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Laurie Morvan brings her Long Beach bluesy sound north
Time Out Interview with Laurie on Feb 28th, 2017 by Bill Locey
While it's always better to drive north than south on a Friday in SoCal, a likely profane road trip will precede a sacred calling when the Laurie Morvan Band motors up the 405 from the Long Beach area to play the Hong Kong Inn in Ventura, the latest Hi Hat Entertainment adventure. Hopefully Morvan and her musical mates won't match or exceed Carl Sonny Leyland's three-and-a-half-hour road trip to make it to this same gig two weeks prior on that memorably rainy Friday.
While the blues biz — mostly to blame for rock 'n' roll — is never going to go away, things aren't as bluesy as they used to be as the number of venues has dwindled in inverse proportion to the enthusiasm of the blues musicians themselves and the miles they must drive. Morvan, one of the hardest working women in show biz, is much like our own guitar shredding local workaholic, Teresa Russell.
Morvan not only books the show, she runs the show, is the show and often even drives to the show and has an ever lengthening resume to show for all her activity. Her band has played all over the country, been to Europe and has played around 70 festivals, the bread-and-butter gigs for blues musicians.
While a Brian Wilson-approved "California Girl" these days, Morvan came from a small town in Illinois. She earned a degree in electrical engineering but has long since traded science and math for girl and guitar, but if anything breaks, she can probably fix it. Morvan discussed the latest during a recent phoner.
So, Laurie, what's the latest in your world?
Well, we're finally going to record a CD this year. Yay!
It's been a few years?
It's been a few years, yeah. A couple of years ago when I was getting ready to record, I fell and fractured my wrist, so my whole career flashed before my eyes, but thank heaven it's healed up. I had to have surgery back then about two and a half years ago and then I had to have a second surgery back in September, so now it's finally OK.
The wrist is a tough one to recover from, right?
Oh yeah, it is, but I worked real hard at the physical therapy and I was actually able to play. What was good was the way my wrist fractured. It was kind of a front to back motion, so the motion you make when you play a guitar – that still worked. In the scheme of things, I was very lucky; I mean, it's not lucky to fracture your arm, have two surgeries, a titanium plate and eight screws, but in the grand scheme of things, I was pretty lucky.
So can you still hitchhike if it comes to that?
Right. My thumb's working well again. So yeah, good to know I can still hitchhike.
What's the latest with the blues biz — bigger, smaller, the same?
We're always working. But it's hard when you don't have a new CD out, but we're fortunate in that people still love us hearing us play; you know, we're out there getting it done. We've been touring. We go to the Midwest every year and we've been to the Pacific Northwest a couple of times, and we've been all the way across to the East Coast a time or two, so we've been doing a lot of touring. But I think this summer we'll be sticking closer to home because I want to work on my CD.
So you've been out here a long time. Has it been long enough for you to have become a Brian Wilson California girl by now?
Oh, yeah, I love it here. I like to ride my bike and you can do that year around here. I grew up in the cold and snow of Illinois, and I love all my people back there, but I don't love the weather.
I was going to ask you what you missed the most, but now I don't have to.
I miss the people I love, but I have no desire to be in the cold and snow. I'm a California girl now.
My son and I drove through Illinois last summer and stopped to visit some of our Civil War relatives buried in a graveyard in Carlyle, so yeah – small town Illinois.
Yeah, that's me. I'm from a small town in Illinois, Plainfield, and doesn't that sound like a Midwestern town name?
It does. So what about you, the California girl, is still perhaps Midwestern?
Well, how would I answer that? Of course, my values were instilled in my growing up in the Midwest. I grew up in a family that worked really hard and loved each other. I always had a really good time with my cousins — all that stuff was good, you know, so I guess I carry all that forward with me. But boy, I love California! I mean, I love to go backpacking. I love outdoor stuff. California is such a rich place to be in terms of the environment — being in the mountains or at the beach or on the bike path.
What was it like in college? Were you the only girl studying electrical engineering?
Oh yeah, but it's very different now. Back in the day when I was doing it, there were definitely classes where I was the only girl. And the University of Illinois, depending on who you talk to, is the No. 1 or No. 2 electrical engineering school along with MIT, so there were people there from all over the world to study and the competition was intense and sometimes it would just be me and 50 guys in the classroom.
What's the connection between math and music? Should I have paid more attention in algebra?
I mean, there's math in music when you start looking at theory. Am I on the one chord? Am I on the four chord? Am I on the five chord? And even within that chord as you're building the chord, you do the 1-3-5 or you do the flat seven then it's the dominant, so what do you do? So there is the technical side of things, but when I'm playing music, I don't really think of it that way, you know, I'm kind of feeling it more. I'm not sure if it's your right side or your left side of your brain — the one that controls your creative side — but music uses all of that. It uses your creativity and it uses your logic and your listening because you're hearing your band mates and you're reacting to the crowd.
Is it hard to multi-task — play and sing at the same time?
I've always been able to play like, a really complicated line and sing on top of it. It's like the pat your head and rub your belly thing, and that's always been something I've been able to do. I seem to have a natural gift for that. I'm blessed that way.
Is that a problem for some people?
Yeah, I've heard some big name guitar players talk about that. "You know, I can't sing this line – I'll have to have the background singers sing that line while I play it or have the second guitarist sing it," but most musicians find a way to get it done.
