Tom Morrell bent steel with his hands. With his agile fingers
and wrists, he could coax a steel guitar to cry out a mournful melody and
to laugh out a happy phrase.
Mr. Morrell died Monday of emphysema at home in East Dallas. He was 68.
His contemporaries in Western swing and jazz consider
him a musical genius, while many mainstream country music
listeners don't know him. But they probably unwittingly hear his
session work on recordings by artists
such as Willie Nelson (The Sound in Your Mind),
Asleep at the Wheel (Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys )
and many others.
"There's nobody can even touch him," said Leon Rausch,
of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, before Mr. Morrell's
death. "He's a stone genius."
The Dallas native, who lived 30 years in Little Elm, left behind his
15-volume Tom Morrell and the Time Warp Top Tophands
"How the West Was Swung" series on WR Records.
The collection chronicles his passion for jazz and particularly Western
swing. Each CD features a roster of Texas' best musicians such as guitarists
Leon Chambers and Rich O'Brien, fiddlers Randy Elmore and Bobby Boatright,
vocalists Leon Rausch, Don Edwards, Chris O'Connell, Buck Reams and Craig Chambers.
Mr. Morrell was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2001.
Mr. Morrell's next CD, Relaxin', is expected to be available next
week at Westernswing.net, Amazon.com and some local record stores. The disc is
the 15th in the "How the West Was Swung" series.
Mr. Morrell lived in Hobbs, N.M., for about a year in the 1950s. Mr.
Rausch remembers seeing Mr. Morrell play in Hobbs.
"We all were amazed at him. We saw this pimple-faced kid playing more
steel guitar than anybody we knew," Mr. Rausch said.
Mr. Morrell had an onscreen band part in the 1990 movie Daddy's Dyin'...
Who's Got the Will? directed by Jack Fisk. Also, his music
is featured on the soundtracks of the movies Savannah Smiles and True Stories.
Mr. Morrell was most recently living with his lifelong friend and partner,
Jody Balfour. Ms. Balfour says that the couple talked a lot about music
and Mr. Morrell's artwork. "His biggest fear was being forgotten,"
says Ms. Balfour.
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