Norman Morrison and Terry Kincannon (TK) started making music together in their teens. Composing during “Saturday Jams” at TK`s parents` house, in Hayward, California. With Norman responsible for the songs, and TK, the arrangements. In the early `70s, for a one-off payment, they secured unlimited studio time at a small San Francisco studio. Allowing them to self-release a few 45s. Which lead to a recording contract with a local company, Chandos. The deal, however, produced only one single. The B-side of which was a tune called To See One Eagle Fly. Undeterred, the friends continued to write, rehearse, and use that studio time until 1986. When family commitments took over, and they put their musical dreams on indefinite hold. Then nearly thirty years later, in 2013, Norman got a call from UK-based label, Spacetalk. Inquiring about licensing To See One Eagle Fly. Pete Beaver, a friend of Spacetalk co-founder, Danny Mclewin, had found a copy of the Chandos 45. Norman agreed and mentioned that he happened to have an archive of unreleased material, if they were interested. They were, and Beneath The Redwoods is the result.
The music selected spans a decade. From the 1970s to the mid-1980s. Generally speaking it`s Jazz-tinged Folk Rock. Encompassing acoustic picking, Santana-esque solos, and Jean-Luc Ponty flights of electric violin. Country Boogie, and the low slung Blues grooves of Robin Trower, or Steve Miller. Full of West Coast harmonies, and exuding Californian sunshine. Transporting you to a Big Sur beach campfire. Or a coastal drive through Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Davenport, Pescadero, and San Gregorio. Top down. Wind playing with your care-free, blond curls. Like a sonic sojourn. A time & space machine. Relocating you to the summer days of youth. Of skateboards, surfing, and holidays spent “diving for dimes”. With lyrics that celebrate childhood yesterdays and teenage heartbreak. Introspective, yet strengthened by resolve. Lyrics that explore conservationist themes. Inspired by the surrounding nature. The ocean, mountains, and Mount Diablo State Park. There are so many standout tracks that the collection`s destined to be heralded as a “lost” singer / songwriter classic. In the manner of David Kaufmann & Eric Caboor`s Songs From Suicide Bridge. To crossover “scenes” the same way Stonesthrow`s Matthew Larkin Cassell compilation did.
Super privileged to receive a promo of the album, I was also lucky enough to get to ask Norman Morrison a few questions.
Your music collected here spans the late 1960s to mid-1980s. For me the most obvious, and easiest, question to ask, is who would have been your musical influences, and how did your influences change over time?
My early influences by memory have to be my mother for one. She always sung silly songs that were clever and I always enjoyed them. Also my parents music choices had to play a factor. But also I was influenced by my surroundings. I used to make up songs to the beat / sound of our washing machine as it agitated. When I tinkered with an instrument I would automatically make up stuff on it. Perry Como, Andy Williams, Doris Day records were being played at my home. The first album I bought was a Bob Dylan LP. His giving deep messages was what I liked about his songs. The Beatles were a favourite band also. Lennon / McCartney was where we got Morrison / Kincannon, because I was the main writer, as Lennon was early on and Terry (TK) was the better singer early on. James Taylor was a favourite of both TK & myself, and our voices sounded similar.
Who were your favourite songwriters? Favourite guitar players?
Off the top of my head: Dylan; Bernie Taupin & Elton John; Crosby, Stills & Nash & Young; Moody Blues; Yes; Genesis; Carol King; Cat Stevens; Dan Fogelberg; Pink Floyd; Don McClean; Joe Walsh. I’m sure there are others. Jimi Hendrix` Purple Haze and All Along The Watchtower. I would have to say that TK’s guitar solos may have been influenced by The Allman Brothers and Santana early on. I was more drawn to the ones that were “out there”, because what I heard in my head hadn’t been played yet.
I can hear the influence of both Folk and Jazz. Would that be correct?
