A member of the Crow tribe, singer-songwriter and guitarist Cary Morin grew up in Montana near the Crow Reservation where he was “surrounded by music.” No wonder, then, that he started playing (piano and then guitar) at an early age. As he says, he never intended to do anything else.
Based in Colorado for many years, Morin records and tours with his band Ghost Dog, as a solo artist and as a duo with his partner Celeste Di Iorio. They play regularly across the state and tour across the country and Europe. This year, Morin was also nominated for a Colorado Spirit Award as part of our inaugural Colorado Sound Music Awards.
In our interview below, Morin talks about growing up with a mix of traditional Crow and contemporary pop, rock and country music surrounding him and performing at Washington, DC’s renowned Kennedy Center and the “strong” native music community in played Colorado.
1) What was your first musical memory?
My first instrument was the piano. When I was in kindergarten, my mother traded our neighbor’s piano lessons for doing laundry. Not a big student, I started learning songs that were on the radio instead of working on my piano lessons. I would work harder to learn Chicago songs or “Benny and the Jets”…
2) Was music an important part of your family life and being part of the Crow tribe growing up in Montana?
I was surrounded by music. Traditional crow music was always there. My mother had recordings of her father singing traditional songs. It wasn’t easy to capture the music that was played live back then, but I remember our family had traditional music cassettes. There may have been some reel to reel recordings of my grandfather singing…
I loved listening to the radio and calling to request songs. My parents loved listening to all kinds of music; Nat King Cole, Andrés Segovia and many, many country artists have been on permanent rotation in our house. There was also a good selection of rock music by my older brothers. Eventually I added as much jazz and bluegrass to the family collection as I could get my hands on.
My father was a soldier, so my childhood days on the reservation were family visits. I’ve never actually lived on the Crow Reservation. We always lived close enough to be able to visit each other often and enjoyed regular visits from relatives from my parents’ families. It was very important to my mother that my crow culture was a part of my life. I learned traditional dance from an early age and always felt at home on the Crow Rez.
3) Was there a moment when you decided to take your guitar playing more seriously – to go pro?
This moment is difficult to identify. I think when I first started playing guitar I didn’t intend to do anything else from that point on. My time as a young child learning to play the piano by ear made it easy for me to play the guitar. I think I understood how things should sound. There was always a guitar solo, melody, chord or song that needed to be perfected. I never stopped.
4) Is there a strong Indigenous music community in Colorado? How do you see the growth?
There is a strong Native American community in Colorado, but that is true across the United States. It never ceases to amaze me how often I meet people I am related to as I travel around the country. Native music has grown with the availability of the internet. More and more artists are able to bring art to a larger audience, and the same is true in Colorado. Younger artists growing up in an era learning to promote their music on the internet had never seen the ‘record deal’ days. Visual artists, musicians, dancers, actors, Aboriginal or not, all have an easier way to reach the world through technology.
5) You call your music style “Native Americana” – how do you describe or define this genre?
This was given to my music by a promoter who was wondering what to call my show. He suggested it, I thought about it and ended up riding it. My influences are folk, country, local music and a few other genres as well, so it seemed to make sense.
Since then I’ve seen other local artists use it as well. Artists have so many potential influences that it’s difficult to pin down just one genre or description. Bands often go through the process of choosing a name that might describe the music and then inventing a genre that describes the band… it’s both fun and exhausting. I miss the days when there were more mysteries about artists and their music.
6) You played at the Kennedy Center a few years ago. As a member of the Crow tribe growing up in rural Montana, how was that experience for you?
Putting heritage aside for a moment, as a musician I always strive to reach a higher level when it comes to playing in more prestigious venues like most artists do. When I was growing up in Fort Collins, the goal was always the next bigger room. The more locations and regions I play, the bigger the goal becomes. The first opportunity to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center was a bit daunting. I’m always trying to grow as an artist and continue to look for newer and more compelling opportunities. As a local artist, it’s an honor to share my songs and perform at any level. I hope that I have learned something from this experience and have the opportunity to move forward.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring Indigenous musicians? Is there anything you wish you knew when you were younger and just starting out?
Calling all performers, locals and non-locals alike: stay true to your art and your story. And practice, practice, practice. As an aboriginal artist, do you create your own style of art? or a native artist creating the native art of your culture and heritage? Anyway, I think if you enjoy sharing your culture through your art, that’s great. If you’re a local artist who’s more private about your culture and heritage, that’s okay too, and I encourage you to share your art anyway.
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