By Rich Henrich
Every so often you discover beauty hiding in the shadows; you feel the power of a force not seen and experience a love not common. Their purpose in life seems to be a calling to give love and support to every voice that does not have the opportunity to echo and to bring inspiration at a time of desperation. The greatest communities bloom because of the secret pollinators of the night sprinkling magical fairy dust wherever they go so that more inspiration and love will bloom in the wake of their footsteps. They may not grace billboards, nor tower tall on the silver screen, but their presence is felt in the little things that add up to a community of great big things. Their energy is constant- striving towards a better end, towards a more just and creative world, not for fame or glory or recognition but for the humble aim of a belief in humanity and human potential. Some might call them “Earth Angels” but I call her Lisa Lynn Morgan and I am honored to interview such a local champion of our Desert and turn the spotlight on a heart that helps this Valley grow.
CVW: You were nominated in several categories for the CV Music Awards this year including Best Female Vocalist, Best Frontwoman, Best Country Band and Best Promoter. That runs the gamut of nominations. Please share what that means to you.
Lisa Lynn Morgan: “The idea that someone, anyone, can be given a blank list of categories for “Best of” and then think of me under any of them is an incredible honor and completely humbling. When you see your name amidst all those others who you have so much respect for, it’s a bit surreal. There are many awe inspiring people not even on the list. That being said, win or lose, it encourages me to keep at it; that maybe I’m doing something that has value and is making a difference.”
CVW: So you were performing one of these original songs last Sunday at the CV Music Awards when the power went out. You continued singing acapella even after that. Can you tell me what went through your mind at that time?
LM: “Oh, only about a hundred different things at once. The first time it went out, I just waited quietly for instructions from the stage crew thinking, ‘They’ll fix it… any second now.’ And they did, or at least I thought they did. The power came on and we went right back into the chorus. My guys were right there with me all the way (Eric Frankson on fiddle and Kerry Rose on upright bass). The crowd was there too, and then, boom… it blacked out again. I was in a quandary; should I wait again for it to come back on? I really wanted it to! I told my guys, who were fortunately on acoustic instruments, ‘Keep playing,’ thinking when it came back on, we’d be right there the second it did. Then I heard a familiar voice; Brandon Ray Henderson, the stage manager, whispered, ‘Sing.’ I knew the crowd would never hear me since part of the song was sung very gently but I could feel them there for me. Phones were held up with their lights on. Our emcee, Bradley Ryan had come up to shine his phone light on me. I called out to the audience, ‘Are you with me?’ They responded with cheers and their full attention, so I went into the last verse. You could have heard a pin drop apart from the music we were making acoustically on stage. I could feel the love in the room even though I couldn’t see anyone. We finished the song and the crowd responded with so much support. It was a bit emotionally overwhelming. What could have been a disappointing moment, became one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever experienced in my life. Everyone in that room inspired me from Eric and Kerry up there with me, the stage crew, Brandon, and Bradley, to the young musicians from the Academy of Music Performance and friends in the audience. They were the absolute heroes. Looking back, I don’t think I’d want it to have gone any other way. The light truly shines best in the dark.”
CVW: I know your band does a lot of covers when you perform at gigs across the desert, but you’re also a prolific songwriter and have been lauded for several songs you’ve written including: “519 Days,” “We All Fall Down,” “Broken Man,” “Let it Rain,” and “In My Defense.” What music projects are you currently working on? I heard that you’re going in to the studio this summer in the high desert with producer Chris Unck who is nominated for Best Producer this year for the CV Music Awards?
LM: “As a band, Lisa and the Gents are currently working on entirely refreshed new set lists. As a cover band, we’ve evolved from strictly country (a genre my heart is deeply imbedded in) to weaving in other timeless music from artists like the Pretenders, The Motels, Natalie Merchant, Janis Joplin; thus the name change from Lisa and the Country Gentlemen to Lisa and the Gents over the last year. The musicians I am incredibly honored to play with (James St. James on drums, Larry Gutierrez on guitar, Kerry Rose and Tom Clift on bass, Eric Frankson and Bobby Furgo on fiddle and keys, Andy Cahan on keys), they can play it all. We just like making people happy while playing music we feel stands the test of time and keeps us inspired. Meanwhile we are working in our originals. Larry is a hell of a songwriter himself.
