Jonathon M. Whitmore for the Boston Globe
Nearly 40 years after her last album, Paula Morin belted out a song recently at her CD release party.
By Joel Brown
SALEM — On a Friday night in early May, the Ward Two Social Club’s members were focused on screens showing the Bruins, Red Sox, and Keno. But across the bar, in the crowded function room, all eyes were on a slim, silver-haired woman in a red cowgirl shirt singing, in a dusky alto, rootsy rock songs about broken hearts and bad gigs. It was the release party for Paula Morin’s new CD, which is called ‘‘What Took Me So Long?’’ for a reason.
‘‘I might die because I have no money,’’ she said, ‘‘but if I don’t do it, I’m going to die because I didn’t try.’’
It has been almost 40 years since Morin, a native of Malden, had an album on the market, back when vinyl LPs were state of the art. Now you can buy her MP3s and sample her sound here.
Back in the day, Morin almost made it as part of the band F.F. & Z., with her then-husband Gary Fishbaugh and Pete Zorn. They were happenin’ in England for a little while, opening for bands like the Kinks and ELO. Visit eBay and you might find a copy of their 1972 single, ‘‘Everybody Get Out Of Bed,’’ written by Morin.
Their second album was never released. The Fishbaughs returned to the States, still looking for their big chance. Paula became a regular on club stages, and everyone from George Harrison to Vicki Lawrence turned up in the audience, she said. But the brass ring stayed just out of reach, and when Morin decided to have a baby she pulled back from performing.
‘‘The smoke was horrible then. Our equipment stunk when we’d bring it home. I had her with me one night because I was nursing ... and when I was putting her to bed, I could hear a rattling in her throat; that was smoke. That was it. I couldn’t do it anymore.’’ She only gigged once in a while, when she had a baby sitter. But before long her marriage broke up, and Morin moved back to the Northeast and put away her dream.
She’s lived in Salem for the last 17 years. Six years ago she began to take stock. Her daughter, Thaya, was all grown up, on the way to becoming a lawyer. Morin had a good-paying job in electronics equipment sales, but the commute to Lowell wasn’t getting any easier. Neither was the pressure or the office politics. Singing along with ‘‘Born to Run’’ in the car wasn’t enough to relieve the stress.
‘‘Oftentimes I would be in tears,’’ she said. ‘‘I had an excellent review, got more money than I’ve ever made in my life ... and I just realized, Where am I going? I had no goals, no future.
‘‘I did realize it was quite conceivable that I would die at my desk, and they would find me the next day in my gray cubicle, with my gray hair — Silver! Silver! — and that’d be the end of my life,’’ she said. ‘‘They’d drag me out and put somebody else in. I thought, I’ve got to do more than this; this cannot be the end of my life.’’
‘‘So I said, OK, how can I change? I want to go back to music. I love music. I got my guitar out again and started playing at home, and my fingers bled. I got my calluses back, started playing, forgot I had a voice, started to develop my voice.’’ Then she gave her two weeks’ notice at the sales job.
Once she made the decision, a lot of other things happened too. She took a low-stress gig working at a greenhouse, got healthy, lost weight. She started dating Bob Morin, a client from the electronics business who she’d only known from the phone and e-mail. Eventually they married; his talents include playing bass. She now works as community relations manager at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Peabody.
She also started writing songs again, figuring her country-rock melodies and story-rich lyrics would be welcome in Nashville. But sending out song demos proved to be a tough way to make money. Everyone liked the demo singer, though, and praised her unusual voice. That was Morin too. Eventually one of the musicians who played on the demos, guitarist Fred Ellsworth, said she should just make her own CD.
‘‘I hadn’t been in a recording studio in 35 years,’’ Morin said. ‘‘Back then they had engineers who only did splices.’’ Playing in front of the band — for real, not for demos — was daunting: ‘‘I was uncomfortable singing in front of them, and I hired them.’’
Recorded over three years, the 15-song album showcases Morin’s voice, which has a husky, theatrical quality that makes it sound as if she ought to be singing Kurt Weill. Hearing that voice singing honky-tonk couplets makes her music different.
‘‘For a rock singer, she enunciates very clearly, and her voice comes from a different place than many other people’s voices,’’ said Larry Luddecke, who plays keyboards on the record and co-produced with Morin.
Many of the tracks were recorded at Luddecke’s Straight Up Music studio in Arlington, after sessions at Thomas Eaton Recording in Newburyport.
‘‘Her voice is the common thread,’’ said Luddecke. ‘‘It’s such a unique voice, you never doubt who’s singing the song.’’
‘‘We will not be on Amazon at this time,’’ said Morin. ‘‘Just CD Baby’’ — an online store that sells discs by indie musicians — ‘‘and iTunes.’’