Warren Morgan (53-59) is a rock pianist, who for the last 60 years has played for some of the biggest rock bands in Australia. Hear about his career, his friendship with John Paul Young, and how the music industry provides a lifetime worth of inspiration and entertainment.
Warren was born in Victoria in 1941 and moved to Western Australia shortly after the war ended in 1949. He attended East Claremont Primary School before coming to Wesley College in 1953. In his musical career he played with bands such as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, The Chain and the infamous John Paul Young.
What are some of the important lessons you learnt whilst growing up?
My parents taught me from a very early age that respect and an understanding of others is crucial to building relationships. From there you can help and serve the people. Most importantly, though, is to be decent and kind. That is all.
Is there a particular story or moment from your time at Wesley you remember?
There was a time when I was meant to be doing my mock exam for Tech Drawing. I remember being found in Jenkins Quadrangle drawing with my ink and pencil. Clearly, I was meant to be doing my mock exam and not drawing in the Quadrangle so I was dragged over to Mr Vic Cooper’s office. Fortunately, he was the Deputy Head at the time and I did not have to go see the Headmaster, Norman Collins. I cannot remember my punishment, but that drawing would go on to win the Art Prize in 1959. It is a funny story that makes me smile. Being Vice-captain of the 1st XVIII Football Team was pretty special to me. The great thing about these Wesley stories is often it is John Paul Young who reminds me of them. He knows more of the Wesley boys than I do.
How did you meet John Paul Young?
In early 1975 I was on my second tour with Stevie Wright as his music director. John was the ‘new kid’ on the block and was the supporting act to our band. As that tour came to an end, John rang me asking me if I could do the same work for him that I did for Stevie. He was enjoying a rapid rise in success and with that escalation he saw the need for a band. I jumped at the opportunity.
Love is in the Air is obviously a well-known song. It is your favourite or is there another song you prefer?
It is a fine song that has won many awards and accolades. Even being played at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. It was actually written to export into our German market. Early in 1977 another song, Standing in the Rain, was blowing up in Germany and John Paul Young needed another song to capitalise in that market. So, the basic electronic sound and structure of Standing in the Rain was carried over into Love is in the Air. The rest is history I suppose; however, I really do enjoy Standing in the Rain for what it is and what it represented in John Paul Young’s career and success.
You have been a mainstay in the Australian rock industry for over 50 years. What is it about the industry or rock music that keeps you motivated and involved?
It is a question I often ask myself and there truthfully isn’t one correct answer. Composing certainly acts as a way to discover new things and push boundaries. There is a real thrill and excitement that occurs when you compose and it sits separate to performing. In a way, that has kept me young and provides new challenges. Similarly, being able to perform and record with your best mates all year round is all you can ask for at times. Particularly in the year we have had, being able to connect online and record has been a revelation. Over my lifetime of composing, recording, and performing, I have had my mates by my side. And that friendship keeps you in the game and is far better than going down to the pub for a drink.
What is your best piece of advice for a young musician?
Train yourself in the classics or at least begin with an understanding of them. It provides a rudimentary understanding of all music and allows you to branch out later as a musician. There will be times in your career where you have to choose between your head or your heart. Follow your heart, your passions, and your desires. Those emotions keep your confidence high and the ability to branch out in your own musical space.
Who had a big influence on you as a musician?
Jerry Lee Lewis would have to be the biggest influence. So much so, I almost became a boogie player. From a rock and roll perspective, Ray Charles was and still is a large influence on my career. I’ve had the opportunity to do several covers of his songs.
After you left school, you spent six years studying to be an accountant and worked for BHP during that time. What impact did this experience have on your career?
Well it certainly allowed me to budget well. It is handy to have training in areas different to your passion and look at things from a different perspective. Having the credentials do look good, but more than that, they provide a base to train yourself in any skill or job.
Is there a particular performance that is most memorable for you?
Every performance is unique. Different venue, different crowd, and a different vibe. That’s why I love performing, for the variety. Performing at the Sydney Opera House is always amazing and a prestigious affair. The wild days of rock and roll at big festivals and the Bondi Life Saver have provided many cherished memories for me. I have been fortunate to have many memorable performances and wouldn’t have it any other way.
During these unprecedented times, with the lifestyle of performing in front of crowds impacted, what has kept you motivated? How have you adapted? And what does this hold for the future of the music industry in Australia?
A challenging time for all, that is for sure. I have been fortunate that I can keep practising and performing. John Paul Young has a great studio set up in Newcastle and has been doing some advertising work. Creating little jingles for a website and just trying new things, I suppose. We are still practicing a fair amount online and are ready to perform once lockdown ends. That said, I have a few gigs coming up for a local council and for close mates. My motivation has come with the opportunity to work on some different projects away from music directly and I look forward to sharing those with you soon. In terms of the future of the music industry, I think it has proven to be an adaptive one and I know the Australian community will rally around us.
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