By Esther Sanchez
It was around 7 or 8 years ago when I first had the pleasure of meeting my beautiful friend, Lisa Lynn in person through a combination of my new gig writing for CV Weekly, our common associates, and our participation in this beloved, local music scene. Over the years I have, along with countless others, been impressed, blessed and inspired by not only her talents as a singer/songwriter and journalist, but the tenacity of her vision and her ability to take her personal triumphs over whatever life has thrown at her and bravely use those experiences to help and encourage others.
Anyone who knows Lisa Lynn knows that she is a pure ray of sunshine. Her sweet disposition could almost outshine her lovely features and her sassy, signature style. Even when taking account of all of those wonderful qualities, she is so much more than a super nice, pretty lady who can sing and write really well. Her delightful countenance and gentle disposition might be the first impression she gives off, but don’t be fooled. Ms. Morgan is as smart, sharp and savvy as the day is long. She is a self-made and triumphant organizer for the causes that she deems worthy and necessary. She is a supportive pillar of the desert music scene and a ride-or-die homegirl that would move mountains in order to be there for the people and causes that fill her heart.
A CV Weekly Alumni, Morgan has moved on to co-create and publish her own local magazine, Joshua Tree Voice with business partner Raymond Rodriguez. On top of that, she has a bustling career as a performer fronting her band, “Lisa Lynn and the Broken Hallelujahs,” who perform throughout the valley and even have a residency at Casuelas Cafe in Palm Desert. It’s safe to say that Lisa Lynn Morgan has a lot of great stuff going on and she has persevered through many peaks and valleys in order to get here. She has a story worth telling and we, her friends at CV Weekly are grateful for her willingness to share.
CVW: “When did you first start performing?”
Morgan: “My first singing performance was at St. Louis Catholic Church in Cathedral City when I was around 11 years old. I sang “The Little Drummer Boy” at midnight mass, Christmas Eve. After mass, as we were walking toward the exit, a guy walked up to me, smiling, patted me on the cheek and said, “Keep singing from the heart, kid.” I was later informed that the man was Frank Sinatra. The words stuck. They felt like a gift.”
CVW: “When did you move to the Coachella valley and what brought you here?”
Morgan: “I was born at Desert Regional Hospital and raised here until I left for college at 17. I came back to take care of my dad who’d been diagnosed with cancer. This is where I lost everything, and then found everything that my life is built on today. This is my home.”
CVW: “Can we talk about your journey to sobriety and how it changed/affected you, your life and your ability to perform? I hear you’re coming up on 12 years sober this September. How have you evolved over those 12 years?”
Morgan: “Twelve years ago, September 15th, I was released from the hospital. I could barely talk or swallow much less sing after attempting to kill myself through an overdose of alcohol. I’m open about this, because I don’t want anyone else to have to go it alone because they don’t know who to reach out to. Alcohol is no joke. It’s a deadly, legal drug for some. I am lucky to be alive today, much less living the life I’m living today… a life that is purpose driven and hopeful. And I’m not still here because I have “will power” or that I am a strong person. I am here by grace and grace alone. Not everyone makes it. People stronger and more deserving than I, have lost this battle.
My spiral to rock bottom had already begun when I moved back to the desert to take care of my dad in 2008. It was supposed to be a sort of happy ending. He’d been MIA for 17 years prior (which had been devastating since he was the only living biological parent I ever knew). So, when I received an email one day saying that he moved back to the desert, was dealing with health issues, and wanted to reconnect. I immediately packed up and drove straight from Texas, where I was living at the time. Expectations of a storybook reunion were high. Too high.
I was already aware that I had a drinking problem and was doing everything I could to keep it a secret. My father and I were both ill equipped, and his last couple of years and eventual death came with some agony, hurt, and a feeling of being lost and alone. There was a perfect storm of events that coincided and sped me to the bottom. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, so no matter how many times I tried to stop, it always came back with a stronger grip. It got to a point where I was physically dependent on it. I had to drink to get my balance if you can imagine that. And if I didn’t drink, there would be three days of incapacitating detox hell.
Finally, I gave up on myself. I put a plan together to drink until I didn’t wake up. Funny thing happened though. For the first time in my drinking career, I couldn’t keep enough alcohol down. It was as if something bigger than me said, “No.” I fought with vengeance. I’d drink, and it would come back up – like shrapnel. I gave up as the symptoms of detox began to show. But three days in my condition showed no signs of improvement, and it scared me. Worse than death was the fear of having a stroke or heart attack and being crippled -even worse off than I was already and even more of a burden, so at some point, I called 911.
