July 21, 2021–When you go hear Gary Morris sing at The Rockbox Theater this Sunday, don’t forget to breathe.
“I played the Grand Ole Opry one time and got a note from a woman that said, sometimes when I listen to you, I forget to breathe,” the country music star said. “So I wrote a song called ‘I forget to breathe’ and people love it. It was like, whoa, thanks for the line.”
Morris first came to my attention in the 1970s. It wasn’t for his eight-years-pre-Bette-Midler mega-hit rendition of Wind Beneath My Wings. No, it was when I caught him singing a patriotic anthem for a televised Fourth of July celebration at the nation’s capitol during the Carter Administration. At a time when country music was stocked with twangy vocalists bearing first names like Ernest, Conway, Buck, and Hank, Gary Morris stood out with his unaffected clear tenor voice.
I wasn’t the only one to notice. Broadway called.
“I was on the road and a Warner Brothers producer out of LA kept saying Linda Ronstadt is doing this opera (La Boheme) and you’d be perfect,” Morris said. “They set up three auditions and I passed on them. Finally, my keyboard player, who is actually a trained sight reader, taught me the aria at the back of my bus while traveling. In New York I took him with me and we sang for a houseful of guys with their arms crossed saying why are they bringing this hillbilly up to sing. Three days later, they said, congratulations, you’re Rodolfo.”
Amazingly, Morris was not trained in opera, nor had ever heard an opera.
“I didn’t even want to do La Boheme. To this day, I’ve seen only two operas, and I was in them both.”
The other opera was Les Misérables, in which Morris sang the role of Jean Valjean, earning a Grammy Award for the cast album.
Morris has never had a vocal lesson in his life. Like so many musicians who grew up in the south, Morris found his voice singing with family in a Baptist church.
Morris never thought he would earn a living in the music business. He was a four-sport athlete in high school and earned an athletic scholarship to Cisco Junior College.
He was the last one in his circle to believe he would ever perform on Broadway, let alone run up a string of hits including Headed for a Heartache, Why Lady Why, Baby Bye Bye, 100% Chance of Rain, Leave Me Lonely, and Makin’ Up for Lost Time (with Crystal Gayle).
After a forced hiatus that hit all live entertainment last year, Morris is again touring. And it’s not because he has to. It’s because he wants to.
During a recent swing he finished a gig outside of Nashville, flew to Dallas where he had parked his truck, performed at Granbury, then drove back to his home in Colorado. He likes to sleep in three-hour spurts, and is usually up by five every morning.
At his Fredericksburg show, Morris will perform solo with three guitars with different tunings. He loves the freedom of being able to do what he wants to do.
“Doing opera was a really great experience. But I’m not ever going to be in a place where I have to hit a mark at a certain time. I tell the sound engineer my guitar is an orchestra; my voice is a choir. I know what I’m going to open with, and I know what I’m going to close with. Other than that, I’ll take some requests, and that leads me in my mind to another song.”
He hopes his Texas fans will come out for what may be the only chance to hear him perform live in these parts.
“They won’t ever hear what they can hear that night again. Hopefully people will be intellectually stimulated, and they might even be spiritually moved.”
Just remember to breathe.
Gary Morris will perform on Sunday, July 25, 7:00 p.m., at The Rockbox Theater, 109 North Llano St, Fredericksburg. Tickets are $30 and $60 and available at www.rockboxtheater.com.