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Laurie Morvan – This is Your Brain on Music

They say one of the only activities that can activate and stimulate the use of the entire brain…is music. If that is indeed true; my nomination for their blues poster child is Laurie Morvan. I have my reasons. Whether you’re a left-brain analytical and methodical person or a right-brain creative and artistic individual; everyone has their comfort zones. Not Laurie Morvan, she taps the intellect of both sides and she does it all the time.

Growing up in Illinois, Morvan learned early if you want to succeed, you have to put in the work. Using education as her toolbox, Laurie became an Electrical Engineer. She had dreams of being an astronaut so she learned to fly; acquiring her private, instrument, multi-engine and commercial pilot’s ratings. She got a job in Aerospace in Los Angeles but left it to play full time in a Top 40 band. It wasn’t enough so she went back to school for a Master’s in Applied Mathematics to teach at the college level. Today, Morvan fronts her own band, has six albums to her credit and as the dust settles on the Pandemic era, she is already back on the road with an extended tour schedule.

Laurie Morvan. Photograph courtesy of Vince Weatherman.

There’s a lot to unpack with Laurie Morvan; first and foremost is her unrelenting admiration of song-writing and making the music she loves. After a sweaty, three-set blitz at the Old Town Blues Club in Southern California, Laurie took time to talk about her road, her fans and her specific shade of blue. “A long time ago I made a decision not to limit myself and my songwriting” she says. “So I kinda’ let the song be the boss. Wherever the song leads me; it’s like the music that speaks to me the most, just as a consumer of music as I was growing up was that high-energy, rockin’ blues. It’s what grabbed a hold of my heart and shook me to my core! And that lead me down the path of the more traditional blues which is beautiful and rich and awesome, but it’s not the thing that just grabbed me by the throat and said, ‘you’re gonna’ be a musician.’ So I love the high-energy, rockin’ blues side of things and I’m always going to be a purveyor of that style of blues. We’ll play some traditional blues because I think it’s beautiful and a particular song will speak to me and we’ll do it, but I think to truly be an artist you have to speak the truth of your own heart and be who you are. If you try to be somebody else you’re just going to be a carbon copy kind of band, and that just never interested me. There are people that play traditional blues and its wonderful and I respect them and I’m happy for them and they find joy in it and I say, ‘go for it!’ And then there are folks like me that play the high-energy, rockin’ side of blues because that’s what fuels my soul. My number one goal is to help people feel uplifted, it doesn’t mean people come in feeling bad, but if they come in feeling good, I want them to leave the show feeling even better. If they came in feeling sad, I want them to feel like their soul got fed a little bit by some love and healing through the music and that’s what I’m always trying to give. I love music so much I’m just trying to get it out of my body, out through my guitar and out to people and let it heal them.”

Out of the hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the years, your road is unlike any I’ve ever seen.

“I will say it’s been an unusual path to the blues.” She nods. Let’s make a list…teacher, pilot, mathematician…”an electrical engineer.” Laurie grins. “Doesn’t every blues guitarist go down that road?” (laughing) “You know that path was actually formed by my childhood, really. My biological father walked out on my mom and me when I was five and I saw her struggle. I don’t remember exactly the age I was, maybe seven or eight, but I remember having an epiphany and saying to myself in my little girl voice, ‘I’m going to be always able to take care of myself and in a way that is comfortable and I won’t have to struggle so hard.’ So, I set out to use every skill and or talent that my hard work could muster and I would always be able to pay the bills, put a roof over my head and food on the table and pursue my music. I went off to college because I saw education as a tool. That’s really how I saw it…if I go get this degree in electrical engineering; I’m going to be able to land a job that makes good money and I’ll learn how to play this guitar better and better.”

To be so driven and motivated at that age, is pretty remarkable.

