Sonny Morgan is having the time of his life. At age 66, the Lake Highlands High graduate and former car dealer has released his first country music CD, with several singles inching their way up the Hit 100 list. He’s performing gigs at small venues all over Texas, and he just completed a move to Granbury from the Austin area with wife, Karin, to take an exciting job he can’t yet reveal.
“We’re still knee-deep in boxes and trying to find the nearest Whataburger,” Morgan told me. “We don’t know where anything is, but we love it.”
Morgan began working on the album in January of 2018, and it was released in October. The CD came out in May of this year.
“When you put together an album, the music has got to be original. First came ‘It’s a Beautiful World,’ by well-known country singer-songwriter Daryle Singletary. He wrote the song and recorded it, but he didn’t release it because he didn’t like the way he sounded. I recorded it and liked it, and I realized it could be the album title. Sadly, he passed away, so I never got a chance to meet him. That song went to #51 on the country charts.”
“‘Everyday Heroes’ was written by Nashville songwriter Buddy Hyatt, and it opened at #79. It’s a trilogy, three stories of people who help other people. One changes a tire for a lady on the side of the road, one saves a baby from a burning house and one saves his battalion in Afghanistan.
“Another song on my album is ‘In this Heart of Mine,’ and it could very well be a wedding song. Growing up as a small fry in Lake Highlands, everyone wanted the Paul Stookey song (Peter, Paul and Mary’s ‘This is Love’) at their wedding. I think this will be a good one, too.”
Finding the right songs – and songwriters – Morgan told me, has been key to the process.
“I went to an album release party at BMI and sat next to a guy who was keyboardist on that album. He said he was a songwriter, so I asked what he’d written. Turned out he was Spooner Oldham, songwriter for ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ by Percy Sledge, and ‘I’m Your Puppet,’ which several folks recorded. He said he was headed to Daryl and Neil’s wedding. That was Daryl Hannah and Neil Young. He’d been Neil Young’s keyboarder for 20 years.”
“I’ve been very lucky in all of this stuff,” admitted Morgan, explaining the process of finding songwriters. “Some of it is talent, but a lot of it’s luck. They’ve got to like you to give you their songs.”
When it was time to record, Morgan said he got lucky there, too.
“I went to Nashville to record the CD with my agent, Chuck Rhodes. When we turned onto Music Row and pulled up to Ocean Way Studios, I couldn’t believe it. It’s a Who’s Who of music. You have to be invited to record there. Somehow he got them to let me record there – even if it was in Studio B.
“When I walked into the studio, the musicians were all people I recognized. Brent Mason was guitarist on 20 albums with George Strait and is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Michael Lusk sang backup vocals with Loretta Lynn, and other studio musicians recorded with Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson and other legends. They were all stars – the best of the best. I just about fainted.”
After Morgan recorded his first four songs and got them playing on the radio, he went back to record the last 6. By then, his songs were doing well on the airwaves, so he was invited to record in Studio A.
“It used to be an old church, and the acoustics are incredible. The New York Philharmonic has recorded there. In October, we finished recording, and a lady designed my front and back cover.”
The CD pressing was delayed a month because “a popular artist” took precedence. Morgan is pretty sure the star who jumped him in line was George Strait, whose ‘Honky Tonk Time Machine’ was released about the same time. Morgan had no hard feelings, though, since he and Strait go way back. During his decades in the car business, Morgan sold custom-made luxury vehicles to George Strait, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson and Johnny Taylor.
“I told George (Strait) I was more of a rock-and-roller, and he said, ‘I’m gonna get you hooked on my music.’ He sent me 4 tickets, and his concert was amazing. I told my wife, ‘you know, this guy’s really good.’ I just hadn’t known him or his music very well.
“When I saw him again I thanked him and told him I’d never accept free tickets again. I didn’t give him free cars. He shouldn’t give me free tickets. But I did want the ability to buy tickets on the front row. I haven’t missed many shows, including plenty in Las Vegas. That’s how I got hooked on country.”
The more shows Morgan went to and CDs he bought, the more he started singing country around the house.
“You ain’t no George Strait,” Karin told him, “but you’ve got a pretty good voice.”
Karin encouraged him to take voice lessons, but the teacher said he was wasting his money – he already knew how to sing. He recorded cover songs and sent them to a Nashville agent, who said he had serious potential but needed to pay his dues.
“That’s what I’m doing now. I’m paying dues. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun. I practice 2-3 hours a day in my home music studio. It’s like exercise – you have to keep your vocal chords going.”
When the LHHS Class of 1970 reunites for their 50th reunion this fall, chances are good Morgan will be called onstage to sing a song or two from the good ole days for his classmates. He recalls being in the band at Lake Highlands Junior High and LHHS until his junior year, when he tried out and became a Wildcat cheerleader. He also made the LHJH football team – but that’s a sore subject.
“My best friend, Ken Barnett, busted my ankle in practice one day. It still hurts every morning when I wake up. The first time we played, I got leveled by some kid from Richardson. I was a big kid, but I was pretty sure the game wasn’t for me.”
Morgan sang in the church choir at his parents’ LH church, but his singing really progressed when he moved to First Baptist downtown.
“The choir director took a liking to me, and that’s where I really learned what to do. They were serious about it. They had singing Christmas trees – one on either side of the pulpit – and we sang almost every night of the holiday season. They had a teacher for the baritones and a teacher for the tenors – these guys meant business. I really liked the discipline of it. It really helped me.”
If you’d like to catch one of Morgan’s live gigs (or book him for one of your own), you can follow him on his website here or his Facebook page here. You may purchase his $20 CD and other Sonny Morgan swag here.