Before we get into the story about my new album, “Sense of Pride,” let me give you a little of my background so you can understand where I am as an American citizen, regarding our military.
I did not serve in the United States Armed Forces. In 1969, I was in the very first lottery. I drew number 12, which meant I was going to Vietnam. I was assigned a date for a physical. I went to the physical. The Master Sergeant examined me and told me I had to go to a doctor for the next four weeks. “You have high blood pressure.” I believe I had high blood pressure because I was engaged to be married, and the thought of leaving my new bride and going to Vietnam, coupled with the risks involved in serving there, caused my blood pressure to go way up.
Since I was not able to serve, I made a commitment at that time to do what I could for active servicemen and women. I did my first USO tour in the 1970’s. I cannot count how many times I have performed for our servicemen and women on ships, in the White House, with the Air Force Reserve Band, the Marine Corp. Band, the Army Band, with the USO in the Far East, on the lawn of the White House and at other events in Washington D.C. and around the country.
But it was one special performance that really made me start thinking about what performing and honoring servicemen and women truly meant.
After the Gulf War, there was a “Welcome Back the Troops” special recorded at Andrews Air Force Base and aired on CBS Television. A song was written for me to sing called “The Last Full Measure of Devotion.” I believe you can google it.
I closed the show that night, with that song. During the last verse of the song, on live TV, they scrolled the names of the soldiers killed in the Gulf War across my face.
When I had a chance to actually watch a recording of the show, I immediately asked myself the question, “How can I do things for the guys that come back?” That became a mission of mine, to serve our soldiers when they returned home.
My first involvement was with an organization that worked with families of veterans who did not make it back. I worked for several years helping raise funds and awareness for the organization called TAPS, founded by Bonnie Carroll. Their mission was to provide grief counseling for family members who have lost a loved one at war. I’ve performed at many fund-raising events for veterans, hosted fund-raising golf tournaments, and hosted veterans with PTSD at my ranch in Colorado for therapeutic, immersive fly fishing trips.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Sense of Pride”?
I’m at the point in my music career where the material that I write, record and perform, is my personal statement, as opposed to simply looking for a hit song or a hit record.
“Sense of Pride” is a story about how I came to be. My dad was at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, when he met my mom at a VFW dance. Shortly after they met, dad shipped off to Germany. They sent love letters back and forth across the miles for the entire time he was overseas. When he came back, mom and dad were married.
My dad’ s generation was a different generation. They did not talk about the war, but they thought about the war. When he was getting up in years, he handed me a white box. I opened it and found dad’s Bronze Star from his service in Germany. I had no idea dad had a Bronze Star. He had never told me. And that day, he just said, matter of factly “I just thought you might want to have this.”
This song is about my mom and dad’s story. But the last line is universal. “We have to learn how to be kind, before we are out of time.”
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
There was not a singular event, but as I started writing songs for this album, that one seemed like the most important piece of business. It was the one I wanted the focus of the album to be on.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
I am planning on doing a live performance video that will be available on YouTube, but I do not have plans to do a produced video. The concert video will, however, have some pictures of my mom and dad and me as a baby.
Why name the album after this song in particular?
Before I released the record, I played a demo of the song for four veterans that I had out to my ranch in Colorado for therapeutic fly fishing. All had been wounded in combat. I put on a demo of the song and asked them what they thought. One had tears in his eyes, one said “That’s a lot for me to get my head around.” They all responded with tremendous approval and emotion. I thought at the time, “this needs to be the focus of this project.”
How was the recording and writing process?
I was in a duck blind in New Zealand with a co-writer, Jeff Ray. I just started spewing this stuff about my mom and dad. Jeff said, “Wait a minute, let me turn my phone on. We don’t want to lose this.” And it kept coming to me, the difference in my dad’s generation and the current generation. After we left the duck blind, we went back to Jeff’s house to his demo studio and put it down as a demo, along with another song called “Paint Me A River.”
Most of my writing I do alone, at least 80-90 percent complete. Then I gather with someone and say “Hey, lets finish this.” It’s just the process that I do now.
With a career spanning almost four decades – is it easy for you to reinvent yourself with each new material?
