THE LEGEND OF TIM MORGON
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
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
Browne who was from Fullerton, was a strong early influence on
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
“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
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
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.?
THE LEGEND OF TIM MORGON
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
ever to come out of Orange County. Within four years he
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
“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
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
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, www.timmorgon.com.
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.
PERSONAL INFORMATION ADDED
TO CORKY CARROLL’S ARTICLE
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.