there anything blues guitarist Laurie Morvan can't do?"
Finish a degree in electrical engineering at the University
of Illinois? Check.
At the same time, study and earn at the Institute of Aviation
her private, commercial, instrument and multi-engine pilot's
Walk onto the UI volleyball team, eventually win a full-ride
scholarship and wind up being voted the team's MVP as well
as winning two major awards for scholar-athletes? Check.
Become one of the leading blues guitarist in California
now on the verge of a national career, who writes and sings
her own songs in a voice compared by at least one critic
to Christine McVie's of Fleetwood Mac? Check.
Morvan doesn't consider herself extraordinary. "I
just get interested in things, and I go do them. I don't
feel there are ever limitations. I just go do them,"
she said last week in a telephone interview from her home
in Lakewood, Calif.
One of her latest things to do: Her first tour of the Midwest
with the Laurie Morvan Band, which performs Sunday evening
at the Highdive in Champaign. Her parents from Plainfield
will be there, and so will 50 coaches from the Illini summer
volleyball camp, among them UI head coach Don Hardin. He
heard Morvan, then Laurie Watters, strum her acoustic guitar
more than 20 years ago when she was a middle hitter on the
team he helped coach.
"Her playing back in the '80s was nothing like what
she does now," Hardin said. "That was for fun.
She's in another zone now. In this "zone," Morvan
and the Laurie Morvan Band are racking up the awards. After
competing against more than 230 other groups, her group
was named the "2008 Blues Artist on the Rise"
by Blues Festival Guide magazine. It was a finalist in the
2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Its latest
CD, "Cures What Ails Ya," was a finalist for the
2008 Best Self-Produced CD.
In addition, the Laurie Morvan Band was selected to be
on the "Best of Southland Blues" compilation CD
of Southern California blues bands. And two years earlier,
Morvan was named Female Artist of the Year by Blues Marketing
Network, a Southern California group of blues music insiders
She's getting good press as well from guitar magazines,
which comment on her distinctive sound, which she describes
as a little cleaner than most blues guitarists, with chicken
picking and clear, ringing tones. The critics also describe
her style as exhilarating and Morvan as a complete performer
who takes her music seriously.
Hardin said Morvan's rise has been far from effortless.
"She's had quite a life, and she's earned it all the
way," he said. She has not only self-produced her CDs
under her Screaming Lizard label, but also arranged dates
and tours and done all the promotions.
Hardin calls Morvan a rare individual who is able to harness
her energy into positive directions while at the same time
lifting up everyone around her. The 47-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist
comes from what she calls humble beginnings in rural Plainfield
near Joliet. Morvan says her mother and stepfather were
great parents, though, and she had a really good high school
guidance counselor as well. He noticed she was good in math
and science and suggested engineering as a career.
At the same time, college volleyball coaches were expressing
interest in Morvan, who played the sport in high school.
She didn't pursue that avenue, figuring that as an electrical
engineering major she would have no time to play. Once she
arrived at the UI, though, she realized she missed athletics.
She also realized she needed money for her education.
During her sophomore year, she asked Hardin, then an assistant
coach to Mike Hebert, whether they needed more players.
For the rest of that year, she practiced with the team.
At the end, she was offered a full-ride scholarship. She
began playing officially in the third of her five years
at the UI.
Hardin called her a tremendous athlete who helped turn
around the then-foundering program. The team voted Morvan
most valuable player. She also won, from the Alumni Association,
the George Huff Award, given to outstanding scholar-athletes,
and the Department of Electrical Engineering A.R. Buck Knight
Award for scholarship and participation in student activities.
As for the guitar, Morvan had fallen in love with it when
she was 18. As soon as she learned three chords, she began
writing songs. And she took her acoustic to college and
on team travels. "If we were stuck at an airport because
our flight was delayed, my teammates would say, 'Laurie,
get out your guitar.' It really was an innocent, fun exploration
of the guitar," she said.
After graduating in 1984, Morvan headed to Los Angeles
and worked at an aerospace company, designing digital hardware
signs and test-set software. Realizing she wanted to be
a musician, she worked as an engineer by day and played
in cover bands by night.
After three years, she quit her day job to devote herself
full time to music, supplementing her income by teaching
math at the college level – after moving to California,
she earned a master's degree in applied mathematics. Along
the way, she married and later divorced Patrick Morvan,
now the bass player in the Laurie Morvan Band, which she
formed in 1994. Patrick Morvan's wife handles all the band
"We're a really happy band. We're like a little family,"
Laurie Morvan said. "We all care about each other and
go to each other's events and have dinner together. That's
one of the reasons people enjoy seeing the band. People
are always telling me, 'I can tell how much you guys like
Another reason listeners respond to the Morvan Band might
be that its frontwoman views the profession of music as
"Every minute I'm on stage is precious to me. It's
a real honor to share your music with people. It's the sharing
of the music and seeing people's reaction to it. It's huge.
It's a huge, wonderful thing to do in life."