David Bowie reinvented himself. His music and his brand. I’ve just grown gracefully bolder and my journey is just what my journey is. I’m not about inventing or reinventing myself. I’m about continuing on this path. My Momma told me when I was a little boy, “Gary, it’s like you are in a jar. Don’t ever let anyone put a lid on you.” My career has taken me to Nashville, to Broadway, around the country and the world. Music is my passion.
You’ve also gotten to work and write with other people – do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than working on your own?
Collaborative projects combine two or more people’s points of view, so they are often different than sitting down alone. Both parties bring something to the song and to the experience. It’s different than just scratching one off by yourself.
The “Sense of Pride” record, each song started with a guitar and voice. My co-producer, Michael Bonagura, who also engineered the record, is a great guitarist and artist in his own right. We spent time getting each song right for me and for him.
I was lucky enough to sing a duet with his tremendously talented daughter Alyssa Bonagura, (one-half of the powerful duo “Sisterhood”) and also with Michael’s wife Kathy Baillie, of Baillie & The Boys.
You’ve also done some Broadway in your career – how does your acting background influences your music and the other way around?
I’m not an actor. I did Les Miserables and played the role of Jean ValJean. It was a perfect role that did not require dramatic skills. The music was so real, and so dramatically written, that what I had to do was interpret the songs. It just required being in the moment and in the music.
What aspect of war and pride did you get to explore on this record?
Back in the day of my father, there was a real sense of pride associated with the guys who suited up and went to fight the Nazi regime, a war that meant something and made America the super power of the day. War today is different. At the end of the song “Sense of Pride,” my lyrics say “Headline news all war is lost.” I toyed around the that line. But kept it in, because we all know war is a no-win, each war, someone loses. And then it says, “Who decides the cost?” In today’s world, the soldiers are fighting outside of the awareness of the public, for the most part. America has not participated en masse in the war effort. Women have not gone to work in factories to make uniforms and airplanes like they did during my mom and dad’s generation. We live a relatively safe and normal life when there are people out fighting and dying for our freedom.
I hope, I pray that comes through in the song “Sense of Pride.”
This being your most personal record to date – was it easy for you to open up this way?
It is my most personal record to date, and it’s not a record about love and lost loves. It’s just a record of my vision of the truth. “Sense of Pride” is. “In My Dreams is. “I’m in Church” is. All songs on the record. All very personal. And I don’t object to the public knowing these things about me. For me, there is a difference in personal and private.
Did you have any second thoughts throughout the writing and brainstorming process?
I have this philosophy that it’s okay to be over. I take that into the studio, I take it when I’m writing. When I say I’m finished, I’m finished. Without question, there is an opportunity to do it over and over, but I ‘m done. And it’s finished. No real second guessing myself.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I was told when I signed with Warner Bros. “Don’t’ tell anyone you’re an outdoorsman. That is not the case now. Many artists are also avid outdoorsmen and women. On this new record, my song “I’m in Church” is about being an outdoorsman. It’s not about killing a bigger deer, or elk, for me now, it’s about the solitude. “I’m in Church” starts with turkey season, then fly fishing, then the mountains of Colorado, where live, and goes through all four seasons. When it’s almost over, it’s starting again.
A friend of mine in Georgia was talking to his friend who is a Kayaker. He asked him, “How do you spend so much time kayaking.” To which the friend replied, “It’s my church.”
It’s not sacrilegious. It’s about communing with nature and experiencing solitude and reflection.
There are a world of people who feel the same way.
Any plans to hit the road?
I never stopped hitting the road. I’m leaving in two days for Texas for dates before Christmas.
What else is happening next in Gary Morris’ world?
I’m currently doing something brand new for me. I’m doing a Gary Morris podcast. I’m doing this because i want it to be educational for people who want a career in music, film, TV or on the stage. The first podcasts or two have started out by me telling my story, which is actually much like other people’s stories. Along the way, there are interviews with other people sharing their stories, and encouraging artists in all stages of their careers to press on and live their dreams.
The Podcast is also a way for me to clear out my mind and maybe deal with winning and losing at things. It’s a way for me to accentuate the positive, which is where I am now. I think the most important thing about my podcast is to let people know if you are doing music at whatever level, local, regional, making records., then make it a joyful experience. The same with acting and writing, If you are making a living, then enjoy it.