The Late, Great, Tom "Wolf" Morrell
Inducted into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1988
Inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1997
Inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2001
THIS PAGE IS NOW BEING DEVELOPED, AND THIS
BIOGRAPHY WILL BE MODIFIED AND UPDATED
OVER THE COMING DAYS. (07-27-12)
THOMAS CHARLES MORRELL
1988 - Texas Steel Guitar Association: "Hall of Fame"
1994 - Texas Steel Guitar Association: "Player of the Year"
1997 - Texas Western Swing "Hall of Fame," San Marcos, Texas
1997 - Western Swing "Hall of Fame," Sacramento, California
1997 - Certificate Of Recognition from California State Senate
1997 - Texas Steel Guitar Association, Honorable Mention
1998 - Texas Steel Guitar Association, Honorable Mention
1999 - Cowtown Society of Western Music - "Hero of Western Music"
2001 - International Steel Guitar "Hall of Fame," St. Louis, Missouri
2002 - Western Swing Music Society of Seattle, WA. "Pioneer Of
2003 - Nolan Bruce Allen Appreciation Award
2007 - Fort Worth Weekly, Music Awards: "Texas Hall of Fame"
Morrell through 1990 - by Kevin Coffey
Although Tom Morrell played professionally for over 55 years, and despite such honors as his 1988 induction into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame and his 2001 induction into the International Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame, Morrell remained relatively obscure. Certainly, he was never as well known outside of musician's circles as his talents merited.
Tom was born in Dallas on Halloween, 1938, just hours after Orson Welles' legendary "War Of The Worlds" radio broadcast sent much of America reeling in panic. He grew up in Oak Cliff and his family was not especially musical, though his mother played some piano. "My parents used to 'jitterbug' to the big bands in the old days," he said, "but for some strange reason, I was into hillbilly music." A visit to the St. James Catholic School by the Trick Brothers Guitar Institute around 1950 proved pivotal: Tom took a few steel guitar lessons and even bought his own Alamo lap steel. Since the Trick Brothers made quite a killing selling their own model and Tom's Alamo was both better and less expensive, they promptly kicked him out of the school. Nevertheless, within a year or two, Tom was playing well enough to land some paying gigs.
An early 50's visit to Dallas' "Bob Wills Ranch House" (later to become the infamous, Longhorn Ballroom) sealed Tom's fate. Although Wills had left the Ballroom by that time, the house band led by Dewey Groom and featuring a young Johnny Gimble, Curly Hollingsworth and others, knocked Tom out. He was hooked on Western Swing.
He began taking lessons from Dan McCord at Fred McCords music store and cocked an ear toward the steel guitar kingpins of the day: Joaquin Murphy, Noel Boggs, Herb Remington, Billy Bowman, Bobby Koefer, Bob White, Peewee Whitewing, and especially Jerry Byrd, the dean of Nashville session players. Tom also used to wake up at 6:00am to catch a great steel player named Johnny Bonivillian, who broadcast Live with a band on New Orleans' mega radio station, WWL. At Adamson High School he began to play with guitarists Steve Rodriguez, Leon Rhodes and Ralph Sanford, working up fabulous arrangements on staples like "Steel Guitar Rag," "Panhandle Rag" and others, which via Leon Rhodes would find their way into the 1960's repertoire of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadors. Through Rhodes, these high-schoolers, including bassist Grady Moss and drummer Ronnie Tutt (who later played with Elvis Presley for 10 years), procured local gigs and grew musically. "Steve knew music and I knew tunes," said Tom,. "I'd teach him songs he didn't know and he'd teach me chords."
Tom graduated in 1956 and went to California with his friend Charlie Straight. There he met some of his idols, like Joaquin Murphy and Noel Baggs - and apparently impressed them, too. According to Straight, Tom pleased Boggs so much that Noel asked him to fill in on gigs. Tom also played a regular Sunday gig at Wade Ray's Cowtown Ballroom with an offshoot of the Spade Cooley band, led by trombonist Phil Gray.
Tom returned to Texas and in 1957 was hired to replace the great Bobby Koefer in Billy Gray's western swing band. For a while, the two often played along side each other. Tom calls Billy Gray's "The best western swing band in the world." For commercial reasons, the gig was a short one, as Gray hired a steel player that could sing and Tom was out. Tom went to Waco with Jerry Dyke's band and then played the next few years in Greeley, Colorado, Carlsbad and then Hobbs, New Mexico, working with a variety of bands.
While in Hobbs, where he lived off and on for six years, Tom began working with the legendary "Western Starlighters." This notorious band was more interested in stretching out and playing jazz than conforming to commercial standards. It included at one time or another "all of the good swing players" of the era, such as Tommy Camfield, guitarist Leon Chambers, and steel player Billy Braddy. With Braddy on steel, Tom often found himself playing guitar, drums, or bass - which ever was needed. Tom also played a smattering of Trombone.
In the early 60's, Tom founded MSA Guitars (Morrell, Shields, Anderson) along with Danny Shields, Maurice Anderson, and Bobby Seymour, designing and building steel guitars. Though Tom left in 1971, the company continued making custom pedal steel guitars through the 80's.
Over the next two decades, Tom recorded and/or toured with countless and diverse bands, from Leon Rausch's Texas Playboys, to Tex Williams, Wade Ray, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and the country-rock group, "Calico." In the 70's and 80's he participated in numerous, excellent Jazz recording sessions for Johnny Case's "Priority" record label. One of Tom's biggest influences was jazz guitarist, Barney Kessel. In the mid 80's Morrell worked on the soundtrack to "True Stories" with David Byrne and The Talking Heads; and finishing out the 80's, Tom recorded often with Leon Rausch, Roy Lee Brown & The Musical Brownies, and the king of traditional western music, Don Edwards. Just before releasing what would become the first of a 15 Volume CD series (spanning 17 years) of his own works, Tom and many of the soon-to-be Time Warp Tophands played a western swing private party for Paul McCartney in Chicago to celebrate the end of his 1990 world tour.
(to be continued)
Tom Morrell (left) appearing with The Texas Playboys in June of 2001, Wichita Falls, Texas.