Corky Carrol Remembers

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By Corky Carroll

Pretty much any of you that grew up in Orange County in the early 1960’s will remember Tim Morgon.  He was one of the most popular musicians to ever come out of our area. At that time going to catch his act at a coffee house called the “Prison of Socrates” in Balboa was a dating must.  Dick Dale was at the Rendezvous Ballroom doing the dances and Tim Morgon was at the Prison singing folk music.  These were the prime attractions in town.

A few weeks ago I was shocked and totally thrilled to get an email from Tim saying he was stoked about a piece that I had done on Dick Dale.  I spent many a night back in those days watching Tim Morgon sing and he, along with Jackson Browne who was from Fullerton, was a strong early influence on my musical career.  I was a total fan of the guy.  I immediately wrote back and asked if I could do a column about him and if he would send me information about his career and what he was doing now and all the information I might need.  He lives part time in northern Nevada.  There is no surf there so going to interview him in person was out of the question.  But what he sent me back tells the story so perfectly, and in his own words, that I decided to run with it just as he told it to me even though it is too long for one column and will have to run over two weeks.  So here is part one.

“It all started when my parents bought a beach house on the Balboa Peninsula in 1955.  I immediately started working at the Fun Zone and it turned out to be a big step in my career.  There I was being a ‘carney‘, trying to get people to spend a quarter to win a panda bear.  I learned about people, how to make them laugh, spend money and come back just to watch me work the crowd.  I had been singing most of my life.  Boys choir, in school and that sort of thing.  I picked up the guitar in High School.  When I wasn’t working at the Fun Zone, I would sit on the bench at the corner of Main and Balboa Blvd. and play the guitar, meet chicks and find a party.

One evening I walked into the ‘Prison of Socrates’ and there was a group entertaining called the ‘Steeltown Two.’  I really enjoyed their music and comedy.  I watched them perform and learned some of their songs.  One Friday night in the spring of 1961, I think, I walked into the Prison and nobody was appearing.  The owner, Ted Nikas, recognized me from the many times I had been in and we started talking.  I asked him if I could get on stage and do a couple of numbers.  He said O.K. and I did.  When I finished he said to come back tomorrow night and sing two sets and he would give me $10.  After that he asked me to play on Friday and Saturday night for the next two weeks.  I was going to Pasadena City College at the time but for the next week all I studied were songs and comedy for the next weekend.  For the next few weekends I sang and more and more people started coming in to the ‘Prison‘.  I had promised the people at the Fun Zone that I would work there that summer but my heart was in singing on stage.  When I first started at the ‘Prison’ there was no cover charge and a coffee or other drink was 25 cents.  I sang there every weekend until summer and then 6 nights a week with the other night at the “Rouge et Noir” in Seal Beach.  By the fall of 1962 the crowds were getting bigger and drinks were 50 cents.  I was on stage singing, telling stories about camping trips and throwing in a joke or two.  I started singing at High Schools all over Southern California and by the spring of 1963 there were lines outside the door of the ‘Prison’ and we were doing 3 shows a night.  Ted, the owner, approached me and said “lets do an album.”  In July of 1963 we recorded “Tim Morgon at the Prison of Socrates.”  We started our own label and called it “Fink Records” as a joke.  We sold the albums at the ‘Prison‘, out of the trunk of Ted’s car and at shows where I was performing.  That fall we put out “Tim Morgon Sings They Call the Wind Maria,” my second album.  Ted agreed to be my manager and would try and promote the albums.  The first Week ‘Maria’ out sold the Beatles at Wallich’s Music City and the ‘Prison’ album was in the top ten.  I was doing shows all over the place.  I was having fun and there seemed to be no end to this success.  Soon the third album came out and it sold very well.  Things were going great, I was singing all over and making good money for a 22 year old.?

By Corky Carroll

Last week I left off in the middle of the story of legendary folk singer Tim Morgon.  Tim started his career at the ‘Prison of Socrates’ coffee house in Balboa in 1961 and would go on to become on of the most popular entertainers ever to come out of Orange County.  Within four years he was headlining concerts all over Southern California, selling out the ‘Prison’ three shows a night and had just released his third successful album.  Things were going great, he was making good money and was doing exactly what he loved to do.  The story is being told by Tim himself from an email he sent me and we pick it up there.

