Music

Gary Morris: Country Music's Renaissance Man of the 1980s

Screengrab via YouTube

When looking back on a career that's found him do everything from campaign for future president Jimmy Carter to perform in an opera alongside Linda Ronstadt, it's clear that if any past country star deserves to be labeled a renaissance man, it's Gary Morris.

Morris (born on Dec. 7, 1948 in Fort Worth, Texas) was a nightclub singer in Colorado with a few commercial jingles to his credit when he and future wife Terri Hernandez joined the Carter campaign as the Nashville All-Stars.

After Carter's 1976 presidential victory, he invited Morris to perform at the White House. That's where Morris met country producer Norro Wilson, who'd help the country singer land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

Morris strung together 13 straight Top 15 country hits between 1981's "Headed For a Heartache" and 1985's "Makin' Up for Lost Time (The Dallas Lovers' Song)," a duet with Crystal Gayle. In that span, he scored his first two No. 1 Billboard chart hits: "Baby Bye Bye" and "I'll Never Stop Loving You."

His 1983 rendition of instant crooner standard and future Bette Midler hit "The Wind Beneath My Wings" won Song of the Year from both the CMAs and ACMs, positioning him as a top-notch balladeer on par with Kenny Rogers. Morris' version of the song he's known for and singles of note "Velvet Chains" and "The Love She Found in Me" appear on his Why Lady Why album.

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More country success came in the '80s, such as the No. 1 hits "100% Chance of Rain" and "Leave Me Lonely" and the Grammy award-nominated Gayle duet "Another World." Yet his most interesting career moves post-'83 came from his ties to Broadway, not Music Row.

In 1984, Morris and Ronstadt starred in a production of Puccini's opera La Boheme. A run on Broadway as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables followed in 1988. Morris' familiar voice can be heard on "Bring Him Home" and other songs on the latter's multi-platinum selling, Grammy award-winning cast recording.

Per The Encyclopedia of Country Music: Second Edition, country DJs teased the sudden theater star for "his tendency to hold notes beyond a length appropriate for most country tunes."

Theater roles plus appearances on the primetime soap opera The Colbys may have fed the public perception that Morris cared more about acting than singing, but Morris never abandoned country music. His late '80s output brought fans the daring, acoustic album Plain Brown Wrapper and a tradition-grounded cover of Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues."

Morris also ran a publishing house in Nashville in the late '80s, employing a newcomer to town named Faith Hill.

In the '90s, Morris worked on a PBS concert production at the famous Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. He also served as a record producer for other artists, namely Matt King, and appeared in a 1992 episode of Designing Women.

Morris has continued recording albums, with his most recent, Sense of Pride, released in 2018.

An avid outdoorsman, Morris hosted and also produced TNN's The North American Sportsman. 

Morris' son from his short marriage to Hernandez, Matt Morris, is a singer, songwriter and producer with professional ties to Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson.

For more on Morris, visit his website, www.garymorris.com.

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Gary Morris: Country Music's Renaissance Man of the 1980s