They had to manually stop my heart three times to keep it from going into BFIB. It’s a risky procedure that works a heart like a reboot works a computer. Each time, I could feel my heart beat slower and slower. I felt a huge weight on my chest and the sensation that the very essence of life was being siphoned out between my shoulder blades. It gave me a serious reality check. I was told to stay calm. In my mind’s eye, I was walking toward a cliff. God, (looking a bit like Moses) walked beside me as we walked. I remember it clearly as if it actually happened. I truly believed that if I took that leap, I could finish what I started. Three times the doctor performed this procedure, and three times, God, as I understood him, met me on that cliff. Each conversation brought me closer to the reality that I did want to live, just not like this. I didn’t know what I could do differently to change things, and if I didn’t figure something out, I wasn’t going to make it.”
Morgan continues: “When I left the hospital days later, I was handed a referral sheet listing services that might help me figure out how to live without alcohol. I was in full surrender mode, willing to do whatever it took. Now that I knew I wanted to live, I was highly motivated. One thing I was sure of – If I drank, I’d die. Maybe not quickly, but sooner than I wanted, and it would come with more of the incomprehensible demoralization I had come to know so well. I called the numbers. I took the suggestions. I asked for help, and I accepted the help. I let God show me who God was instead of leaning on other people’s ideas. I discovered the depth of the loving people I had around me who were there for me when I was honest with them. My spiritual connection to the Higher Power I had to put my trust in was pivotal and is the reason I have anything to show for my life today.
My life was flat lined on every level in that ER. (Thank you Eisenhower Medical Center for being awesome). By the grace of God, I inched my way back to a life using the tools offered in a big blue book with some folks who had the same goal. I took all the suggestions including going to House of Hope Women’s Recovery Home. I eventually became a sponsor to another alcoholic, sharing my experience, strength, and hope which has been an experience that has brought me the most joy and helped my own sobriety immensely. ‘You’ve got to give it away to keep it,’ they said. They weren’t wrong. Eleven years in and I still have to manage my sobriety like a diabetic manages their diabetes…Daily and attentively. If I don’t, I will find a way to hit that ‘Sabotage Your Life’ button with or without a drink. It’s not about avoiding alcohol today. It’s about the quality of my sobriety – my life.
After six months of sobriety, BB Ingle introduced me to Tracy Dietlin and CV Weekly. Sobriety and CV Weekly have been the springboards for everything I’ve been able to do and experience today, and I’m grateful beyond words. I can only hope to be that springboard for others.”
CVW: “So let’s talk about you being part owner of Joshua Tree Voice. What has that experience been?”
Morgan: “It’s an amazing thing to see an idea – a dream come to fruition. Holding that first magazine in my hand was such a huge experience, it hardly registered. I think I was 5 issues in when I began to realize what we had accomplished. As we speak, I think it’s still registering. It’s hard work. I think it’s always a lot more work than you conceive going in on the ground floor of any small business. But the response has been mind-blowing. The people in the Joshua Tree community have been so beautifully supportive. It has deepened my commitment to continue to develop and create a better product for them.
Working with Raymond Rodriguez has been like signing up for a small business master class. The man is so knowledgeable and experienced. He’s generous with information, encouragement and wisdom. ‘It’s already happened,’ he’d say to me when he could tell I was stressing out about deadlines. Learning to project that kind of confidence, to speak to myself with confidence, has been life changing.”
CVW: “You have played so many shows in multiple capacities over the years, are there any that stick out as particularly special to you? I know you recently performed in Idyllwild?”
Morgan: “We’ve had some very special opportunities; it’s hard to single any of them out. Opening for Jordan Sparks last December on El Paseo was epic. I was so proud of how my guys performed. That big stage with all the lights and glam was exhilarating. But I have to say, our connections to the audiences on smaller stages is what fuels me. I feel closer to people on the smaller stages. The crowd response at The Gardens at El Paseo Concert Series was amazing. Every time we play Idyllwild, they make us feel like one of their own. Who wouldn’t want to play at the new Acrisure Arena in front of our brand-new hockey team on a run for the championship? That was always an absolute blast. I also love supporting the huge and inspiring effort that is Southwest Food Fest. Christiana and her family are the hardest working people I know, and they’ve brought a great concept to the area that people will be able to count on every Friday, week after week. I recently performed original music on keys with a couple of friends (Cory B. Clay and Scott Bump) at Audiowild Studios, Brian Parnell’s dreamy little venue in Idyllwild. That is something that has been neglected in place of getting my arms around Joshua Tree Voice and it’s not quite in my comfort zone, so I really had to rehearse. I haven’t been that nervous in a long time. But I did it! It didn’t suck! And it was exhilarating!”
