This Prof Sings What He Preaches

 

By Bill Brownstein
The Montreal Gazette, February 5, 2009

Rockabilly 101, plus courses on the history of soul, roots of rock, music of the Beatles and Stones. Hell, school was never this much fun in my day - from what I can recall. School wasn’t that much fun, either, in Craig Morrison’s day - which was pretty much near the same day as mine.

But school is a blast now - if you happen to be in one of Professor Craig Morrison’s aforementioned music classes at Concordia University. But don’t be confusing Morrison for some ivory-tower egghead academic. He practises what he preaches. Actually, he sings it. In addition to his Concordia course load, Morrison has been a staple on the folk/rock/bluegrass/country music scene since uprooting here from his native Victoria 25 years ago. Morrison can be frequently caught singing and strumming with one of his three groups : the Momentz, Vintage Wine or The Never-Be Brothers.

And tomorrow night at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, Morrison will be joined by members of all three bands as well as special guests as he pays rousing homage to his rockabilly hero Buddy Holly, who perished in a plane crash 50 years ago this week.The music may have died for some with the passing of Holly, as well as Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, also on that ill-fated flight. But Morrison has done more than his part in keeping the music of Holly alive and vibrant throughout the years.

Holly’s music figured prominently in Morrison’s master’s thesis on the roots of rockabilly in 1983, as it does today in his Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll class at Concordia.

"I remember listening to his music when I was 10," Morrison says. "I liked it, but I didn’t really pay much attention to him. It wasn’t until I heard so many other musicians covering his music that I began to realize what kind of impact he had."

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Morrison played in a Sha Na Na-like, rock-nostalgia band, which performed many of Holly’s tunes.

It was around the same time that there was a sudden renaissance of the man, with the release of the flick The Buddy Holly Story, as well as a greatest hits disc. "Then I became totally mesmerized by his music and his place in music history, which soon led me to study rockabilly for my master’s thesis," he says. "It’s just amazing when you see how many were so influenced by Holly and when you realize he was only 22 when he died."

Amazing, indeed, to hear how everyone from Elvis to Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley to the Beatles, Bobby Darin to Bob Dylan, and Little Richard to the Rolling Stones, are among those who were touched by the musical magnetism of Holly. In fact, at tomorrow’s concert, Morrison et al will not only be blasting such vintage Holly tunes like That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue and It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, but will also be covering the tunes of the many artists Holly influenced as well as those of Valens and The Big Bopper.

Hosting the concert will be Mitch Melnick, renowned radio sports-jock who is as high on Holly as he is on the Habs. (Still, neither the Habs nor Holly can touch Dylan on Melnick’s charts.)

For the record, Morrison got his PhD thesis on San Francisco’s psychedelic music. "Hey, what do you expect ?" he cracks. "I grew up on the West Coast."

And some of us may return to class if Morrison starts teaching Moby Grape 101 at Con U.

The 12th Annual Roots of Rock and Roll Concert That’ll Be the Day : Buddy Holly and Friends Remembered, tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke St. W. Tickets : $15 ; $11 for seniors ; $8 for students. Info : 514-848-4848.

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006