Country State of Mind #1 – Sally Rea Morris

I fell in love for the first time age 4. I knew it was love, because the feeling was all consuming and still continues to overwhelm me today. I wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to fall for her, you just have to breathe her in. She’s called Tennessee, and she lit a fire inside me that still continues to burn even a quarter of a century later.

If home is where the heart is, I think I threw my heart deep into that water back in ‘94 when I spent my first summer in Knoxville on the lake. However, being born and raised in Birmingham England, I guess you could say my upbringing was more ‘Balti Belt’ than ‘Bible Belt’ so my relationship with American culture and country music was not something ingrained, more so discovered by spending so much time in the states.

I first picked up a guitar at the age of 6 and insisted that my dad taught me a few chords. It’s taken me another 22 years to decide to put all my eggs into one basket and fully immerse myself into ‘full time musician’ mode, but I guess the progression from a terrible rendition of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ to professional performer takes time to cultivate.

Taking the initial leap of faith and saying my passion means more than my bank balance was not a decision taken lightly. There are definite pitfalls to being a self-employed musician. The recent snow days we experienced in the UK meant I lost almost a third of my income for March! Gigs being cancelled can’t really be helped when it’s due to such adverse weather conditions, but it really highlights the financial pressure of working in a creative industry living pay cheque to pay cheque. Previously I was always juggling full time work whilst averaging 3 shows a week; throw in band practice, song-writing, band management and getting my heartbroken, it doesn’t really allow a lot of time to breathe so it came to a point where something had to give. I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities, so transitioning into being my own boss at this juncture in life just seemed right.

It’s amazing how much you can achieve if you write down your goals and then start paving the way to accomplishing them. I had never digitally released music until this year. I attribute it to a mild ignorance of not knowing how, and also a little loss of direction over the years where much of my focus was weighted on live performance.

When I first started writing music aged 13, I would sit and play my beautiful blue guitar for hours a night. I had a crappy little cassette recorder that I would record my ideas on and they would sometimes play back all wobbly like I was singing under water, but I didn’t mind. It allowed me to get the ideas down and listen back to myself so I could be my own worst critic and strive to write a better song. It also helped me practice singing harmonies and learn the importance of having good diction. You could be a master lyricist, but if nobody can make out what you’re saying, the song quickly loses all meaning.

Fast forward to working on my band’s first official release last year at Magic Garden Studios, and it feels like another lifetime. It was a long time coming, so the honour of working on the record with Gavin Monaghan was pretty humbling. He’s worked with a whole host of fantastic musicians over the years, Robert Plant was even in the studio the day before we mixed our single, so knowing I was in such extremely capable hands meant the whole experience was incredibly fulfilling.

Upon releasing our first single ‘Fool’s Gold’, it topped the UK iTunes Country chart on its first day of release, but the real achievement for me was having my music out there for people to hear and take the time to enjoy. It’s a cynical world and to some, the accolade of a ‘number 1’ single is not perceived as any great feat when you’re stacked above Dolly & Cash records released decades ago. However, if I can teach you anything in terms of PR, perception is everything. Our ‘chart topping’ success has already helped land us multiple endorsements. I also think if it’s so easy, why wouldn’t you want to achieve it? In every industry there are hoops to jump through in order to follow suit, the trick is to tick all the boxes whilst stepping outside of the box and daring to make your own shapes. Cookie cutter country isn’t the type of music we are trying to make. I think drawing from other influences keeps the music interesting and with integrity counting for so much, I’d only be insulting myself to say my music fits into only one bracket.

Currently I’m working on the PR campaign for our second release which came out on my birthday; March 19th. This date is ominous, because it’s also the day I handed in my notice last year and decided to make a go of all this. I already feel like I’ve come so far, but I am really at the start of the journey. Music has taken me to weird and wonderful places, and I feel privileged I am now able to use Belles & Gals as a platform to share some of my memoirs. I just hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoy living and creating it

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