Morgan continues: “Furgo and I performed Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ for all the first responders at the very beginning of the CoronaVirus lock downs in 2020. Town Center Parkway was shut down and all the emergency vehicles lined up in the middle of the street. That’s a moment where you just can’t sing good enough for such deserving people during one of the scariest and most unsure times in our history as a planet.
But, the foundation of all these cool opportunities… The real venue heroes are the ones who have given us residencies – Casuelas Café and Shanghai Red’s. They have given us the ability to really dial in what we’re doing, week after week so we can take it to the next level. They have both made a philosophical and financial commitment to the art of live music for decades. They’ve developed our local music scene in ways they might not even realize. Managing and fronting a band is not as natural as it may look. I have them to thank for giving me the platform to find my voice musically, as well as an independent female business owner.”
CVW: Anything else you would like to share?
Morgan: “I’m a mother of four weirdly awesome kids and 5 of the coolest and brightest grandkids on the planet. My hope is that I show them how to grow from mistakes and live a courageous, purposeful life, knowing just how much they are loved.
Volunteering, giving a part of your life beyond yourself, whenever you can, is a life hack. You receive as much if not more from it forever. I’ve loved serving with these organizations and strongly advocate supporting them with time and money: Riverside County Chapter of the Red Cross (Disaster Action Team), House of Hope Women’s Recovery Home, Street Life Project, Coachella Valley Horse Rescue, and JF Kennedy Foundation’s Ophelia Project.”
With the kindness, courage, gumption and heart for service that Lisa Lynn displays to the community, there are plenty of folks who have a lot to say about her.
Mario Lalli, world renowned musician and Desert Native: “Lisa has been, for many years, a creative force in the desert community. Both high and low desert artists owe her great respect and gratitude for her tireless efforts to shine her light on their development, both musical and visual. Not to mention her amazing talent as a singer songwriter and leader of one of the hardest working bands to ever grace the many stages, large and small, around the Coachella Valley. Hands down, one of the greatest assets this desert has for the arts.”
Jacqueline Guevara, Joshua Tree National Park Association Executive Director: “I first met Lisa at our inaugural Beneath the Desert Sky concert at Indian Cove. From the start, her passion for music and the park was readily apparent, and as I chatted with her, her passion for the community at large became clear as well. That first night, as she told me about her vision for a publication that featured the best and the brightest of greater Joshua Tree I felt inspired, and knew I wanted to be a part of her vision. As I watched JT Voice come to life, I knew that it would be an integral part of our arts and culture scene, while bringing awareness of local and park-related issues to light for thousands around the Southland. As the months, and years, have gone by, I have seen Lisa’s vision, and my prediction become a reality. Her heart is as huge as her talent, both as a writer and a musician, and her dedication to her craft, and our beloved desert, is unparalleled.”
Raymond Rodriguez/ Owner of Casuelas Café and co-owner of Joshua Tree Voice: “A dynamic force of nature, Lisa is blessed with an exceptional depth of human understanding, a strong spiritual base and a playful sense of humor that combine to make her an ideal advocate for the creative community, and a high caliber, engaging performer in her own right. She is a joy to work with and even more fun brainstorming or just hanging out.”
Mike Hammons of Ghost Notes: Lisa Lynn Morgan AKA “Little Big Voice” Is My favorite singer who leaves it all on the stage with an authentic affinity for country music.
Ken Dahleen, Founder and President of Idyllwild Summer Concerts: “I’ve invited Lisa to be a featured artist in the Idyllwild summer concerts for a number of years. She’s a huge crowd pleaser, and she and her band get the crowd on their feet and dancing for every tune. This is my 24th year of producing the concerts, and I anticipate having Lisa at every summer concert forever. She’s the real deal.”
“Lisa Lynn and the Broken Hallelujahs are basically a four piece band. When we can, we enjoy the luxury of special guests like Eric Frankson on keys and fiddle.”
Drums and Vocals: Jeff Bowman
Guitar: Bobby Moses Nichols
Bass & Vocals: Mike Wiley
Lead Vocals and Keys: Lisa Lynn Morgan
Thursday, August 24, 6 pm Idyllwild Summer Music Series, at the Butterfield Amphitheater
Friday, August 25, 7 pm Casuelas Café, Palm Desert
Saturday, September 9, 7 pm Casuelas Café, Palm Desert
Friday, September 15, 6 pm Southwest Foodfest, Southwest Community Church, Indian Wells
Casuelas Café 9/23 is cancelled. We instead will be playing Wed, Sept 20 and Wed Sept 27 6 pm
We hope to be back to our regular schedule in October with our residency at Shanghai Red’s Thursday nights and Casuelas Café Wednesday nights. You can follow our website/socials for updates.