Grammy-winner Dennis Morgan says he’d rather be remembered “as a songwriter who touched others with his music, not a specific song.”
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Grammy-winner Dennis Morgan believes songwriters have to be “a bit of a pirate and a bit of a Sherlock Holmes. You have to experiment. There’s more emphasis now on people knowing the business, and kids have a level of knowledge I can’t believe. It’s great but it’s a potential hindrance because they must remember that first and foremost it’s the song. The making of the music is why we’re all here and what it’s all about. You must remember that you want to write great songs, and everything else will fall into place. It’s that simple and that complicated.”
Though he’s written 22 number one records on Billboard’s pop, country, and adult contemporary charts, Dennis says he’d rather be remembered “as a songwriter who touched others with his music, not a specific song. If I’m lucky enough to write songs that last, beautiful…but the buzz, the high and the pure pleasure is in the doing of it. That’s what a songwriter is. You have to love it, because you’re going to have more rejections than acceptances. I write all kinds of songs and get restless being categorized as one type of songwriter. I believe in one thing: great songs. Then great producers and artists can interpret those songs. I’ve had songs that were cut in both pop and country, and it’s pretty cool.
“One of the songs I’ve been pretty lucky to be a part of is Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No.” I just simply sent it to his people,” Morgan explains about his successful method of breaking through into the pop field on this and other hits. “There’s this theory I have that politics can both enhance and imprison you. If you play that game and all the time, you lose. It’s like you’re too far behind the curtain and can see how the magic is done. I want to sit in the audience and watch the magic trick. That’s where the fun is. We wrote a song and sent it to his people, and that’s the way it oughta be done. If I’m different in any way, it’s because I decided to have my own company and to look at the entire free world as a place to have hits.”
Little shop of Morgansongs/Morgan Music Group, Inc. hit a home run with it’s first cut, the chart-topping “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” recorded by Aretha Franklin and George Michael, for which Dennis won a Grammy as writer. Dennis estimates his publishing group has had 30 hit singles (including “I Swear”) and at least 100 million recorded sales of their songs in the past eight years. It’s also said to be leading independent publisher in foreign countries.
Besides that Grammy (and other Grammy nominations) and numerous Songwriter of the Year awards, Dennis was presented with England’s most prestigious music prize, the Ivor Novello Award for Song of the Year for Climie Fisher’s version of “Love Changes Everything,” which Dennis co-wrote with Simon Climie (whom he credits as an important part of his musical growth) and Rob Fisher. Morgan remembers, “It was a very high honor. I believe I was only the second American ever to win it. Paul and Linda McCartney and everybody were there.”
That must have been real thrill for the guy who decided he wanted to be a songwriter “on a Sunday night in 1964 when I turned on the Beatles. Three seconds it took!”
McCartney and Lennon remain among his songwriting heroes, along with Bob Dylan (who he’d love to have record one of his songs because “I love his singing and he’s pulled off the marvelous thing of being kind of a free spirit in a rather structured industry”) and Jimmy Webb. “They did it the way they wanted to and were so smart they got away with it and changed everything…real leaders.” Dennis reflects.
He breaks down his own career into four phases. “My coming to Nashville was step one. Step two was meeting (his former publisher) Tom Collins and (former co-writer) Kye Fleming. Step three was Steve Davis and I having a more free-flowing, writing songs and getting ‘em out there type of approach. Step four was me setting up my own company on a world-wide basis and writing with people all over the world.”
Of the vast gallery of his co-writers (among the latest being Lulu, Donovan and Shel Silverstein), Dennis claims each is his favorite. “To work with a co-writer, there has to be rapport and understanding. It just comes together naturally. I feel I can write with anyone who loves music the way I do. I wrote four songs with Willie Dixon before he passed away, and that was one of the accomplishments of my life. I’ll never make a penny from those songs, but I don’t care.”
About his writing style, Dennis says, “I feel you should get the structure of a song in an hour, though the tweaking can take forever. I’m a fast writer and don’t like to sit and work on one song all day. I wrote by appointment forever but I find it more restricting in this day and age. I used to write eight hours a day, and now I write all the time!” he quips.
Among his favorite cuts of his songs are “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” and “Love In The Right Hands” by Rod Stewart. “Smokey Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” David Lee Roth’s “Sensible Shoes” and Sylvia’s “Nobody.” New Dennis Morgan material has recently been cut by Milsap, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Mel McDaniel, and Billy Burnette (who is one of those Morgan co-writers).
Dennis wasn’t exaggerating when he talked about the many categories in which he writes. His songs have been cut by such diverse talents as George Strait, Fleetwood Mac, Peabo Bryson, Tom Jones, Kansas, Joe Cocker, Amy Grant, and Paul Anka. Most recently, he wrote and published Cliff Richard’s “Healing Love” in Europe.
Dennis and Shel Silverstein have been writing children’s songs together for an album Dennis is recording himself. He laughingly admits, “it’s a lot of fun. I hit 38 and wanted to be a kid again.” That’s not too hard to believe about a guy who has a line of Snow White’s Dwarfs (he’s a Disney fan) marching across his desk.
Dennis Morgan may create magic himself with his writing and publishing skills, but it’s clear he’s still as enthralled with watching watching the magic behind the curtain as on that night in February 30 years ago when the Beatles inspired him.