Laurie Morvan Interview
set out to make a really strong guitar statement that
would have people asking, 'Who is that guitar player?'"
says Laurie Morvan of her latest release, Cures What
Ails Ya [Screaming Lizard]. On the album's 12 original
tunes, Morvan singes the strings with fast, clean chicken
pickin', reaches heights of lyrical ecstasy through
liquid bends, and kicks the rhythm in the pocket with
propulsive comping. And while the 46-year-old blues
stylist admits to a heavy Stevie Ray Vaughan influence,
unlike so many others, she is no slavish imitator.
"I wanted to develop my own style, and I spent
a lot of time working on my strengths, and the things
that would make me different," she says. "Stevie
was my gateway to this style of music, but I never
wanted the same amp and guitar he had, or to try to
sound like him."
This is abundantly clear on the 12-bar Texas shuffle
instrumental, "Wiggle Room," where Morvan
quotes classic Texas and Chicago riffs in the head,
but then struts her own stuff in improvised solos
with pugnacious double-stops and tightly coiled serpentine
Adding to Morvan's freshness is her tone, which
tends to be far less distorted, and more refined than
most of her contemporaries.
"To play cleaner requires more technical proficiency,
because you don't have the overdrive of the amp to
sustain notes," she explains. "I practice
a lot with my '56 reissue Fender Strat unplugged in
order to just hear the strings on the guitar acoustically."
Morvan also uses a hybrid picking style with a flatpick
held between her thumb and index finger, in conjunction
with her middle and ring fingers.
"Chicken pickin' feels really natural to me
with the coordination I have between my fingers,"
she says. "Maybe that's because playing both
drums and flute in high school helped me develop the
rhythmic interplay between my hands. If I break a
nail on the middle finger of my picking hand, however,
I can do the chicken pickin' just with the flatpick,
because I always practice both ways."
Morvan's skill at this technique - as pioneered by
early hot country pickers such as James Burton in
the '50s - makes an appearance on "Where Are
the Girls with Guitars" via fleet Southern-fried
licks the late Danny Gatton would have admired.
"I do play with a combination of down and up
strokes," she says, "but I don't just play
rapid-fire, alternate-picked notes. It depends on
what you're trying to get, because sometimes you just
need three or four down strokes in a row for a heavier
When reminded that the late Jerry Garcia once said
he practiced so that his up strokes were equal in
volume and sound to his down strokes, Morvan replies,
"Well, everyone strives for a certain evenness,
but the flipside of that is I don't necessarily want
every single note to sound exactly the same. If I
did, I'd probably just program some synthesizer to
play the part [laughs]. "Morvan also worked on
improving her left-hand fretting technique, although
not by doing mindless finger calisthenics.
"I think I really got stronger from just playing.
For instance, I'll barre a Bb chord where my index
finger is on the 1st fret of the fifth string, and
play a Chuck Berry rhythm [strums 5ths and 6ths on
the fifth and fourth strings], as it's a bit of a
stretch for me to reach the 5th fret on the fourth
string with my pinky. It's always more fun for me
to play a song - or part of a song - rather than some
With so much emphasis on chops these days, however,
Morvan cautions against losing sight of the importance
of playing with taste, and telling a story within
"When you go to an action movie, you don't have
machine guns firing non-stop throughout the whole
thing," she says. "A listener does not want
to be assaulted, per se. In the hard rock bands I
like - such as AC/DC and Guns N' Roses - there is
an ebb and flow to the solos. It's very important
to step outside yourself, and listen to what you're
playing. Record or videotape your shows, and determine
if what you're playing is interesting or not. Because
if you're bored, that's a terrible sign!"