The Absent-Minded Promoter

Chuck Morris arrived in Colorado planning to be a college professor. Instead, he's spent nearly 40 years making Denver a part of rock 'n' roll history. He's worked hard and at times played even harder. Now, backed by a conservative billionaire, Morris is singing a new tune.

July 2007

Sporting longish brown hair and wearing a hockey jersey and jeans, a thirtysomething Morris sat in his South Cherry Street office, making small talk with a local news photographer while they waited for Morris' boss, Barry Fey. The photographer was there to shoot the two promoters for their annual release of "The Summer of Stars," a pull-out newspaper section fans plastered on their refrigerators to map out their concertgoing plans for Red Rocks and the Rainbow Music Hall. In those days, the dawn of the '80s, shows for established acts such as Willie Nelson or Bonnie Raitt cost $8.50, and gigs for obscure up-and-comers such as Blondie, the Police, and U2 set you back two bucks. Morris and the photographer, a quiet older gentleman who was about to take a giant step closer to retirement, could see Fey—big, bearded, and getting visibly agitated—talking on the phone through the glass partition that separated the two offices. Suddenly, Fey slammed down the phone with a roar: "Motherfucker!" before jumping up and storming into Morris' office.

Fey didn't see the photographer; it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Without another word, he stomped over to Morris' roll-top desk and flipped it over onto his protégé's chest—what Fey saw as a fitting response to Morris having overpaid someone. The photographer leapt from his seat and fled down the stairs. "I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack," Morris says. "We watched him out the window running across the parking lot, and we just started laughing." Fey, then the undisputed godfather of the Denver music scene, always was a pivotal figure for Morris, the guy he had the balls to partner with a decade earlier and the foresight to leave in the dust later on.

As a kid, Morris could never have imagined that the serenity of his childhood would lead him into the dramatic, combustible world of Fey. Every summer, Morris' schoolteacher father took his family from Brooklyn to the Chautauqua Institution, a wooded Eden in upstate New York that featured programs ranging from educational lectures by State Department officials to classical and folk concerts. "We didn't have much money, but we rented a house up there every year; it was a great musical, educational summer place," Morris says. He sold programs so he could see the concerts for free, and his love of music was forever fortified on the day in 1957 he snuck up to the front row to watch the Kingston Trio. "I spent every penny I earned from babysitting from the time I was 13 buying albums," he says. "I wanted to be in music, but I didn't know how."