Ben Morris & the Great American Boxcar Chorus – a long name, but it's one worth remembering – are still in the early years of their collective musical mission, but they've already made their way around Texas with the scrappy grace of a young band that will go to any length to make themselves heard. With over a hundred and fifty full-band gigs already under their belt, and with their first proper full-band album (Underground Railroad, self-released) set for release in Spring 2009, the College Station-based band is looking to retrace their steps across the bars, music halls and festivals of the Lone Star State (and beyond) while blazing new trails, winning over new fans as they introduce a new set of tunes and ideas to the world.
The Boxcars' (for short) music is easy to enjoy but difficult to define, drawing on countless influences and touching on many genres. Different songs evoke different combinations of driving bar-band country, adventurous indie-rock, catchy mainstream rock and lyrically driven folk. The depth and resonance of Morris' baritone vocals have earned comparisons to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, but he stops short of imitating such musical legends (aside from the occasional cover song) and instead collaborates with his bandmates to create something original and new.
Before forming the Great American Boxcar Chorus, Morris had already made some waves in his corner of the musical world. His uncommon entry into live music started when he teamed up with a college buddy to perform as Jeff & Ben: the duo's combination of offbeat comedy tunes, drinking songs and unconventional covers went over well at open mic shows around Central Texas, to the point where the two began landing paid gigs and drawing surprising crowds. It was fun but not made for the long haul; when the duo amicably went their separate ways, Morris opted to make a sharp change in direction. He quietly dropped the comedic approach and took a break from gigging to write and record 'The Other Side Of Broken', the solo debut album where he began to find his voice. Loosely a concept album about the stages of heartbreak (with a couple of unrelated curveballs thrown in), the heartfelt lyrics, rich vocals and vibrant, textured sound were a surprise to those familiar with his earlier work. It also won him a whole new audience, with songs like "Count On Me", "Thundercloud", and "No Saving Grace" only modestly breaking through on mainstream radio but going into heavy rotation on request-driven Internet radio sites like Radio Free Texas.
Though he initially approached his live shows as a solo acoustic act, Morris' evolving ambitions inspired him to put together a full band. It was a fairly short search; soon he was joined by Jon Dittfurth on bass and background vocals, Bucky Bachmeyer on drums, and Coby Tate on lead guitar. The collaboration clicked so well that the newly committed band needed a name – the Great American Boxcar Chorus was born. The group worked up the material from 'The Other Side Of Broken' and were soon gigging all over Central Texas and beyond, having a blast exploring their musical common ground and gradually creating the new music that comprises the new release, 'Underground Railroad'.
The album is a collaboration in the truest sense; the Boxcars largely passed on bringing in hired guns and opted to record most of the music themselves, and this time out Morris' songwriting is augmented by contributions from each of the band members. Dittfurth had already been working the area for years as a part-time singer/songwriter, while Tate and Bachmeyer were new to the craft but emboldened by their band's democratic approach.
In March of 2010, the Great American Boxcar Chorus underwent it's first change in band personnel. Founding member Ditturth cordially parted ways with the band for personal reasons, and was replaced by bassist Chris Nichols, a longtime member of the Brazos Valley rock and roll community. As of late fall 2010, the Boxcars are working on material for a new band record, set to be released sometime in late spring 2011. Much like with 'Underground Railroad', the GABC is hopeful that the contributions of all four members will come together potently on their newest project, a country-rock statement of purpose and optimism set to carry them to a new level as their grassroots following grows, spreads, and cheers the boys on.