The road to becoming a singing cowboy is seldom glamorous, if the songs depicting the struggle are any indication. That’s part of what makes those hard-living songs so universal. Now that Las Cruces’ own singing cowboy Tom Foster Morris has his own songs to share, denizens of southern New Mexico have even more to relate to.
In January, Morris released his first cd, “All Those Years Ago.” On it are eleven original songs, reflecting a life lived to its fullest, much of it right here in the Mesilla Valley. Conceived, recorded and produced locally, the album’s title track spent several weeks during the summer in the top 10 of the Independent Music Network Charts.
By all accounts, Morris is finally living the dream. Originally from Pennsylvania, he spent “a lot of years” traveling, including a stint in the Army and several years bartending in Pittsburg, before packing up his guitar and harmonica and making the move to Las Cruces in 1983. Years spent working as a house painter, then doing kitchen and bath design and finally working for a local builders supply company rounded out his blue collar experience.
“It took me a long time and a lot of living to realize that my life has been a country song,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, romances and marriages, drinking and drugs and travel and after 69 years of living, I decided there’s got to be a country song in there somewhere. After I wrote the first one, it turned out pretty well, so I started reevaluating some of the situations I’d been through in my life and tried to make a little poetry about it. It’s been very cathartic.”
A veteran of the open mic circuit in both Las Cruces and Silver City for close to three decades, it’s only been three years since Morris began writing songs seriously. He attributes his success in that area to the many friendships he has fostered amongst fellow musicians here in Las Cruces.
“I’ve probably written 30, 35 songs in the past three years,” he said. “It’s through encouragement from the musicians who back me on stage during the open mics that I got into the studio to do something with them. It’s their fault.”
Spoken with his trademark deadpan humor, followed by a chuckle, the comment speaks volumes for the camaraderie Morris feels for his musical counterparts. He attributes his growth as a musician and a songwriter to the men and women he has shared various stages throughout the valley with over the years. To that end, it helped shape the direction of his debut cd.
“The whole concept of the album was to use entirely local musicians and have it produced locally,” he said. “I used musicians I became friends with through the open mic at Cattleman’s and the Rio Grande Theatre.”
Produced by Travis Manning at Nasty Cactus Recording Studio, the cd reads like a who’s who of local veteran musicians. Included are Manning (C.S. Truckin’ and Mad MoeZell) on acoustic guitar and vocals; Rob Allen (C.S. Truckin’ and The Phuzz) on drums; Phillip Holmes (FastLane, Cadillac Kings and Tuco John) on bass and vocals; Sue Caldwell (Remember Then) on backing vocals; James T. Kirk on six and 12-string guitar and Jim Kirkland on mandolin.
Talent lined up, Morris went into the studio with a clear idea of what he wanted the cd to sound like.
“I’m a songwriter, so the song is what is important to me. I wanted to have a bare bones approach to each track for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted the instrumentation to enhance the song. Two, I wanted to be able to perform solo, without the instrumentation. In other words, I wanted the song to be able to stand on its own. Each musician that contributed bought in to that concept and understood what my endgame was.”
The result is a tour-de-force of hard-living lyrics and back-to-basics instrumentation that harkens back to the days when cowboys were king and the troubadours amongst them ruled the music charts. Songs about rekindled love (“All Those Years Ago”), easy southwestern living (“Along the Rio Grande,” “Angel In The Morning”) and unforgotten friendships (“Comanche Moon”) are offset by heartbreakers (“Let Me Down Easy,” “Shame On You”), introspective ruminations (“Baby Blue Eyes,” “Bad Luck And Trouble”) and life lessons (“For What It’s Worth,” “Just Another Heartache”). There’s even a train song, for purists (“Waiting On A Train”).
Copies of “All Those Years Ago” can be purchased online, via Reverb Nation, iTunes and Amazon.com among others, but he welcomes interested parties to find him on Facebook if a more personal touch is wanted.
For those interested in catching Morris live, he spends three evenings a week playing at Cattleman’s Steak House, where he first got his start in the Valley. On Sunday nights, he’s part of the regular Blues Jam, on Tuesday nights he has a regular solo gig from 5 to 7 p.m. and on Wednesday nights he is almost always part of the regular open mic. Beyond that, he can be found doing gigs at Uno’s Pizzaria, De La Vegas Pecan Brill, Amaro Winery and Q’s Bistro, among others.
It’s all part of the life he chooses to live and connecting with other like-minded souls, through his music.
“I retired so I could concentrate on my music and take my songwriting seriously,” he said. “I’m just a blue collar working man. I think my own personal experiences and the way I write about them is something that just about anybody can identify with. I’m not out to change the world or become a role model, but if somebody can relate to what I’ve been through, at least they know they’re not alone in the world. There’s somebody out there who understands what they’re going through.”
Upcoming Concert Dates
Friday 16 – Old Town Bistro, Socorro, NM, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sunday 18 – Bow Wow Swim Luau, Desert Hills Pool, 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Tuesday 20 – Cattleman’s Steakhouse, 5 to 7 p.m.
Wed 21 – Aristocrat Assisted Living, 3 to 4 p.m.
Friday 23 – Amaro Winery, 7 to 10 p.m.
Tuesday 27 – Cattleman’s Steakhouse, 5 to 7 p.m.
Originally published in the Las Cruces Bulletin, Friday, August 16, 2013. All Rights Reserved.