It’s hard to put Gary Morris in a category; he’s an artist that wears many hats.
Over the past 40 years I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many musicians, but I must admit, Gary is one of the most interesting artists I’ve ever spoken to.
He has literally done everything you can imagine in the music and entertainment business.
He called from Houston where he was preparing for his annual tour of New Zealand.
“I actually signed with Warner Brothers Music, which is their publishing division,” he explained, “before I actually signed with the record label.”
Our conversation started on this subject because his bio sheet pointed out that he’s one of the few artists that own their own music and publishing rights.
“Then I opened my own publishing company and at one time I had 13 writers signed up. Faith Hill was my secretary. One time I was guest hosting for Ralph Emory on his TV show and they asked which artist I wanted to have on the show that night. I took Faith Hill and it was her first time to be on TV. I had Victoria Shaw writing for me and she wrote ‘The River’ with Garth Brooks. I still have the publishing company and own all my records, except for my first, but I’m about to get it back, too.”
Morris is a prolific writer but may be best known for his recording of “Wind Beneath My Wings” from his hit 1983 album “Why Lady Why.”
Bette Midler recorded the song as well and took it to the top of the pop charts. After garnering huge success in country music, he tried his hand at acting and had regular appearances on General Hospital, The Colby’s, Designing Women and Mike Hammer.
“When I started my career,” Gary said, “I considered myself a country guy. I love to fish and hunt, so that’s where that comes from. After Nashville, I tried other things. I didn’t look at it like I was changing careers, I just looked at it like it was part of a journey. When my agent told me I should do some TV shows, I really wasn’t interested in it, but then The Colby’s came along so I tried it.”
Gary also hosted his own weekly outdoor show on TNN called The North American Sportsman which ran for five years.
“That show was before its time,” he explained. “There weren’t many shows like it on TV when I started it. It really wasn’t about killing something, it was the experience of being outdoors. I still run into people asking if I still shoot a long bow.”
In the mid 80s, Joseph Papp, one of the most influential producers in American theatre, handpicked Gary to star as Rodolfo along with Linda Ronstadt in the opera La Bohème.
Shortly after that he was asked by Sir Cameron Macintosh to take over the lead role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, becoming the first American singer to handle the challenging role.
It was a busy time for Morris, one he looks back on with a touch of disbelief. “I was touring, shooting episodes of The Colby’s, then being asked to perform on Broadway plus I had my outdoor TV show. It’s like having four different audiences. I was living in a small apartment on 30th street in New York while performing on Broadway. The theatre was on 52nd street and I was walking to it when an older lady stopped me and asked if I was that guy from The Colby’s. I said yes and she said I really like that show, so I thanked her. Then there was a guy on the street running a jackhammer and he says, ‘Hey man I really like your country music’ and I told him thank you very much. Before I got to the theatre, a guy in a suit stopped me and said he saw me in Les Misérables a few nights ago and really liked it. Then when I went to the airport a guy told me he saw my show where I shot a pheasant out of the air and that he loved my outdoor TV show. So it’s really weird. If you put all these people together they really wouldn’t have a lot in common.”
After such a busy career, Gary took some time off to relax at his ranch in Colorado, but the urge to perform and create is still there, so he now has the luxury to work and perform on his schedule. He credits his versatile career in part to his mom’s advice when he was young. “She always told me to never let anyone put a lid on me, to always feel free to try different things. I’m glad I took her advice. I think of my life as a journey rather than a career.”
You can experience Gary’s amazing vocal abilities on Saturday night, May 14, when he performs an intimate solo acoustic show at the Brauntex Theatre.