A few years ago, Ashland’s Ralph Morman was nothing less than a genuine rock star.
Morman, 61, who was the lead singer for Savoy Brown as well as the first version of The Joe Perry Project when the noted guitarist departed from Aerosmith (he is the original vocalist on Perry’s “Let the Music Do the Talkin’” and co-wrote “Discount Dogs” and “Rockin’ Train” on the band’s first album), has returned to the recording studio for the first time in decades. He still hasn’t settled on a title for the new album, although he has an outstanding lineup of musicians ready to add their sounds to the mix and knows exactly what he wants to hear when the project is complete.
“I’ve got about 50 notebooks full of songs. When I write them I hear the whole song ... you know, complete,” Morman said during a break in recording at Thunder Bay Studios in Ashland, explaining the crucial role of guitarist John Isaacs, a veteran of the music scene “who used to have hair down to his waist” and will be involved with every aspect of the new album.
“We are essentially the core of the group at the moment. We wanted to get a unit together that’s going to stay together for as long as we can,” Morman said of himself and Isaacs before adding a list of other musicians who will be working on the recording or performing with them during live shows.
Morman says he has lived a quiet life in the Summit community in recent years, providing him with plenty of time to develop new songs. “I was pretty much a nurse from ’06 on,” he said, explaining his father required assistance after breaking a hip and his wife re-injured herself trying to help his dad up from the floor. “I just sat around, listened to music and wrote lyrics. I said when my wife gets better I’m going to get back into it while I can. I’ve got so many songs laying around ... I can’t let them lay around like that.”
Listening to Morman talk about the new album, Isaacs summed it up simply: “You’re gonna hear Ralph & Roll.” The comment prompts the singer to say he’s tempted to dub his new band “Rev. Ralph and the Morman Fishing Tackle Choir” chuckling as he explains “I always get accused of being a Mormon even though my name is spelled with an A.”
Morman said there is one song in particular that could end up as the title track of his new album.
“If it comes out the way I’m hoping ... It’s called ‘Doing Time on Planet Earth.’ It is a special song that was written when my wife’s only brother passed away. I’ve worked up about a half dozen versions of it so far,” Morman said.
“I like trying to do stuff that’ll touch everybody. Things that all can relate to. It’s all pretty much blues — rock-based with some funk thrown in there. And, I’ve got a couple of ballads too. You’ve got to have those,” he said.
Morman says he’s looking forward to playing live. “I want to get in front of people and get that feeling again ... that plugged-in vibe.”
Morman’s career in music began in Ashland with The Outcasts, although he could have never known the crazy path his time in the spotlight would follow before he “called it quits” and came back to Kentucky “around 1984 or ’85 — something like that.”
“The music business was whacko,” Morman said, shaking his head as he remembered his last band’s efforts to get a record deal before losing their drummer, Randy Castillo, to Ozzy Osbourne’s band.
“I just got fed up with the whole L.A. scene and decided to go home ... come back to Kentucky. My brother’s girlfriend set me up with her neighbor and it was just an instant thing,” he said of meeting his future wife, Debbie Secord.
“Her mom was in Florida and wanted some help. So, we got married in ’87 and ran condos in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. There was a karaoke bar within walking distance, so karaoke was the only music I did for years. I just kind of went underground in ’87. Then, in ’97 we moved back to Kentucky for my first grandchild, Hannah, here in Ashland. Actually, my wife flew up and left me with the condos. She had planned to be here for the birth, but she called me and said, ‘Pack everything up. I’m not leaving this baby.’”
Looking back, Morman is the first to say “It was a long journey ...” when he left The Outcasts and joined a band called The Store, a group with a three-piece horn section that played “a lot of Blood, Sweat and Tears stuff,” and had all of their equipment stolen when they accepted an invitation to play at the Goose Lake Music Festival.
“We had no gear — no P.A. We couldn’t play anywhere. We had rent due ... everything was due. I had enough money for a plane ticket to Boston,” he said, explaining he made the trip and joined forces with a band called Tangerine in response to an ad for a singer in Rolling Stone magazine, leading to other gigs with other bands and eventually another unsuccessful attempt at stardom. Morman decided to hitch a ride to Florida to visit his brother and stopped in Washington D.C. along the way.
“I ended up staying in D.C. almost three years with the band Magnum. We were a house band and had packed shows every night. $300 a week and no bar tab — it was a pretty cushy gig,” he said, noting the band had great players, but no strong songwriters. “That was the first time I quit music since I was 15.”
Explaining his eventual connection with Joe Perry, Morman said he met the members of Aerosmith before the now-legendary band ever sold their first record.
“I’d known Aerosmith since they all lived in one house,” he recalled, adding he and his sister approached a member of the band’s road crew and got to talk with them after the show at a time when the group was on the verge of breaking up.
“Before I left I told Joe, ‘I’ve been doing construction work for about a year. If you run into a band that’s ready to record, give me a call. About three weeks later Joe called and said, ‘I found a band for you.’ I asked what kind of stuff do they do? He said, ‘Kind of Aerosmith stuff.’ I asked, ‘Do I know any of them?’ He said, ‘Me’ and explained there had been a huge fight and he had quit Aerosmith. I said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
Ralph Morman’s new album is expected to be complete in late May or early June. For more information about the singer search for Ralph Morman Band on Facebook, MySpace or Reverbnation on the Internet.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.
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