 “That was a time when I felt something should happen for me.  I was busy and a well-known entertainer in the Southern California area.  But my career was stagnant.  I talked to Ted about doing T.V., movies and expanding my career.  He decided to make a movie about my life.  We spent most of the summer of 1965 Filming “Dirty Feet,” the story of Tim Morgon.  And I was singing every night at The ‘Prison‘.  We finished the movie and had a premier at the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium.  The majority feeling was that the movie was a bust.  We had spent much time on the movie and it was not well received.  Not only that but the English music invasion was in full swing.  Folk music was no longer the thing. I was frustrated. 

Many of my fellow entertainers were doing bigger and better things such as the ‘Tonight Show’ and other broader venues.  I was in a rut and asked Ted for a change.  We did not see eye to eye so I left him.  I tried to sell myself to the people in Hollywood.  Many showed interested but they all said that I was still signed to Fink Records and Ted Nikas.  Ted held me to those contracts for 7 years.

From that time on I worked a number of coffee houses.  The ‘Mecca’ in Buena Park, the ‘Cosmos’ in Seal Beach, the ‘Basement’ in Orange and the ‘Ice House’ in Glendale and Pasadena.  By this time I was married and had two children with another on the way.  I found work wherever I could.  I sang at ‘Rueben’s’ and The ‘Dry Dock’ in Newport, ‘Ben Browns’ in Laguna and others.  Soon I was working dance clubs with a band.  I would still do my folk shows at the Ice House, it was a great show room.

For the next 12 years I worked all over Southern California and put out a couple of singles.  I sang background for television programs and movies.  The highlight was singing the theme song “Take a Look Around” for the series ‘The Men from Shiloh’ on a Universal Studios Sound Stage in front of a 110-piece orchestra.  By July of 1981 I was feeling burnt out and nothing seemed to be going my way.  I didn’t want to become a 45 year old lounge singer. I called it quits.

I worked for an International Corporation in sales for 12 years and then started my own company.  It prospered.  Then in the late 1990’s my daughter punched my name into a search engine on the internet and found out that people where paying $100 for my old used albums.  Through some friends I got my old albums put on CD and opened a website,  This opened up a whole new, or old, world and much of my career at the ‘Prison of Socrates’ has come to light.  My ‘Prison’ album was on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Orange County Fair and there is a display at the ‘Orange Groove’ A Musical History of Orange County Exhibition at the Fullerton Museum.  Most importantly I am getting emails and letters from friends and fans that came to my shows.  I have been blown away by the response.  Requests to sing at 40-year high school reunions.  People telling me that my albums got them through Viet Nam.  One guy wrote that in his divorce his wife got the house but he got the Tim Morgon albums.  People saying that the days of going to the ‘Prison’ and hearing me were the best times of their lives. Somehow I must have touched a lot of people.  Even an international champion surfer like you remembers great nights at the ‘Prison.’  That makes me feel great and that it was all worthwhile after all.  I hope people like the story and buy some CDs.  Remember to spell my name with an ‘O’ in the Morgon and not an ‘A‘.  Keep in touch, Tim.”

Well I for one can’t wait to get a set of these CD’s.  I can still remember priming many a sweet chica back in the day with an evening of warm music from Tim Morgon at the Prison of Socrates.


