Chuck Morris is nothing short of a legend in Denver’s music community. From working alongside the equally lauded Barry Fey to taking chances and booking many soon-to-be legends at the beginnings of their careers, the prolific Morris set the foundation for Denver to be taken seriously as a music destination. On December 3, Morris alongside KBCO will be celebrated for his achievements in Denver’s music scene by being inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Prior to his induction, we sat down with Morris, to talk his career and the unforgettable moments along the way.
303 Magazine: What would you say is your proudest accomplishment as a promoter?
Chuck Morris: I think, helping my great friends, the Dirt Band (aka The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) make a comeback, convincing them to go — not change their music — but to go after country radio and the country world. Orchestrating this great band that lived here, [they] became my best friends — I was very proud of them. I helped executive produce, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two, and got a lot of famous players on that album. That whole project was something I’m really proud of. Also, helping Barry Fey bring a lot of shows to Red Rocks. I look back and remember the story when Feyline broke 40 shows a year, and now we’re averaging about 110 shows a year. I’m also really proud of taking over Fiddler’s Green, remodeling it and turning it around. That was one of my priorities when I started AEG in this part of the country — to grab Fiddler’s when the contract was up. Nobody had really put money into it since I opened in 1987, and we did and we’re doing great. My whole career with Willie Nelson is also something I’m really proud of. Willie played for me at Ebbett’s Field and Barry and I made dates across the county — there’s nothing like him.
303: In a profile with 5280 in 2007, you said, “I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what I can do for my career, what’s the next thing for me to conquer.” Do you still think that way?
CM: We’ve built a lot of clubs from Tulagi’s and Ebbetts Field when I was with Fey, Rainbow Music Hall, The Fillmore… Don Strasburg, my partner, built the Fox Theatre, Scott Morrill built Larimer Lounge and a bunch of things, and the new club we’re building [Mission Ballroom] — I think it’s going to be the finest club ever built in this town. I’ve done this for 48 years, the end is not too far away, and I may want to do something else besides promoting. I could never retire totally, but I’m not sure when. I told Phil Anschutz [CEO of AEG], the day I don’t come in with a smile on my face, and I’m not having fun, I’m going to retire, but right now I’m still having fun.
303: What does it mean for you to be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame?
CM: It means a lot. I was involved in starting it, and we’ve had some of the greatest people inducted — I’m really humbled. The Hall of Fame is something I think we should all be proud of. The music community in this town has been so important for so many years. It all started about 20 years ago, I was visiting Leo Kottke in Minneapolis and we went to the Minnesota Hall of Fame. I asked myself why Colorado didn’t have one, which got me thinking. So, I talked to some friends, on a wing and a prayer and with Comfort Dental, one of our major sponsors, we would not have grown.
303: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career thus far?
CM: The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and one that many still haven’t learned is that the music business is constantly changing and you’ve got to change with the times. It was a mom and pop business when I first started in the ‘70s. Barry Fey and I used to make offers on napkins and read them to agents, now it’s a big business with a lot more lawyers and accountants, and I think it’s okay — I’ve learned to change. I used to be a bit of a lunatic in the Boulder, running clubs in the ‘60s and ‘70s and I’ve been straight and sober for 30 years now, and I learned how to change with the times and deal with the change in the business. The people who weren’t able to do that are no longer in the business. In fact, I actually think the business is in better shape than it ever was— it protects the artist better, it protects everything better.
303: In the many years you’ve out here, how do you think Denver has changed?
CM: Denver has just grown and grown and grown, and the music community is absolutely outrageous. I don’t know if there’s ever been a study, but I’d bet that per capita we do more events here, sell more concert tickets than any city in America. That’s thanks to the greatest music community and there have been so many people who’ve helped it, and I’ve been one, but you have people like Nick Forester at eTown, the people at Telluride Blues & Brews who do their wonderful thing, and you have great radio stations like KBCO, the greatest artists in the world, going back years to Glenn Miller.
303: Do you have any regrets in your career or anything you still wish to do?
CM: No. I’ve got none, I’ve been a lucky motherfucker. I’m lucky I can make a living out of this. When I dropped out of graduate school and got offered to run The Sink booking local bands there, I really thought it would last six months and I’d go back and get my Ph.D., and that was 50 years ago. I count my lucky stars that I do something I love. I got some breaks and I surrounded myself with great people, and don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just me. I learned a long time ago, hire great people and they make you look really good — you can’t do it alone. Barry, god bless him, was a great promoter and probably could sell more tickets than anyone — Bill Graham told me that — but Barry was rough and tough and the atmosphere wasn’t always the greatest. I always felt, when I had the opportunity to run my own company, that I was going to make it fun because this business is so difficult that unless you can have a fun environment, you can’t get paid enough. That’s been my philosophy. Today, I’ve got people smarter than me and younger than me, who know new music better than I, so I’m sort of the orchestra leader now. I used to tell people, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was the first violinist, today, I’m the orchestra leader.