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

For all the glamour associated with the music business, it's a grind for promoters. Fey and Morris worked late nights, took phone calls at all hours, and, when not massaging artists' egos, were sucked into the never-ending backstage parties. Details are sketchy. Morris and his old buddies freely allude to the era's excesses, but when it comes to the specifics they close ranks like a group of bleary-eyed husbands returning from a Vegas weekend. What happens backstage.... Fey gleefully recalls the "unspeakable" things he and Morris did together—and he leaves it at that. Morris' friends from his club days called him "Uncle Woody" for reasons he claims not to recall. "I had a bit of a notorious reputation back then, but everybody did," he says. "I mean, it was the '60s and '70s in Boulder, give me a break."

By the time Morris hit his 40s, the thrill was gone. Realizing that rolling into work hung over at 11 a.m. wouldn't get him where he wanted to go, he got his shit together. "I couldn't keep up continuing to do some of the abuses," he says. "I don't want to talk specifically about it, but the abuses in the rock business, which used to be rampant, have really cleaned up. It's become more of a business, and it's hard to keep your business if you're high." It's also hard to keep your family. Like Fey, Morris paid his own price for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, tearing through two marriages before sobering up. Now, he's been married to his third wife for about 17 years and sober for about 20.

Morris' oldest daughter, Brittany, now a 27-year-old vice president at the local lobbying firm CRL Associates, was about eight when her father got clean. She recalls some of the times he was drunk, but "since it happened when I was so young, I tend to only remember him sober, which is a good thing from some of the stories I've heard.... I still call him Chuck a lot. He doesn't really respond to 'Dad,' so if you say 'Chuck,' he'll turn around. He also doesn't remember names sometimes. He'll call me Brenda, and I'll say, 'Dad, you have no children named Brenda.'"

It's late March, and I'm meandering through the hallways of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, Morris' new employer. AEG snatched Morris from Live Nation, where Morris had worked for more than a decade, when his contract expired at the end of 2006. AEG's new Denver office at Seventh and Santa Fe, a former Spanish-language radio station, is undergoing a makeover to ready it for the arrival of Morris' AEG colleagues in May. In a nod to the building's Latino heritage and the neighborhood's colorful surroundings, workers are painting the walls in bold Southwestern tones and laying ceramic tile and dark hardwood over the floors.

I'm on time for our 1:30 meeting, but all Morris told me was to be at the building, and now, not realizing it was still under construction and unoccupied, I'm wandering the labyrinthine corridors. I hear a voice near the front door at the end of a long hallway.