Even among a crowd of local all-stars like this, Morin is a true standout.
His music includes inspiration from Tin-Pan Alley greats, wonderful chord flourishes and a touch of warm humor that’s infectious.
Morin first arrived in San Diego from Minnesota as a toddler in 1947.
“I was a Navy brat,” he said. “We lived all around the world and the country for the 1950s and ’60s.”
He said his inspiration for playing music came in 1959.
“It was at Kwajalein Village Navy Housing in Stockton,” he said. “They had a recreation room where sailors would gather on Saturdays to play Hank and Ernest and Lefty songs. I started learning then after buying a pawnshop guitar. Later, Mr. Eddie Gaspar from Pete’s band and Scotty’s [Cox] dad, Ray Cox, were huge influences in my learning the music of the American popular songs of the first half of the 20th century.”
In 1961, the family settled in Imperial Beach, and he almost immediately immersed himself in music and a carreer that is now nearly five decades long.
“I went to Mar Vista Junior and Senior High schools,” he said. “I played the ukulele in a group called Pete Auclaire’s Polynesian Serenaders in the ninth and tenth grades. They were a five- or six-piece dance band with a floor show of Samoan, Hawaiian and Tahitian music, eight dancing ladies and a ‘break band’ of three boys to fill out the show. Don Sparks was an 11-year-old prodigy Hawaiian Steel guitarist and my pal, Scotty Cox, and I accompanied him and sang Everly Brother-ly Hawaiian harmonies.”
Following this auspicious start, Morin continued in more traditional groups.
His first major appearance occurred in 1962 on a local TV show hosted by Ernie Myers.
“It was with Pete Auclaire in the middle of the night at the Channel 6 TV studio in Tijuana,” said Morin. “Pete set his lava-lava on fire while juggling his flaming swords and we three kids did ‘The Moon of Manakoora.’ We were fabulous,” Morin said good-naturedly.
He cites the likes of Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Prine and Randy Newman among his songwriting influences, mixing in covers with his own material. “I have a huge bag of antique songs and standards that mostly predate even me. I tell audiences they’re going to hear their grandparents’ love songs. Of the hundreds of tunes in my repertoire, only about a third are post-WWII vintage.”
He’s currently working on a set of his favorite local songwriters’ tunes to interpret, including tunes by Lindsay White and Veronica May, John Bosley, Candye Kane, Steph Johnson and a dozen other local wordcrafters. “They have some tunes that feel like they came from my heart,” Morin said.
He points out that it’s all part of the local scenes’ wonderful camaraderie.
“I got a chance to talk with the actor/musician John C. Reilly backstage at the Berkley Where Hart Thou concert last month,” said Morin. “After an evening of hanging out with a lot of the locals, Mr. Reilly said he’d never seen a group of show people so in love. He said, ‘Most companies are hiding in their dressing rooms worrying about their careers while you guys are all over each other with support and love and laughter.’ Nice. He nailed it, John C. It’s really quite wonderful to share a stage and a musical life experience with so many lovely, clever and gifted people.”
Now, nearly 50 years into his life as a musician, Morin is succinct when it comes to his favorite reason for being a musician.
“It’s the people who come to listen and laugh and smile with me,” he said. “The other night, I played an unamplified show at The La Jolla Athenaeum. At one point in one of my mushy songs, three couples in the front row simultaneously reached for their partner’s hand to hold and one lady was letting the tears flow. That’s why I do this. I choked up a little myself.”
He issued a CD earlier this year entitled “Big Ol’ Heart.” While he has plans for a new album in the not-too-distant future, Morin said he is content to head out to nightspots in town and play his music.
“I’d love to do some traveling and rambling around,” he said. “But mostly, I want to play here in San Diego with my friends and fans and family. They call it ‘playing’ for good reason. If it begins to be working, I’m out.”
• Jeffrey Joe Morin performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Java Joe’s, 4976 Newport Ave. All ages. www.javajoessd.com