“Yeah, I always wanted to land on my feet and not count on anyone else. That doesn’t mean I want to isolate myself, I just wanted to be in charge of my own destiny. “

“I see creative beauty within math. A well-written proof is so pretty I want to frame it and put it on a wall. It’s just so pretty! The logic of it is very pleasing to me. That makes my brain happy.” —Laurie Morvan

What was your attraction to Aerospace and Engineering?

“When I was in High School I remember my senior counselor, just before I was going off to college told me ‘you know, you’re really good at math and science why don’t you go be an engineer? They make a good living.’ And I was like, ‘Ok!'” (laughing) “It wasn’t like I had a dream, but actually when I was a little girl; I wanted to be an astronaut. Hence, the reason I went toward aerospace engineering and why I got a pilot’s license. I was interested in space travel, I read all kinds of science fiction as a little girl…everybody. I loved that world and the idea of going out and experiencing new things.”

What kind of aircraft do you fly?

“I learned how to fly in a Beechcraft Sport which is a low-wing, single engine plane. I also learned how to fly a twin-engine, so I got my private, instrument, multi-engine and commercial pilot’s ratings. For a brief time I thought of becoming a pilot and pursuing that but once I landed my gig as an electrical engineer and it got me to Southern California and then started playing in bands…then I was just like, this is what I have to go do.”

Would you say that playing in bands while working your Aerospace day job was kind of like your garage band period?

“Yes, right. I was just learning how to play guitar, I barely knew what to do with a guitar at that time other than strum some chords. I had to learn how to play rhythm guitar, then I started to fall in love with lead guitar and there came a point where I went into my boss at TRW Aerospace and just said, ‘I’m leaving engineering to go play music full time’ and he about fell on the floor. It was time, I had learned enough to get out on the road and play and I was working with a Top 40 band. In those days you’d set up in the club on Tuesday and you’d play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then you’d tear down and go to the next town. The road gigs we were playing from 9 to 1:30AM in the bar and then everyday in my hotel room I’d play another three or four hours because you’re out on the road and there’s nothing else to do. I just wanted to get good; I was in love with all things guitar.”

I think I’ve only seen you perform with a solid body guitar. Do you ever play an acoustic?

“I started on an acoustic. My very first guitar was acoustic and after I learned three chords I wrote my first song. It’s like the most natural thing in the world to me…is to write a song. It’s like what I’m supposed to do. In fact, during the Pandemic I played an acoustic guitar exclusively for about six months and wrote a whole bunch of songs on there. I’ve considered putting out an acoustic album and that may happen. Since that time I’ve also been writing on my electric. At the end of this year, we have so much touring so it can’t happen until the end of the year but I’m hoping to record my next album which will probably be a full-on, full-throated, electric guitar album. Then maybe the next year put out an acoustic album.”

Let’s talk about your discography.

“I have six albums that I’ve put out including the very first one from a long time ago (1997) with Back Road Shack ‘Out of the Woods.’ ‘Find My Way Home’ (2004) “I had been playing…and recording was really expensive and my drummer at the time was going to move to the mid-West, so we better get in the studio right now! That’s my only album that has cover songs on it because we had originally just recorded those cover songs to help get club work, but they turned out pretty cool so let’s put them out on a record.” ‘Cures what Ails Ya’ (2007) “You know, ‘Cures What Ails Ya’ came from the song, ‘One Little Thing’ and I can remember vividly we were at band rehearsal, I was going through a hard time, we played music and I remember stepping out into the night air, it was a cool evening and there was some fog and I walked out and felt so much better having played music and I just said, ‘Thank Heavens I have that one little thing that cures what ails me.’ I stopped in my tracks and went ‘Okay, I have my next song.’ When I went home I wrote ‘One Little Thing.'”

You’re so prolific when it comes to writing. Did you write more during the Pandemic?

“I did! For every song you hear on an album, I’ve probably written three or four or five more and I have to pare it down for the record and what’s right at the time and what I feel is complete enough. There’ll be something that maybe has a strong part here but not enough here, and this other one is great and we go with that.”

