Music Row is a couple hundred miles from Texas, but thanks to innovative, genre-bending artists and writers like Willie Nelson and Cory Morrow the Lone Star State is often light years ahead of the Row and country radio.
“Willie is like the Dalai Lama to us,” Morrow says in a phone conversation from his Austin home in June. “Willie’s a spiritual and musical guru, and a business guru to all of us Texas artists with all the things he’s gone through and the way he rises above it.”
It’s a path Cory has followed beautifully.
“The scene is different down here in Texas,” says Morrow, whose new album is due out in late August, featuring “Ramblin’ Man,” the autobiographical hit single. “We’ve got a pretty neat group of artists, and these fans here really embrace what we’re doing, the creativity, and our desire to step out and be different.”
He was born and raised in the Lone Star State, and Morrow still lives there while commuting to Nashville three or four times a year for meetings and writing appointments with top Music Row tunesmiths including Liz Rose, who is also Taylor Swift’s favorite co-writer.
But Texas will always be his personal and professional home.
“Recently we’ve been playing out of state quite a bit, but overall probably 90% of our touring, our radio, and our marketing are in the state and the region,” he says. “You can live playing the Texas scene.”
Morrow was a student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock when he met another up-and-coming talent, Pat Green. “We met through a mutual friend, and Pat and I have kept up with each other ever since,” Morrow says. “We did a record together, and we both haven’t had a day job in years. We’ve been able to make a good living through music, and to lead a blessed and gifted life.”
Cory moved to Austin at age 22 in 1993, and began working with other local favorites such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Robert Earl Keen. Cory often worked as his own label, in time selling hundreds of thousands of albums. Like Nelson, Morrow’s music combined countless styles, from country to blues to Texas Swing and jazz – among others – and in 2001 Cory’s duet with Green, “Texas On My Mind” on Write On Records, marked his Billboard country singles chart debut, peaking at No. 60.
Morrow’s personal life suffered a jolt in 2005, when police pulled him over when he was driving 100 miles per hour. Cory was charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine. As the All Music Guide noted, “Morrow was able to strike a plea bargain that reduced the DUI charge to a misdemeanor, and drug charges were dropped due to the small amount of cocaine found.”
It was a massive wake-up call for Morrow that he believes saved his life. He soon afterwards was introduced to a lovely Christian woman named Sherry. They have since married, and Morrow’s upcoming album includes several songs with faith-based themes.
“I was found not guilty, but I’ll tell you there were incidents that led up to that kind of thing happening,” Cory says. “I think the Lord works in beautiful and mysterious ways.”
One of those ways came in “Ramblin’ Man,” the Cory single that went to No. 1 on the Texas charts in June and is very different from the Allman Brothers hit of the same name from 1973.
Instead, Morrow’s “Ramblin’ Man” is very much the tale of his own life and work. “I was a ramblin’ man when I was young,” he sings over a rocking, bluesy Texas beat. “I’ll be a ramblin’ man ‘till my days are done.”
He admits the song “is 100% autobiographical. That part’s awesome. Anybody who didn’t know me wouldn’t really know what most of those lines meant and I wasn’t sure how the song would be taken. But it’s been fantastic how people are lovin’ it.”
Cory’s writing technique for “Ramblin’ Man” was unusual. He sat down and listened again to many of the albums he had grown up loving. “That really brought up a good flash of memories, and I started thinking about different places that my life has taken me emotionally and physically,” he recalls. “I had about 10 pages of ideas on a legal pad, single-spaced.”
Thanks largely to Sherry’s influence, Cory is a happier man now and his music has an expanded focus. “She’s wonderful, and that’s impacted my writing and the way I want my shows and my music to be,” Morrow says. “I want to be more of a positive influence, and take more of an encouraging stance on life. My faith is as strong as it’s ever been, and my relationships are as healthy as ever before. The album that’s about to come out will be a pretty big, tell-tale sign of that.”
By Phil Sweetland