DEC 2007Featured Player of the Month

keyboardist ERIC MORRIS

Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE

 

My name is Eric Morris and I am a gay Rock keyboardist based out of Tyler, Texas. Iím 44 years old. Iíve been married to my husband Steve for 7 years. Weíre the proud parents of a six-month old English bulldog named Winston.

I began playing piano at the age of 12. But what led up to that is pretty interesting. I have two brothers, 5 and 7 years older than me, who play drums and guitar respectively. They were constantly listening to and learning the hip music of the day. Consequently, as a little kid I was exposed to The Beatles, The Who and all that historic music as it was happening. That had a profound impact on me. By the age of 8 I had my own turntable and a cool little collection of 45s. So from a young age I was pretty plugged in musically. Although I loved listening to music, for some reason I didn't do anything about playing it until the age of 12 (kind of a late bloomer).

It was 1975 and something I heard on the radio forever changed my life. It was Gary Wright's "The Dream Weaver." Wow! I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I wanted to be able to do THAT. I took piano lessons for a couple of years until the teacher and I had a falling out. I informed him of my intention to get a synthesizer. He was not impressed and told me it would make my left hand lazy. I was not impressed and told him he was fired.

I did get that synthesizer. (I've been playing for 30 years now and my left hand STILL isn't lazy. Sorry teach.)

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- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?

My live rig usually consists of my Alesis QS8.2 synth, Yamaha S03 synth, a CME UF7 midi controller driving my Yamaha Motif ES rack unit and the Roland AX7 midi controller driving my Roland JV1080 rack unit. This is all powered by 600 watts of Alesis Sumo keyboard amps. A complete list of all my gear can be found at www.ericmorrismusic.com.

- What brand/model/year amps & effects (if any) do you use?

  For live performances I enjoy playing my Roland AX7 ďstrap-onĒ (no, not that kind). These keyboards are often referred to as a ďkeytar.Ē The first one I ever saw was a homemade affair used by Gary Wright in the 70ís. When I began playing in bands in the early 80ís I added strap locks to my MicroMoog synth and would wear and play it for a portion of the show. Eventually, manufacturers caught on and began making keytars. A few independent folks still do. Roland was the only major company to still make keytars. I say ďwasĒ because they discontinued them last year. Now mine is a collectorís item.

This type of instrument allows for the stage freedom guitarists sometimes take for granted. To be able to occasionally come out from behind the keyboard stack to perform down front is really quite liberating.

- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?

My decision to start playing keyboards was rather serendipitous, as Iíve already explained. As I began learning my instrument, other musicians took on a large role in influencing me.

I often say that if Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) pioneered using the synthesizer as a solo instrument, then Manfred Mann (Manfred Mannís Earth Band) perfected it. To me, he is the Eddie Van Halen of keyboardists. Both of these amazing musicians influenced my playing a great deal during my teen years. However, I donít fancy myself as a virtuoso soloing keyboardist by any means. I consider my style to be more of the full-service variety. By that I mean including classical piano influence in my playing, as well as Rock organ and liberal use of synthesizers. Spanning many styles and doing them all well is my goal, I guess you could say.

The one person who embodied this combination and informed my playing more that any other as I developed was Dennis DeYoung (Styx).

- Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style of rock, etc

I love most all varieties of Rock and Pop. However, if I just had to pick one, Iíd say my favorite style is Progressive Rock. The compositions are complex and well thought out, the arrangements are intricate and dynamic. Prog groups seem to value having a keyboardist (sometimes they have two). Iíve always been frustrated with bands of any style that either donít see the need, or have the desire to utilize a keyboardist.

- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?

Iíve written music off and on ever since I was a teenager. Iím certainly not a prolific writer but am spending more time writing these days than ever before. Most of my career has been with working bands performing live music. Iím always game for working with others, doing guest spots, session work or whatever.

- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?

 

I prefer to let the listener make those type of judgments.

How did you become involved in the Bear Musician Community?

It all started by chance. Earlier this year, I submitted a song from my band TriTheory to be included on a Gay Musician Compilation CD. That lead to me being nominated for an International Bear Musician Award.

Well, long story short, I won the award for ďBest Musician of 2007.Ē I was delighted, having never been so honored for my music before. I went to the awards ceremony in Nashville this past October and got to meet and hear lots of other great bear musicians. Itís really been fun.  

Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?

Iíve almost always been the only gay person in the bands Iíve played with. When I was 18 or 19, on the road in Montana touring with a club band, I was trying to be discreet (OK, closeted). The other band members mustíve suspected as one night during a break this hot guy in the audience was chatting me up, and it was clear what he was after. My nosy drummer came over and I introduced my friend as a fellow musician. Well he wasnít, and the drummer quickly learned that by quizzing him. The cat was out of the bag and I ended up bringing my friend back to the band condo that night. If the others didnít like it, too damn bad.

From that time to this, Iíve always been honest and up front about who I am.

- For an LGBT player - how do you think the overall music scene differs today from years ago?

The story I just related took place in 1981 and my band was based in California. So youíd think the acceptance level wouldíve been pretty good. Well, it wasnít. The environment became hostile and I ended up quitting the band after that tour. Today I live in Texas and have never had a bad experience with other musicians because of my sexual orientation. So, for me anyway, the overall climate has improved a lot.

- How is the overall music scene in your locale?

The East Texas music scene is pretty abysmal. Things are better in the bigger cities. At this point in my life Iím determined to make my mark as a songwriter. To me thatís where the rubber meets the road. Striving to move people with the music I create is the ultimate goal. The live music venues around here donít really foster that desire.  

- Any advice for young glbt players?

First and foremost, be yourself. Only you can define who and what you are as a musician and artist. Donít compromise your musical integrity and principles for the sake of joining this or that band or ďmaking it.Ē Stay true to yourself and your musical roots. Donít try to please everyone with your music. Your audience will find you. Play music because thatís what you do and you canít NOT do it.

 - What are your current and future musical projects?

Iím taking a year or two off from the band scene and am in my studio writing and recording material for my second solo CD. Iím taking my time and not hanging a bunch of artificial deadlines over my head. Itís really a blast immersing myself in the studio and giving myself space to grow as a songwriter.

more about ERIC MORRISat: www.ericmorrismusic.com

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