In 2009 you released ‘Fire It Up.’

“So on that album, we went to Northern California and worked with a wonderful producer, Steve Savage (Elvin Bishop) who co-produced with me. Steve has a really good heart and made me feel really comfortable in the studio. That album won a Blues Foundation Award and it was something I was really proud of at the time.”

Two years later ‘Breathe Deep.’

“We recorded that album here with a great engineer, Erik Zobler. We had worked with him before, Erik also recorded the ‘Cures What Ails Ya’ CD. Eric was George Duke’s engineer and he hooked me up. I had written this song, it’s not a blues tune but more of a singer/songwriter piano and acoustic guitar ballad and Eric said, ‘Laurie, you need a great piano player on this song, have you considered asking George to play on it? I won’t promise anything but let me play it for him. He’s really picky, he doesn’t play on many things, so don’t get your hopes up.’ So he played the song for George and George said, ‘Yeah, good song. I’ll play on it.’ So Lisa and I got to go to George Duke’s home studio in the Hollywood Hills and record that song. When I wrote that song, ‘Family Line’ I wrote it only for me, I never intended for it to ever be played for anyone and then it turned into this beautiful vehicle and the next thing I know, I’m in the Hollywood Hills at George Duke’s house recording.”

‘Breathe Deep’ was co-produced by Lisa Morvan, the harmony of the band.

“Yes! Lisa has unbelievably good ears and she played violin as a kid. You have to have a good ear for that. And she also plays bass and her harmonies…she harmonizes so well with me and she’s super good at matching what I do. We’ve been singing together for what now, 21 years? We know each other; we flow together and bounce ideas off each other.”

‘Gravity’ was released in 2018. You worked with Tony Braunagel, Mike Finnigan and Barry Goldberg.

“Oh Yeah! And I wrote a song on that album called ‘Too Dumb to Quit.'” (laughing) I love some of your original titles, ‘Beat Up from the Feet Up’ and my favorite, ‘No Working During Drinking Hours.’ Your blues and your writing themes seem to highlight everyday and relatable issues. “I try to find the humor or the healing in it and sometimes those two are intertwined. But, I’m not afraid to get down in the hard stuff and deal with it. I always want to find a way to sing about a hard thing in an uplifting way and isn’t just about poor, little me.”

The band is getting back out on the road…

“Starting in July through the end of the year we’re super busy. We go to Northern California for 10 days in July then we come home for about a week, then we head up North. We go into Canada for 10 days and we do our first tour of British Columbia that culminates in the Calgary Blues Fest. We’ll play the West Coast of Canada first, the greater Vancouver area, then we’ll start moving East to Kamloops, to the Kootenay’s and then to Calgary. We’re just super excited.”

After Canada?

“We drop down and play the Magic City Blues Festival in Billings, Montana then we go to Bismarck and into the mid-West. We’ve got dates in Madison, Wisconsin, Holland, Michigan and we headline the Joliet Blues Fest in Joliet, Illinois.”

Joliet is pretty close to home for you?

“It is! I’m so excited. I didn’t even know there was a Joliet Blues Fest. When I found out about it, I was like a laser beam. These guys don’t know it yet, but they are booking me!” (laughing) “Then we come back to the West Coast for a month with shows up and down the coast…then we head south. We’re playing in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama and then we head to Florida. We do our first tour in Florida and then head back to Biloxi, Mississippi to play the new Ground Zero!

Festivals are back.

“We’re doing the Bogalusa Blues Festival in Bogalusa, Louisiana and the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas. When we get back we’ll head down to Baja, Mexico to headline the San Felipe Blues Festival. So we’ll be in Canada, U.S. and Mexico and we’re super excited about that.”

Just describing all that…I’m exhausted. (laughing)

“When you’re touring, you gotta’ go. You don’t get to play the same town every night. I try to stay in shape, I do all my own booking and I’m the record company president. I have a lot of energy and I’m willing to work hard. I don’t know if there’s a person on planet Earth that can out work me. I believe in hard work and it got me here.”