For me personally, I have never recorded my originals so it is a huge blessing and a bit of a mind blower that Chris Unck will be recording and producing for me at High Lonesome in Joshua Tree. He’s an incredible musician and song crafter himself. The music he has turned out of his studio is all up for awards as is he is himself. I can’t wait to see what he does with my songs. For me it is always about taking that next step; leaving the comfort zone and seeing what I am fully capable of. It’s also about finding my own voice. It’s only taken me 50 years, and I can’t think of another person I can trust it with more.”
CVW: You were also nominated as Best Promoter. You recently took on the role as promoter at Big Rock Pub. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
LM: “I’ve been booking the bands at Big Rock from the beginning, but the promotions have not been all me. Big Rock Pub had the wisdom to bring on some incredible people to help them launch, starting with Kate Spates. Kate then brought in Jamie Steinberg and FG Creative. I’ve been excited and honored to work with them from the early construction days. Big Rock is an incredible venue built on love and passion, just like the music honored on its walls. For me and my 20 years of marketing background from LA to the desert and my music background, I don’t think I could ever find a better fit personally, and I’m extremely grateful to be part of such a great team.”
CVW: You spend a lot of time in the high desert as well as the low. Is there a difference in the energy between the two places?
LM: “There is a difference, but also important similarities. There’s definitely a difference in the kind of music the areas are generally cultivating. I took my first performance of originals (a handful of heartfelt ballads based on my life) to Joshua Tree where I accompanied myself on keys for the first time in decades. There is a warm and gentle acceptance up there combined with people who have incredible music running through their veins. I think that environment breeds originality because it’s a loving and safe place to grow creatively. The more unique and authentic the better. The low desert has cultivated a huge diverse music community from Jazz to heavy desert rock. They will love you or show you complete apathy. It is a very good place to be loved. Brutal if you’re not. I think both are necessary elements to test yourself, your music and your love for it. At either location, you better love what you are doing and bleed your whole heart and soul into it and the people around you authentically, or step out of the way, because the musicians around you expect nothing less of you than they expect of themselves. Neither place has much stomach for gimmicks or overinflated egos.”
CVW: What are you looking to accomplish in the next year with your band and songs and career?
LM: “My ‘career’ is simply to push myself into the next ‘uncomfort zone.’ I’m still discovering my voice and what I’m capable of and I don’t think there’s a better environment to do that than the one I’m in. I hope to create music that people can identify with, and find a little healing in as I heal myself through music. Ideally, I’ll begin creating music that will fortify our mutual bones, and make a difference.”
CVW: So who do you most admire in the music business and I mean business not favorite bands and why?
LM: “The ‘business’ side of music is incredibly hard on an artist. I appreciate anyone who can look out for an artist’s best interest. I haven’t been deep into the ‘business’ side of music enough to have a qualified opinion on anyone. My admiration has always gone to the songwriters, the ones who can work alone and imprint something indelible on your soul. They have it the toughest in the ‘business.’ Of those, I have to say Mary Gauthier who lived through a whole lot to find her voice in songwriting in her 30’s. Gretchen Peters has written landmark songs for my life soundtrack as has Travis Meadows. Maria McKee of Lone Justice has always been the voice and the free spirit in my head as a vocalist, performer and songwriter.”
CVW: You’ve been doing this for many years now. What advice would you give to young bands just starting out?
LM: “I’ll have to quote Steve Martin here: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ If you love this music thing, if you can’t thrive without it, if it is the one thing you turn to when everything else feels broken, stay ever at it. Work hard and keep your heart engaged just a little more than your head. The music business will cut you, prune you and grow you, but you’ll never want to have lived without it. And remember, you are not alone. Lean on the ones who love you, learn from the ones who hurt you and don’t ever stop growing. If your music reaches one person, most especially yourself, that’s enough reason to keep at it. Stay grateful always.”
