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After years of paying dues, Lynn Morris finds success in bluegrass.

The Grass Is Greener

In the mid-'80s, Lynn Morris picked bluegrass banjo in a road-savvy touring band with bassist-husband Marshall Wilborn. She'd always enjoyed being part of a larger musical unit, but when that band broke up, Morris soon found herself in a new and unexpected leadership role.

"Marshall had multiple offers," the Winchester resident recalls. "It forced us to do one of two things: We could play in two different bands or start our own band."

The couple decided to stick together and in 1988 recruited seasoned musicians for a fresh lineup. With new talent aboard, Morris switched to guitar and became the group's lead singer, producer and spokeswoman. Women rarely front bluegrass bands and The Lynn Morris Band faced problems from the start. Good jobs were tough to book and record labels rejected the group.

"We knew we had to hurry and get a record out," Morris says. "But we heard, 'Lynn who?' … 'Nice talkin' to you, honey.'"

Rounder Records finally agreed to listen. The band started recording demos for Rounder while playing local gigs, delivering pizzas and driving limos to pay rent. The subsequent demo recordings revealed a band with top-notch musicianship, smooth husband-and-wife harmonies and plenty of potential. Rounder signed them in 1990 and has since released four critically acclaimed Morris Band projects.

Known for a repertoire that includes such wide-ranging fare as bluegrass favorites and originals, and'50s-era George Jones, the group has also garnered four International Bluegrass Music Association awards since 1996. The band brings its award-winning sound to The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen on Friday.

Morris acknowledges that her band's approach is "not complicated." But if the music is, as she says, "old-school rooted" in Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers, she's equally proud of her group's contemporary "polish and passion."

"Music has to grow," she says. "You can't play the same stuff. … You need your own material you are recognized for."

Bluegrass, she continues, "is changing with the speed of light. It used to be quaint, unique — nobody thought of changing it. [Now] competition is amazing."

Morris has seen the music business change since she first discovered country and bluegrass music in the '60s as a West Texas teen-ager. Avoiding the rock 'n' roll crowd, Lynn found other bluegrass-minded musicians at Colorado College, where she graduated in 1972 with an art degree. Morris pursued a professional music career after graduation, and she quickly found her way into a working bluegrass band. Two USO world tours in the late '70s with country bands furthered her experience. In 1982, she joined the group that teamed her with future husband, Wilborn.

Morris says it was never easy being a female band member. There were rooming problems on the road and jealous wives to consider. Now that she's a bandleader in her own right, Morris says she "couldn't go back to the other way in a million years."

But despite hard-won success and pride in her role as a leader, Morris takes nothing for granted. "You can't count on anything," she says. "But there's still commitment. We have the commitment to continue. No matter what."

The Lynn Morris Band performs Friday, Feb. 8, at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen. Old School Freight Train opens. Show starts at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $15 at A Major Music, Plan 9 and from Fieldcrest Music. Tickets will be $19 at the door, if available. Call 320-7067 for more information.

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