Yes, they do. So what's the coolest place your music has taken you to?
You know, I actually did have that experience where I said, "Wow, this happened because I wrote a song." I got to go to the home studio of Grammy Award-winner George Duke, the great jazz pianist, because an engineer I was working with when I was recording a song called "Family Line," said, "You know, Laurie, you need a great piano player for this song — have you considered that I could ask George?" And I said, "No, I never would have considered that George Duke would want to play on one of my songs." He said, "Don't get your hopes up because George is very picky, but I'll ask him." So he asked him and a few days later, he called me up because George had said yes, so we got to go to his home studio, his home, and record. I met his wife and they were just so sweet. We got to sit and talk about the music — they were just so nice. They never made me feel small. He has passed now and that's a tragedy for the music world because George Duke was a genius.
Wow, what a nice story. So since there's fewer blues clubs these days, I would assume that would mean more driving, yes?
You're right about that. For us, we don't have a lot of venues right here in our home turf in SoCal — here in the Long Beach and Orange County area — so it feels like we're driving all the time for the shows.
So then this Ventura show is more or less a home game?
Yeah, so driving 90 or 100 miles to Ventura is like doing a home gig. And the Ventura fans are awesome, I have to say. They're so nice out there. They always embrace us and we always have a really good time with them, and I love working with Jan and Jerry McWhorter. They've always been such professional and nice people and they're great to work with.
Speaking of professional, are you still the one-woman corporation that does everything?
Yeah, I look forward to the day when we've grown so much that I have to hand off the business to somebody. I dream of that day, Bill.
People see you on stage rocking out and having fun for two hours, but the other 22 hours, that's the work part.
Yeah, exactly, I had this conversation with someone not too long ago and they saw our show and they know that we travel all over the U.S. and it was like, "Wow, how are you getting all those shows?" And it's like, "Well, you've got to sit at your computer and your phone eight hours a day and – bam – you book a tour," but it's day after day after day after day. They didn't want to hear that part.
No, tell me about the fun part again.
Yeah, right. The business part with fewer and fewer venues is getting more challenging and touring costs keep rising. Hotels are just ridiculous. It's crazy. It's hard. Thank heavens that gas isn't too bad these days...
That's right. What records did you wear out when you were a kid?
Yeah, there were a couple of bands for me. Heart — remember the band Heart? Now that was a band where I had a ton of their records, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I had to listen to Heart every single day. I wouldn't go to bed at night until I had listened to at least a side of an album.
Yeah, and another one I listened to a lot back in the day was Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." I played it so much that I had to buy it again because I wore out the grooves in the record.
Did you get to see them over the years?
I've seen Heart but I've never seen Elton John live. That would be fun. I'm sure he's still a great show. Later on when I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan, I just had to listen and listen and listen because he was very inspirational.
Do you remember your first gig?
The short answer is no, but I was in a whole bunch of different bands as you are in the beginning of your career and they were cover bands. They were all cover bands back then and, you know, just playing little local bars. I was living in Redondo Beach so we would play in Hawthorne, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach — all those places, just little funky dive bars, any place that would have us.
That's the paying your dues part?
Yeah, and it was fun and I learned a lot from being in those bands, I really did. I eventually got in a Top 40 band that traveled – this was in the late '80s, early '90s – and you would play five nights a week just in one club. From Tuesday to Saturday you played every night in the same venue and then you moved on to another place and played there five nights. Those days are gone – long gone.
What was your favorite gig? So you're up there and it's hitting on all cylinders and you're thinking, "I'm so glad I'm in this band and I'm so glad I quit my day job."
We've had some really good ones – a number of festivals we've played have just been really special. I love – underline love – I love playing festivals. The biggest festival we've ever done is the Thunder Bay Blues Festival in Canada and we played for about 6,000 people, so that was the biggest show I've ever done. We also played the Coloma Blues Festival up in NorCal right next to the American River. We do a lot of shows in the Sacramento area. And a festival, even if it's big, can feel very intimate when you kinda win everybody over to your side.
Yeah, Coachella was cool when it started but now, it's getting to be too big with too much aggravation.
You know, I've never been to Coachella.
I've been to the last 10. This year might be my last or last year was my last. OK, so one more vague easy one: What's the best and worst thing about being a musician?
Well, the best thing for me is that I love interacting with people and I love the synergy of a live show. You're up there playing your heart out and you kind of give in to the music if you will and you're sort of vulnerable in that place and I just let it take me where it's going to take me. And it's palpable – you can feel the people connecting to it and that's just the greatest feeling in the world. If I could just live there all the
time, I would just live there, Bill.
Music has the power.
It does. I'm not Pollyanna by any stretch – I'm a realist and I'm very logical but I believe down to the atoms and the molecular level in my body that we were put on this earth to spread some love and healing, even in just a small way. I have no delusions of grandeur. We're out there in our own small way just trying to help people feel good – and that doesn't mean they felt bad when they came in, but however they came in, they're going to go out feeling even better, and to me, that's like the sacred calling. I really believe that, so that's the best part. The worst part is the booking. Booking is just hard. It's hard work and it's getting harder. It's not that people are mean, but it's hard because of the squeezing down on the number of venues, so you try to let your resume do the talking.
That and a new record.
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. We need a new record so bad and I'm so excited about going in and recording.