It’s lucky for the music industry in Colorado, and the nation, that Chuck Morris dropped out of the University of Colorado. If Morris had stayed in graduate school, he probably would have wound up as a professor or a political lobbyist. Instead, Morris became one of the most successful music promoters and managers Colorado has seen. Along the way he also has helped shape the state’s and nation’s music industry, aiding the careers of a long list of bands and musicians like the Eagles, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Who, Willie Nelson, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Lyle Lovett and Leo Kottke.
That’s an impressive, albeit abbreviated, list of artists. But ask Morris if he would describe himself as a promoter and he offers a more unassuming and humorous self-portrait: “I would describe myself as a neurotic Jew from Brooklyn who has loved music my whole life and has been lucky enough to make a long career out of this ridiculous job that I have.” Actually, he’s had a multitude of jobs over his 40-plus year career in music, starting when he decided not to get his doctorate in political science at CU. Morris remains obsessed with the music industry. His current company, AEG Live Rocky Mountains (a live-entertainment subsidiary of Phil Anschutz’s Los Angeles-based AEG) this year took over management of the 18,000-seat Fiddler’s Green in Greenwood Village. AEG is spending $5 million to improve the site’s facilities, both for concert-goers and the artists.
Among the acts being brought to Fiddler’s Green this year is Bruno Mars, the pop sensation and halftime entertainment at the 2014 Super Bowl. Mars will bring his Moonshine Jungle tour to Fiddler’s Green Aug. 17. AEG Live also books shows at Red Rocks and the Pepsi Center as well as managing or co-managing the Ogden Theatre, Bluebird Theatre, Gothic Theatre, and the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield. Morris has been president and CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains, a job he says is the best he’s had, since 2007. “It’s a company from the top down, starting with Phil (Anschutz), where they let me do my thing and give you the means to make your dreams come true,” he says. “I can’t ask for any more than that.”
It was through the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that Morris became friends with Anschutz, who is a big fan of the group. Anschutz arranged with Morris to take the Eagles to Moscow in 1977 to open a show of the Anschutz Western art collection. The band, the first American rock band to play in the Soviet Union, performed over three weeks at a variety of venues. Among these were Gorky Park and the Moscow Variety Theater, where Anschutz gave away about 1,500 tickets to children, with several dozen children as young as six coming on stage and playing with the band.
Morris’ career is legendary in the industry, so much so that his life became the subject of a musical play written and staged by Denver’s Curious Theatre in 2013. The play, titled “Folk This,” was a humorous take on his personal foibles, alcohol abuse and mentoring by Anschutz and the late Barry Fey. It also poked fun at Morris’ trademark colorful and funky eyeglasses, of which he has about 60 pair. “It was hysterical,” Morris says of the play, “the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve always been honest about my life and some of my weaknesses. I’ve been sober for 25 years but in my old days I was a wild and crazy guy. They put it all in the play. It was great. It was a fun night.”
The musical was part of Curious Theatre’s Denver Stories, which Producing Artistic Director Chip Walton says is both a fundraiser and celebration of Denver and those people who have helped make it great. Past honorees have included Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., singer and cabaret owner Lannie Garret, and others. Paul Herzmark, executive director of the Denver Health Foundation, will be honored this year.
Morris was picked for the 2013 play because “he has a dynamic and exciting story, and an authentic presence in Denver's business and philanthropic community, let alone his national and international reputation in the music industry, says Walton. “Chuck has a very colorful past, and he gave us the liberty to use his life events to write a great story, and that's exactly what we did,” Walton says. “Chuck struck a great balance of being helpful in the development of his play while letting the playwright, Dee Covington (Walton’s wife and co-founder), do her magic in telling an entertaining account of his life. “In our playwriting process, many commented that Chuck has ‘the best ears in the business.’ As someone who is often among the first to hear some of the country's greatest musical acts, his ear for what audiences will like—let alone demand—is nothing short of remarkable.”
Read the full story in the April/May issue...
Bio: Brad Smith is a longtime Colorado journalist who also was a political science major at CU’s grad school in the ‘60s and frequented the Sink and Tulagi’s.