundred other folks. Several versions of Morris singing that, and other, songs on YouTube.com In fact, so many are available on You Tube that a recent drive from Paris (Texas, silly — not Europe) back to Grayson County, was filled with Morris’ songs. A voice that never grows tiresome.

Morris grew up in North Richland Hills, and now lives on a ranch in Colorado. He uses that ranch not only for his own enjoyment, which includes a considerable amount of hunting and fly fishing on the river that runs through it; but also to help home-again military suffering from PTSD.  “I open the ranch to them, feed them and do that kind of stuff. They will fish in the river. That’s happened twice this year already, and there’s one more group coming later. Just let them relax a little bit.”

Morris talked a bit more about the returning military. “One of the hardest things I’ve done is to go to Walter Reed (hospital). They are wheeling guys with maybe one leg, maybe no arms, out onto the grounds, and they are making hot dogs over there. Their girlfriends, their wives help them. It’s hard to watch and to perform as well.”

Morris’ benevolence extends beyond hosting and entertaining the troops. On this trip to Texas, he’s performing at the First Christian Church of Paris’ 150-year anniversary, and playing for the “Here I Am” orphan ministries in Brenham, in between his regular gigs. Later in the year, he’s playing in Wyoming for a Wilford Brimley charity event called “Hands Across the Saddle.”

Now in his 4th decade as a professional performer, Morris is still busy, still recording, still songwriting. He is putting the final touches on his upcoming CD, which might be called A Sense of Pride after the song of the same name, but that’s not definite. If the mixing and mastering go as scheduled, the new project could be out as early as July 1.

“This record, for the record, is my personality, my own belief system. There’s some fine arts stuff in it, but it’s almost completely about the intimate details,” Morris said. “’I’m In Church’ is a  song is about… well, I am an avid hunter and fly fisherman and the song’s about nature and being close to God. And another song is called ‘Paint Me a River,’ It’s a 99 percent acoustic record, there’s a steel guitar on one track, maybe a little bit more added; but the rest is guitar and bass and mandolin. It’s a fun record.” Morris wrote all the songs on this new project.

Yeah, Morris had several country hits, “I signed (first) with Warner Brothers as a country artist. Country music was “moving back to a more traditional sound. People like Randy Travis, John Anderson, Ricky Skaggs were leading the pack.” He cut two albums, duo style, with Crystal Gayle on Warner Brothers. One song on that was Dave Loggins’ “Making Up For Lost Time.” Morris said it was Warner Brothers who saw what a dynamic duo he and Crystal Gayle would make. “That song was a top hit.”

Morris’ voice also fit well with pop music. He wasn’t, he said, too excited about that, “I didn’t think I had the slickness for that (genre).” But many of his recordings were, are, and could be classified as ‘pop-country’ of the 80s variety.

And, of course, it’s no secret that he also transitioned to perform English-lyrics operas on Broadway, and that was in the late 1980s, around 1987.

Gary Morris and Linda Ronstadt

Morris talked about his musical training, or rather his ‘limited’ musical training and just how he got into the opera. “My musical training came from singing in a Southern Baptist Church in North Richland Hills. I sang in the high school choir and also in college. I had a little trio and we made a record. Then I went to Colorado. That’s where Warner Brothers heard and signed me. After finishing up an album, not the first but later, he asked to take a few months break, time off. Warner Brothers first told him about the opera in New York. “That was in 1987, probably January or February. I said, ‘no way.’ I had no interest at all. They said I really needed to go do this. ‘They haven’t filled the lead role opposite Linda (Ronstadt).’ They set up a couple of try-outs and I cancelled them. Eventually, it was in September, I said ‘OK, I’ll go sing for them.’ I took my own keyboard player from my band and had to learn the songs. Went, performed, got back home. Three days later, they (Warner Brothers) said, ‘Congratulations, you’re in.’ Well, I knew I had to do this. I went to New York and learned the music and did the show. And really, it was fun. All the actors… well, none were opera singers.

“They were then casting for the next, and I was the first American to do that role. In my life, I have seen two operas and was in them both. It closed the door for me to play country and opened other doors.” Those two operas were Les Misérables and La Boheme.

Morris also remembered his 80s bands, but said, “Now I go out solo. Most of the time, I’m solo. Occasionally, I will have a band when I play theaters and performing arts centers up to 1,000 seats.”

Morris and a son, fly fishing.

On a personal level, Morris talked with pride of his four sons. “One of them, the next to older, was on the Micky Mouse Club with all those big stars. He went in the direction of songwriting and has become very good at it. My oldest is in Hawaii. One is in New York, and the youngest is home on spring break.

Fame has not jaded Morris. He is still in admiration of some of those around him. For instance, the late Minnie Pearl. “What an unbelievably wonderful, articulate human being, she was.” Like many, he first believed her to be the goofus she portrayed at the Grand Ol’ Opry. “Then, I was playing in a Nashville golf tournament here, and learned Minnie Pearl was going to talk.” He thought, he said, oh my, this is weird. “But then, when she got up to talk, the first thing she did was quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was great.”

Another of Morris’ upcoming endeavors is to host a women’s only fly fishing workshop. That will be July 1-7 at his Mountain Spirit Ranch. Those details and other information is on his Website:  GaryMorris.com

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Category: *- Features, Love & War in Texas

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