Laurie Morvan Band. Photograph courtesy of Yachiyo Mattox.

Who’s touring with the Laurie Morvan band?

“Tommy Salyers on keyboards, he’s from Pittsburgh. Drummer, Robert Gates is our newest member and Pat Morvan on bass. Pat and I have been playing music together my entire adult life. I met him when I was 23 or 24 and we’ve been in and out of bands together and always had some kind of band going and we’ve been playing forever, together. Of course, Lisa Morvan on backing vocals and percussion and she’s been playing with me for 24 years. We’ve been together a long time.”

I would ask if your family was musical, but most of them are on stage with you. Are there any earlier family music connections?

“My Grandma played the organ in church and my Grandpa sang. My mom was not a musician but I gravitated to it really naturally. I remember being a little girl and there would be songs that were like my best friends and I’d run home from school and play that song over and over again. So music has always been a really important part of my life.”

I‘m fascinated with your right brain/left brain abilities. Usually people are either/or…but you seem to draw from both sides; the analytical and the creative.

“I see creative beauty within math. Writing a well-written proof is so pretty I want to frame it and put it on a wall. It’s just so pretty! The logic of it is very pleasing to me. That makes my brain happy. I think… I never told myself no. If something interested me then I just believed I could go learn how to do it. Now, there’s got to be certain limitations, obviously I’m 5’10” I’m never going to be a ballerina so thankfully that wasn’t my dream. But I found things, at 5’10” I played volleyball, that kind of stuff. My story is really just one of making up my mind to do a thing, then being willing to do the hard work to make the thing happen.”

Your blues always gets people on their feet.

“I just give myself over to music whether I’m listening to it or I’m playing it. Music’s never really in the background for me, it always takes my attention. Sometimes I’ll be somewhere and I’m supposed to be listening to somebody and then I’m analyzing the song I’m hearing on the radio…Oh, I really like that groove and I like the syncopation at the end, too! Oh Stop! Pay attention to the person who’s talking!” (laughing)

Laurie Morvan serving it up in Southern California. Photograph courtesy of Yachiyo Mattox.

The world being in its current state, where does Laurie Morvan see herself in 10 or 15 years?

“It’s scary and you can go down into the abyss, but I choose to not go down the abyss. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, I do my little part and I can try and help make things better! I’m going to keep playing music and writing songs; I have to write songs, it’s just in me.

At the show today at the OTBC in Southern California you stopped sets to pay homage to B.B. King, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker as well as John Prine and the Meters. That’s about as versatile as a band can be.

“Yeah, we try to just surprise people. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. For me as the leader of the band and as the lead singer, a song has to speak to me because I have to be able to sell that song, so-to-speak. Or why would I bother doing it? I don’t do songs unless they grab a hold of me and go…PLAY me! And we usually do ’em up and put our own little twist on them while still respecting the artists and where they came from. Again, I never want to just copy someone, I want to honor them.”

Your live shows have become a rocket ride. What is it about that connection with your fans?

“That’s a wonderful feeling, that beautiful symbiosis that happens when the audience plugs into the musicians and there’s a circular flow of beauty and healing and love…it’s wonderful.”