CVW: We recently lost a legend in music, Gregg Allman. You had the fortune to interview him and spend a little time with him. What did you gain from that experience?
LM: “There was a remarkable spirit in the man – a spirit that never died in the face of tragic back to back deaths, the torment of addiction, and an industry that all but turned their backs on him at one point. Because of his tenacious love for the craft that was poured into the music he left behind, that spirit will live on. I think there’s something in that for all of us to apply to our lives.”
CVW: As a writer for CVW, covering the music scene in this Valley, what does it mean to give a voice to the independent musician?
LM: “It’s like freeing someone from captivity and isolation and watching them soar. There is no greater honor. To encourage and provide a platform for independent musicians to launch from is absolutely vital to the growth of our music culture. The business plan for musicians is already upside down. In today’s music flooded music market it’s harder to be heard. If we don’t give them a voice, put them in front of people who need what they have to offer, the only music you’ll ever hear will be the ones with corporate backing or who have been fortunate enough to financially afford their way into the music business, plain and simple, and that’s such a small percentage. This desert, high and low, has so much to offer so many right here at home. It’s pretty incredible that after writing about the local music scene, I’m still discovering talent that’s been here for years as well as many new up and comers.”
CVW: What does this music community mean to you?
LM: “It is family. Some are easy to love, others maybe not so much, but they are all family. I think music is the one medium that can help us not feel alone, that can bring us together. This music family is very special. We truly support and love each other and want to see each other do great things, and we use each other to set the bar higher for ourselves. I don’t think there is another part of our community that comes together quicker when someone is in need.”
CVW: Where does the inspiration for the songs you write come from? What themes are you exploring?
LM: “I’m digging into my soul, and I’m only tapping the surface just yet. I’ve spent a lot of years singing other people’s themes. I’m only now discovering what my voice, void of the influence of an original recording artist’s influence, sounds like, and in my own words. One thing I have learned, is that people will like you when you’re good, but they’ll love you when you bleed. It seems the deeper themes of heartache, fighting for my sobriety (aka my life) are at the top as I dig. But I’m also starting to dig into some hope and an ability to laugh at myself and my imperfections. Putting your original music out there is kind of like the bathing suit competition in a beauty pageant…you are completely aware of your flaws as much as you have to be confident in your purpose. I’m just working on being ‘fearless’ as my drummer James St. James would say, and as Ronnie King would say, being ‘believable.’
CVW: You have experienced a lot of personal transformation over the past few years, personally and creatively. Where does your drive to evolve come from?
LM: “Well, to be honest, nearly dying 5 ½ years ago. I was drowning in alcohol addiction and the helplessness and hopelessness it came with. I had a big question about my value and worth and my willingness to live. That was answered when my heart was medically stopped three times to keep me from going into full cardiac arrest following my decision to drink until I didn’t wake up. It was in those moments that God and I had a stern and very real conversation about my future. It occurred to me that I wanted to live, just not the way I had been. I came through that experience saying ‘yes’ to everything and trusting the desires of my heart again. When it comes to music, this community has given me every reason to live and thrive.”
CVW: What is your current roll at Big Rock Pub?
LM: “ I am the Entertainment Director for Big Rock Pub and Marketing Director/Chief Business Development Officer for both the pub and the beautiful golf course it’s attached to, Indian Springs Golf Club.”
CVW: Those who know you, know how big your heart is and those who don’t have likely been touched by the ripple effect of your giving nature. If you had one gift to give music or musicians, what would it be and why?
LM: “Faith and hope. These are precious commodities that are constantly under attack. I would encourage you to fight for these things in your everyday words and in your music. Celebrate what you love, bleed honestly from your pain and give away everything you ever hope to receive. The rewards are immeasurable.”
June 23rd Big Rock Pub
July 4 Agua Caliente Fourth of July Party
July 20th Idyllwild Concert Series
July 21st Big Rock Pub