Folk for sure. The “Jazz” part is more because I believed in the freedom of not having to sound like someone else. TK was the one who was bent on structure. Things that he could identify in songs, that he learned so he could perform them. TK was good for me in the respect of preventing the music we did from being so unusual that people may not relate to it at all. I was the wild one who had original ideas that at that time could not be exactly categorised into any genre. The thing is that one of our “Morrison Kincannon” “issues” was, and still is, that I could write a complete copyrightable song – melody, lyrics, rhythm – and then Terry would accompany it with his understanding and belief of what chords and structure formula would bring to it. The issue was that what he did was contribute an arrangement to my creation, but he was often given credit for writing the music. When the copyrightable parts mentioned above were created before TK ever heard the song. It`s like Jimi Hendrix performing All Along The Watchtower. He put his own rendition / expression / arrangement to the song. But he didn’t write the song. Bob Dylan wrote the song. Manny Greenhill figured this out early on and had a talk with me because I was giving credits that should have been called “Arrangements” not music creation. I have Jazz in me but I call it “freedom of expression”.
In looking for musical comparisons – in order to put your music in context for a review – I came up with the following list. Would any of these had any impact on your songwriting?
Bill Withers Yes
Little River Band Possibly
Steve Miller Yes
Robin Trower Yes
Where did the idea of the violin solos – on Sonshine, and To See One Eagle Fly – come from?
I had been performing and jamming with Bob Rindy separate from Morrison Kincannon and also together with TK. Bob had a musical personality I incorporated in a good dozen songs that I had written and we recorded. Jean-Luc Ponty was a favorite of mine, because he was “Progressive”, which I was also.
What might have inspired the “cosmic breakdown” on Destination?
Not sure, but that was the only music part I employed in the song outside of the cadence and expressive parts of the lyric, melody, and timing in the delivery. I had access to Mr. Grace and loved his piano playing and wanted to incorporate his abilities into the song. I call it an “interlude”. It’s part of that “freedom” I had a need for in song creation.
Given your location, were you guys big surfers? Your music exudes West Coast sunshine, and I can hear strong similarities with surfer bands like Honk, and the soundtrack to the surfer movie Five Summer Stories. Are you familiar with either the band or the film?
I`m not familiar with the band or film. We both had many friends who surfed. Even more that loved the beach. The Beach Boys were a favourite of everyone I knew.
Given the backdrop of social change that was taking place during this time of these recordings – civil rights demonstrations, the Vietnam War, Watergate – I was surprised that there are no protest songs here. Can you comment on that?
I wrote at least a dozen such songs that just were not picked for this project. Some of the Titles are: America – the B side of our rarest record from 1971, Repetition, We Run, Wise Ol’ Man, Going Down The River, Taxes, Crazy For That Money, Who Are You?, Sunset, Another Year, Tree strained Winds. But there is a line in To See One Eagle Fly. (laughs).
“Could it be that you can see this land`s not free.”
The biggest question is how did it feel to be contacted by Spacetalk after all this time? How did it feel to go back to listen to all of these songs, which hold so many personal memories? To revisit a youth spent “diving for dimes”?
At first I was just surprised. After thinking about it, I concluded that God must have been at work. Here on my own, I had negotiated to purchase my / our songs back from Folklore Productions / Chandos Music in 2009 not knowing what was coming down the pike. The first email I had from Simon came in 2013 saying that he had been looking for me and found me on Linkedin. I was glad that after all those years of saving and storing my recordings it proved justified. But also I had been revisiting songs that I had forgotten about, once they were digitised and accessible. I had given away my TEAC 3340S, so I had nothing to play most of the tapes on until I bought one again to do this project. I had cassettes of about 100 songs and a box of my lyrics and some note sheets. Most of these songs I am committed to recording just for the record.
Are you and TK still in regular contact? Are you still making music, either together, or individually?
As of most recently we are both doing completely separate things. We have spoken only two or three times in the past year. But I`m hoping to have a good visit very soon. I never stopped writing songs. TK has some recordings of a few songs. I also have several songs from an era of writing with my cousin Dick / Rich Morrison that also took place in the 70s. He was with me on the trip where I wrote Freely. God willing Morrison Kincannon will make at least one more recording. (Laughs)
Morrison Kincannon`s Beneath The Redwoods is released on Spacetalk this Friday (January 26th). You can order a copy directly from Bandcamp.