Talk about true blues: Laurie Morvan’s hardscrabble path to the bandstand began years before she started playing music.
“I grew up on Bittersweet Lane in New Lenox, Illinois, and dad walked out. That is 100 percent true,” Morvan said. “Is there more of a blues beginning than that?”
A fiery lead guitarist and prolific songwriter, Morvan’s recording career began in 1997, so her “Bittersweet” childhood is long known to blues listeners. But with her making her Tuesday Night Blues with the Buddy Emmer Band debut on Nov. 23 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, now is a right time to remind and inform readers.
Emmer’s weekly show began in 2014 and is up and rocking again after two suspensions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Each week Emmer’s experienced band opens with a solo set followed by two sets with a featured guest star. Morvan will be just the second female to be the guest, with saxophonist Nancy Wright being the first.
Mighty Mike Schermer has been featured a few times and has performed with Morvan on a few occasions.
“She’s badass,” Schermer said. “She’s more in the blues-rock idiom but what I’ve always admired about Laurie is her energy. She just puts the pedal to the metal and really takes no prisoners. You don’t really need to question whether she’s good or not. She’s gonna let you know right away. You’re going to need to go there and find out.”
Morvan has been a badass in a lot of endeavors. And that’s due to her hard work.
A standout, multisport athlete in high school, Morvan received a scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Illinois. She earned a degree in electrical engineering. Her degree provided the opportunity to move to a warmer climate in southern California.
“I was recruited,” she said. “I was more of a rock star as an electrical engineering graduate of University of Illinois than I have ever been as a rock star. I was flown all over the country on interviews with engineering firms.”
Morvan worked three years at TRW, an aerospace corporation. She played in cover bands weeknights and weekends. An acoustic strummer, she had an epiphany after picking up an electric guitar.
“At 23 I said I want to play lead guitar,” she said. “I went into my boss and said I am leaving engineering and I was going to play music full time. He about fell out of his chair.”
Morvan applied the same work ethic to mastering guitar as she did with athletics and school. She would perform five or six days a week and practice three more hours each night.
“It’s the same drive,” she said. “It’s the same sort of stamina you have to have to do the hard, inglorious work of just practicing, studying, learning. Repeated practicing of those same things until you are flowing properly. Building blocks of playing the fun riffs that I want to play. Dedication to tiny details that make a difference between OK and great. It’s those little things.”
And the Illinois native finally discovered the blues after moving to California. She said Stevie Ray Vaughan was her gateway. And in typical blues style, she held on to her Stratocaster but had to sell her Les Paul to pay rent.
When it came time to make her first record, Morvan first went back to school to get a master’s degree in applied mathematics and got a teaching job to fund the production of an album. She’s taught college math now for 30 years and works at Cypress College in Orange County.
“I have two full-time careers,” she said. “It stabilized my income and I can tour all summer. Sometimes I am on the road driving 400 miles and I am grading calculus exams along the way.”
“Gravity,” released in 2018, is Morvan’s recording highlight. An all-original song filled album, “Gravity” was produced by Grammy winning drummer Tony Braunagel, who also has made records for Trampled Under Foot, Danielle Nicole, Curtis Salgado and Coco Montoya. Studio session all-stars Jim Pugh, Bob Glaub, Mike Finnigan and Barry Goldberg appear on the record.
This initial success of the album was stalled by the pandemic.
“’Gravity’ did not get its proper due,” she said. “But it happened at every level and everyone has suffered from this,” she said. “Musicians and entertainment in general are among the biggest losers in this whole Covid thing. All we can do is put on the work boots and hard hat and do the hard work. It’s all we can do.”
Morvan’s Tuesday Night Blues appearance has been anticipated for quite a while. It was postponed at least once due to the pandemic.
“Any time someone builds up something from nothing, I am always so impressed with that because it’s hard to do stuff and keep it going,” Morvan said. “That’s a tribute to Buddy and his band and their excellence at putting something good out there week in and week out, year in and year out. I can’t wait to do it. And he’s like the nicest guy on earth, too.”
Editor’s note: Front page portrait by Vince Weathermon was cropped.
- Buddy Emmer’s Tuesday Night Blues
- 8 p.m. – midnight, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
- Guest stars
- Nov. 23: Laurie Morvan
- Nov. 30: Rich Maloon
- Buddy Emmer Blues Band: Buddy Emmer, guitar, harp; Kim Emmer, vocals; Bryan Jenkins, drums; Mark Ishikawa, keys; Glade Rasmussen, bass.