Q&A: Texas country singer Cory Morrow
360°Sound spoke with Texas country singer-songwriter Cory Morrow. A legend in the Lone Star State, Morrow has sold more than 200,000 records independently and placed nearly a dozen songs on the country charts. His biggest hit came in 2001, “Songs We Wish We’d Written,” recorded with friend and fellow Texas country star Pat Green. Since his 1998 debut LP The Man That I Have Been, the 48-year-old Houston native has released nine studio albums on his label Write On Records.
Morrow struggled with substance abuse and hit rock bottom in 2005 when he was arrested for DWI and cocaine possession. He met his wife six months later. Several years into the marriage, Morrow said his wife found out he wasn’t who he’d claimed to be and gave him an ultimatum to change his ways.
Morrow said he heard a voice tell him to confess everything. “I listened to that voice and it was the best worst day of my life. I broke her heart and mine, but I was relieved of all these things that I was keeping.”
In 2012, Morrow got sober and became a Christian. While he’s not a contemporary Christian artist, he has been telling his story of redemption ever since. “The music had already been autobiographical,” he said. “It was always searching for something. And now it’s speaking to having found that something.”
Morrow’s latest single, “Always and Forever,” a song he has played live for many years, was included on his most recent studio album, 2018’s Whiskey and Pride. In this exclusive interview, Morrow talks about songwriting, the vibrant Texas country scene and more.
360°: What was it like coming up in the Texas country/Red Dirt scene?
Morrow: Before I started, I don’t even know if we even had a name for the music, it was Jerry Jeff [Walker], Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson. Robert Earl was the newest thing for me. When I got to the college [at Texas Tech] all my buddies from San Antonio were listening to Steve Earle and Robert Earl. I was like, ‘Who are these Earls?’ I started listening and was like, ‘this is really really cool.’ They’re singing all the words to these songs that I’ve never heard before in my life. I’m like, ‘How do all these people know all these words?’ I’m just blown away.
We’d sit around and [my friends] would try to play a song that has three chords on it, and I’m like, ‘How can y’all not play a song with three chords?’ I play it and they’re looking at me like I just created magic out of thin air. We’d go see Robert and I started falling in love with what he was doing. And then we’d go see Willie and Steve Earle. These guys like Jackopierce came up. They had a huge following. We’d go to these big warehouse venues in Lubbock and they were filled with like 2,000 people. This guy named Jack Ingram is opening. We know somebody who knows him and we’re only a few years behind him. You had this sort of connection.
As we started to watch guys like Jack write their own stuff, we realized that it was feasible. Like this unattainable height of fame was actually attainable. Because here he is, opening up his own shows and people are paying to see him. He’s two years older than us and he’s only written a handful of songs. We got encouraged. We thought, ‘Let’s see if we can write anything worth a dang.’ We started meeting other guys like Jason Boland, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Roger Creager and Kevin Fowler. All these guys were coming up at the same time.
I moved to Austin about two years after college and started playing at fraternity parties. All my buddies from high school were still in college and in fraternities and sororities and so they were really supportive. They were like, ‘Come play our Burgers and Beer and we’ll give you 100 bucks.’ 100 bucks? That’s amazing. Pat [Green] was up in Lubbock finishing up school and doing the same thing. We started getting regular gigs. We kept following all these guys and kept getting inspired by what they were doing.
We were writing and then we made a record and it just blew up from there. All these other guys are making records. It started evolving out of thin air, and they started calling it the ‘Texas music movement.’ You had guys like Seth Walker, who’s the most amazing talent on the whole planet, playing blues. Playing lead guitar while it’s sitting in his lap. You’ve got Doug Moreland singing songs that are making you laugh out loud. Every time you turned around there was a new guy on the scene. It was a really amazing time.
Willie would invite us to be on his [Fourth of July] picnics. I got a standing gig at Hang ‘Em High Saloon in Austin. Every Thursday for like a year, I got to open for guys like Willie, Merle Haggard and Bellamy Brothers. I got to open up for Alabama and Chris LeDoux. I played the main stage at Houston Rodeo. We started following this crazy dream and it started happening.
Then, when the Oklahoma boys started coming in, they started picking up fame and somehow the term “Red Dirt” came in. And we kind of got our feathers ruffled because Red Dirt is North Texas, that’s Oklahoma [laughs]. We were always giving each other grief. It’s a whole bunch of folks from Oklahoma who are unbelievably talented. And they’re all making us look bad [laughs].
It’s diverse. There’s folk, country, hardcore country, old country, new country, blues, rock ‘n roll. My influences were Bob Seger, Led Zeppelin and Willie Nelson. Throw those all in a blender and that’s kind of where I sit. These other guys are listening to Jerry Reed and John Prine. You’ve got a huge array of influences over this Texas music genre.
I understand you’ve been an independent artist your whole career.
Pretty much. I never had a major label record deal, and I likely never will just because it doesn’t make sense for anybody. I don’t know if there’s much anybody could do. I would take a deal if they wanted to help us stretch outside of the country, or even stretch outside in the country. However, I think the deals are for young guys who want to do 200+ dates a year.
I’ll be honest, I’m real happy to do 50 dates a year because I want to see my family grow up. I have five kids between the ages of 3 and 9. If you have 200 dates a year, you’re gonna be gone 300 days a year, and I don’t wanna be gone that much.
Have been doing some songwriting during the pandemic?
Yeah, lot of writing and some co-writing. I’m ready to go record a few of them. I’d like to get a few more to choose from. I’ve got six completed songs, two that are halfway finished, and probably two or three that I could pull together and finish. Hopefully around 10 songs that we can choose five out of and go make a little EP. My goal is to start making little EPs, 4 or 5 songs at a time, once a year. And just keep music flowing.
You always take off your shoes when you perform. Are you more comfortable that way?
It’s one of those things that happened in the summer at a fraternity party. It was so freakin’ hot. We were sitting out in the direct sun playing and just dying. We’re turning into a ball of butter. I started rolling my jeans up and I took my boots off. And then we’re sitting down, and I just stood up and I was barefoot. I was like, this feels good. It just started turning into a thing. We got a rug on stage.
In the last eight years, I’ve met several preachers and they said this is reflective of a story in the Bible. You don’t walk on sacred ground. That’s sacred ground so you take your shoes off. When you get up on that stage, God is giving you that pulpit. God is giving you that position to go speak life into people. So, I take my shoes off in reverence to the opportunity to get on the microphone and talk about Jesus.