I must admit that I left out some very important information in the article I sent to Corky Carroll.  There were many people that helped me along the way.  Of course, my parents were the one’s that helped me in the beginning.  I remember my mom taking photos of me in front of our neighbor’s garage for the first publicity shots when I began singing.  A close friend and schoolmate, Tom Dunbar and I used to sing and play guitars together, and Tom taught me “The Cat Came Back”, which to some people is my theme song.  Tom and his family still are good friends.  Ted Nikas owned the ‘Prison of Socrates” and gave me a chance to be on stage.  He also tried to promote my career, but later as my career began to grow, he changed.  I feel as though he did not want me to leave the ‘Prison’ and he certainly did not want me to join the unions that would have allowed me to be on T.V. and in movies.  Spencer Hathaway played the bass with me for over 10 years.  We met the night before we recorded our first album.  Between his ability to pick up my songs quickly and my limited musical ability, he became my soul mate on stage.  There were times when I would put a medley of 6 or 7 songs together and he would instinctively move on to the next song  without me giving a clue.  I had other musician / side men that I worked with through the years.  Ron Schwartz, played drums for a number of years and is also in the ‘Ice House’ album along with Spencer Hathway.  The last 10 or so years I had the pleasure of working with Steve Waltner and Rico Lozano.  Steve played bass and sang back up, and also produced most of the songs I recorded in the studio and are on the ‘Greatest Hits’ album.  He also put together the ‘Windrose’ and ‘Holiday Inn’ albums.  Rico played drums and also sang background.  He is also a great comedian and night after night would come up with one-liners that would not only entertain the audience, but he would sometimes get me laughing so hard I couldn’t continue.  Steve, Rico and I had great times on stage and still remain good friends.  There are two other people that have help me immensely, Nick and Mike Campbell.  Through their determination I was able to make the Cds available to the public.  They also have helped promote my web site by putting my name out on the internet in so many different venues.    Nick and Mike are also responsible for finding and putting the movie “Dirty Feet” together and on DVD.   Alan Sandoval put together my web site and is always available for updates and new ideas.

In the last few years I have been honored to be mentioned in a couple of books. Or at least these are the only two books I know talked about my career back then. The first is an autobiography by Steve Martin. BORN STANDING UP. The first time Steve ever did his stand up routine was at the Prison of Socrates where I had been working for a few years. I remember working with Steve and still get a chuckle when I think about some of his early jokes and skits. Steve remains a friend and we stay in contact. The second book was released in 2008. Written by John Hodgson, it is a novel about a young man in high school in Newport Beach and the title is TRY TO REMEMBER. I really enjoyed the book and being in it, the author mentions being at the 'Prison' and hearing me sing. It also tells a great story about life in a beach town. It was quite an honor to be remembered and mentioned in these two books.

The last 40 plus years of my life have revolved around my wife, best friend and companion, Sue.  She is the one who has stuck with me through thick and thin.  From keeping the kids quiet in the morning after a late Friday night, to always being there for physical and moral support.  She has sacrificed many of her own joys, to help me cope with the ups and downs of life.  Sue is also the nicest person I have ever know in my life.  She goes out of her way to make things easier for other people, even strangers, even though it may cost her some discomfort.  The rest of our family consist of three grown children, our son, both of our daughters, their  husbands, and our four grandchildren.  We are both retired and spend time between our Orange County home and our vacation home on  the slopes eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern Nevada.

I am also asked if I would come out of retirement and perform again.  As much as I would love to, I have three main reasons why I can’t.  First, my physical health limits my abilities.  I have developed arthritis in my hands and after a few chords, my hands get very sore and unable to play.  Secondly, my mental abilities.  I quit singing in 1981 because my memory began failing me.  I had trouble remembering words and chords to songs, I lost my ability to become creative on stage as far as humor, stories and putting a show together.  I did not want to put music on a music stand in front of me and sit there reading music and words to get a song across.  Lastly, I am well aware of my old abilities and successes on stage.  If I were to get back on stage, I would want nothing but the quality of showmanship that an audience would deserve.  Anything else would mean failure to me.  I want my audience to remember the Tim Morgon that they saw performing to the best of his abilities back in the old days.  I guess that is why I am so excited about the Cds and the emails I received from people.  They bring back those great memories that I would not be able to recreate.

But my last and most sincere tribute is to the audience, my friends and fans that have remembered me through the years.  And I really believe that my audience was special.  We came together at a very important time in our lives.  We were young and eager to enjoy life  We appreciated all the wonderful things that were happening around us and we were aware of the not so great.  But to me personally, I had things happen to me that very few entertainers could ever achieve.  I had the complete attention, respect and courtesy of you, my fans and friends.  As opposed to the yelling and screaming crowds of today’s entertainers, I was one of the few who appeared on stage, be it for a few people at the ‘Prison’, a large group at a high school assembly or a giant crowd at a concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, that while I was singing  there was complete silence.  Not a sound from the audience, one could hear a pin drop, and this inspired me because as I was singing.  I got chills up my spine because of the silence.  Only my voice and the instruments could be heard, and it made me put everything I had into that song, and I knew everyone in the crowd was on the same wave link.  It is very difficult to explain, but I think if you were there, you had that feeling too.