Senior James Morgan strummed his guitar alone in his California backyard.
“That was back then when the world never told the truth,” he sang. “That was back then when the skeletons entered the room.”
In the midst of his personal performance, he was interrupted by his father with a proposition: Morgan’s parents would pay for studio time if he would record the songs he had written.
“It was like all these different ideas of what could come of this, different possibilities; it was just very, very exciting,” Morgan said. “It was a thrill, and it was kind of hard to sleep sometimes.”
Morgan quickly called Harding alumnus. Morgan said he and Morris worked well together due to being good friends.
After a quick Google search, Morris discovered River City Recording Studio in Sacramento, California. He flew from Arkansas to California for five days to assist Morgan with his album. The friends worked with producer Rich Ayres, who started his business around 2006 and opened for Willie Nelson.
Morgan said he used professional equipment while recording, including a 2006 Martin 45 guitar and sound board Ayres said he purchased from a broker in the Nashville area. He said the board was used to record artists like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
“I can’t say ‘I played with this person’ or ‘I recorded in that studio,’ but I can say ‘the sound board they used for Dolly Parton’,” Morgan said. “This is a legit thing, it’s not just some guy who runs a recording studio; it’s a guy who takes it seriously.”
Ayres contacted two well-known musicians to add instrumentals to Morgan’s track. Drummer Keith Edwards, who played with artists Ricky Skaggs, Chuck Gifford and Gary Chapman, recorded with Morgan in the studio. The track was also sent to Marty Rifken, who played with artists Tom Petty, Elton John, Dwight Yoakam and Weird Al Yankovic, to add steel guitar.
Morgan sang and played guitar and Morris added guitar, bass and mandolin. Celeste Galicia, Morgan’s friend from home, sang harmony on the album.
“It was hard to not cry sometimes listening to it,” Morgan said. “It was weird, but it was like ‘this is real.'”
The five-track EP is titled City of Trees, the motto of his hometown, Woodland, California. The album was released in early August and is available on CD Baby, iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
“(My music) speaks to where I was at the time (of writing it),” Morgan said. “It’s a really genuine and honest connection to me. Part of why I wanted to put it out there is, one, I’m proud of it, and two, music is so important to our culture and to our lives and to be able to connect with friends or people across the world through something that you produced that’s authentic, I think that’s a truly beautiful thing.”
Morgan has taken guitar classes and participated in Homecoming musicals and Spring Sing and enjoys performing for others. He said if the opportunity arose to make a career out of music while settled with a family, he would.
“I think he’s fantastic,” Ayres said. “He certainly is as good or better than any songwriter out there who is doing it for a career.”