Laurie Morvan Band – Upcoming 2022 Tour Dates

  • Sun 5/29 – Big Blue Music & Brew Festival, South Lake Tahoe CA
  • Sat 6/11 – Casuelas Café, Palm Desert CA Sun 6/19 – Old Town Blues Club, Temecula CA
  • Fri 7/1 – Sly McFlys, Monterey CA
  • Sat 7/2 – Murphys Irish Pub, Murphys CA
  • Tue 7/5 – Bluesday at Palisades Tahoe, Olympic Valley, CA
  • Wed 7/6 – Peacetown Concert Series, Sebastopol CA
  • Thu 7/7 – Fairytale Town, Sacramento CA
  • Fri 7/8 – Twin Pine, Middletown CA
  • Sat 7/9 – Twin Pine, Middletown CA
  • Sun 7/10 – Powerhouse, Folsom CA
  • Sat 7/16 – Casuelas Café, Palm Desert CA
  • Wed 7/20 – Club Fox, Redwood City CA
  • Fri 7/22 – Blue Frog Studios, White Rock BC Canada
  • Sat 7/23 – Jazz & Arts Festival, Fort Langley, BC Canada
  • Sun 7/24 – Summer Sundays, Port Moody, BC Canada
  • Tue 7/26 – Music in the Park, Kamloops, BC Canada
  • Thu 7/28 – Balfour Beach Inn, Balfour BC Canada
  • Fri 7/29 – Finley’s Bar & Grill, Nelson, BC Canada
  • Sun 7/31 – Calgary Blues Festival, Calgary AB Canada
  • Fri 8/5 – Magic City Blues Fest, Billings MT
  • Sat 8/6 – Laughing Sun Brewing Co, Bismarck ND
  • Thu 8/11 – Red Rooster, Madison WI
  • Fri 8/12 – Park Theatre, Holland MI
  • Sat 8/13 – Joliet Blues Festival, Joliet IL
  • Sun 8/14 – Pop’s Place, Decatur IL
  • Mon 8/15 – The Alamo, Springfield IL
  • Thu 8/18 – Blues Society of Omaha, Stocks n Bonds, Omaha NE
  • Sun 8/21 – Sizzlin’ Summer Concerts, Grover Beach CA
  • Sun 8/28 – Yaamava Casino Blues Brunch, Highland CA
  • Wed 8/31 – Desert Blues Revival, Agua Caliente, Palm Springs CA
  • Fri 9/2 – Tooth & Nail Winery, Paso Robles CA
  • Sat 9/3 – 105 Noshery, Roseville CA
  • Sun 9/4 – The Saloon, San Francisco CA
  • Sat 9/10 – Lawndale Blues Festival, Lawndale CA
  • Sat 9/17 – Old Town Blues Club, Temecula CA
  • Sun 9/18 – Rhythm Room, Phoenix AZ
  • Wed 9/21 – Green Oaks Tavern, Humble TX
  • Thu 9/22 – Beauvoir Park, Baton Rouge LA
  • Sat 9/24 – Bogalusa Blues Festival, Bogalusa LA
  • Sun 9/25 – Capitol Oyster Bar, Montgomery AL
  • Wed 9/28 – Quaker Steak & Lube, Clearwater FL
  • Thu 9/29 – Crazy Uncle Mike’s, Boca Raton FL
  • Fri 9/30 – Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen, Bradenton FL
  • Sat 10/1 – Buckingham Blues Bar, Fort Myers FL
  • Sun 10/2 – TT’s Tiki Bar, Punta Gorda FL
  • Tue 10/4 – Paradise Bar & Grill, Pensacola FL
  • Wed 10/5 – Ground Zero Blues Club, Biloxi MS
  • Fri 10/7 – King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena AR
  • Fri 10/14 – San Felipe Blues & Arts Fiesta, Baja, Mexico
  • Sat 10/15 – San Felipe Blues & Arts Fiesta, Baja, Mexico
  • Sun 10/30 – Old Town Blues Club, Temecula CA
  • Fri 11/11 – Almost Famous Wine Co, Livermore CA
  • Sat 11/12 – Murphys Irish Pub, Murphys CA
  • Sun 11/13 – Powerhouse, Folsom CA
  • Fri 11/18 – Jeremy’s Juke Joint, Lake Havasu City AZ
  • Sat 11/19 – Jeremy’s Juke Joint, Lake Havasu City AZ
  • Sun 12/4 – Old Town Blues Club, Temecula CA
  • Fri 12/9 – Twin Pine Casino, Middletown CA
  • Sat 12/10 – Twin Pine Casino, Middletown CA
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