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The Essential Rob Morsberger

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A Final Goodbye To Musician Rob Morsberger
By Alex Ashlock, Here & Now - June 4, 2013

It was late March the last time we spoke to musician Rob Morsberger.

When we got him on the line, Rob asked Robin how she’d been. Telling, because Rob had terminal brain cancer and it was in its final stages.

He went on to tell us he thought he didn’t have long to live, weeks maybe. He was right. Rob died on Sunday.

Rob was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011. When he got that news, he promised to be as creative as possible with the time he had left. How he kept that promise.

He released three albums of new music along with a double CD called “Early Work,” songs he wrote in the 1980s and ’90s that he recently recorded with artists such as Loudon Wainwright III, Suzzy Roche and Marshall Crenshaw.

Then not long before he died, he put out his last record. It’s called “A Gesture And A Word.”

When Rob was on Here & Now for what turned out to be the last time, he displayed the sort of grace that marks his music.

About his life and his illness he said: “It’s all good in my book. It’s part of my journey and other people have similar journeys. I view it as a journey and I view it as one that I’m very grateful for, for the most part, in fact in every way. And I feel really fortunate that I had time to get most of the things right that mattered to me, my personal story and my musical story. As far as I’m concerned, everything worked out great.”

Rob dedicated his final record to “my three heroes, Ben, Jesse and Elan,” his sons. He’s also survived by his sister Wendy, his father Philip and other family members.

Rob Morsberger died on June 2, 2013. He was 53.

He taught us all a lesson with the courage he displayed as he left the stage.



Written by HOA NGUYEN and published in the JOURNAL NEWS, June 4, 2013

CROTON-ON-HUDSON — With the end of his life nearing, Rob Morsberger went on a near-frenetic mission to record as much of his music as possible.

Over the course of a year and a half, the 53-year-old Croton-on-Hudson man — whose credits include collaborating with Patti Smith as well as composing musical scores for “Masterpiece Theater” and the PBS television series “NOVA” — released three albums and rerecorded a collection of songs.

“I think he was racing to finish so that his sons would have something of him,” said fellow musician Suzzy Roche, 56, of Manhattan. “They would be able to know him through his music.”

Morsberger died Sunday of glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.

He is survived by three sons, Elan, Jesse and Ben, and his wife, Lisa Morsberger, all of Croton; his parents, Philip and Mary Ann Morsberger of Augusta, Ga.; and a sister, Wendy Morsberger of Boston.

He left behind an impressive musical legacy, friends said. Having been classically trained, Morsberger was skilled at composition. But he also had an interest in singing and songwriting in the vein of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and others.

“He lived his art in the nth degree,” Roche said. “Among musicians, he’s quite well-known.”

Fellow Croton musician Peter Calo, 57, who, along with Morsberger, toured with Crash Test Dummies for a short time, said his friend’s brain cancer diagnosis in fall 2011 appeared to motivate him more than ever.

“He was driven and it got more intense,” Calo said. “He’s an inspiration to all of us.”

In addition to recording music, Morsberger had worked on a documentary about living with brain cancer.

“He definitely had a crusade to let people know,” Calo said. “He wrote songs about it.”

Morsberger wrote in album notes in October that he was nearing “the end of my story.”

“I have had a wonderful life, and feel so thankful that I have gotten to see this story end so happily, with so much joy, and the feeling that I have been able to honor the gifts that the universe bestowed on me,” he said.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Brain Tumor Association, 8559 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Suite 550, Chicago, IL 60631.



Brad Roberts & Rob Morsberger: Songs, Cycles
By Thomas Staudter

published in The Gazette 5/24/2012

The musical community in Westchester continues to rally around Rob Morsberger, the singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and longtime Croton-on-Hudson resident battling malignant brain cancer, who, remarkably enough, is still plying his art with a level of energy and enthusiasm that should be the envy of the healthiest among us. This weekend he is up in the Boston area performing a series of shows to promote the release of his latest CD, Ghosts Before Breakfast, and he is already putting the finishing touches on two new albums.
Even though he is in possession of medical insurance, Morsberger has been racking up the kinds of bills that independent musicians struggle to pay. His good friend and neighbor, the remarkable guitarist Peter Calo hosted two benefit concerts for him at the BeanRunner Café in Peekskill in March 4, which drew sold-out crowds. Next up: on June 3 the Hudson Valley folk-pop collective Tribes Hill will be presenting Morsberger and Crash Test Dummies frontman Brad Roberts at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, where the duo will be premiering their song-cycle Midnight Garden and performing selections from their own repertoires as well. .
Though Morsberger is well known in television circles for his soundtracks, most notably for Nova scienceNow on PBS, he also earned a good deal of notoriety in the late 1990s Gotham music scene leading his own band. Formed with three top-notch players—guitarist Jon Herington, bassist Paul Ossola and drummer Robin Gould—whose credits stretch from Steely Dan to Carly Simon, the band released two CDs—Waiting for Wood in 1999 and Relativity (Blues) the following year—and then Morsberger’s television work picked up. It took several years for Morsberger to sneak away long enough from his so-called “day job” to write and record his third CD, A Periodic Rush of Waves, which appeared in 2006.
For Ghosts Before Breakfast, Morsberger first re-convened Herington and Gould, with Zev Katz and Paul Socolow splitting the bass duties, and at the urging of documentary filmmaker and fellow Croton-on-Hudson resident, began work on the title track, which underscores a 1927 silent film by Hans Richter, an artist and one of the founders of the Dada Movement. In the chorus of the song, Morsberger sings, “Hello, everybody, there’s no times for tears / Baby, it’s a new life, everyday”: An understandable statement considering what the singer-songwriter is going through.
Two years ago, Morsberger was busy helping out his good friend Stewart Lerman, a renowned music producer, with the Crash Test Dummies’ last album, Oooh La-La!, when he became acquainted with Roberts. Mosrberger, who wrote the string arrangements for the album, remarked to me that it was one of the more interesting projects he’d worked on in a while, and then lent me the CD when it came out. Roberts, the chief auteur of the Crash Test Dummies, has always had an eclectic approach to songwriting, choosing to switch around styles and genres while loading his lyrics with a lot of allusions and cryptic narratives. Front and center in the music is Roberts’ deep baritone, which is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave.
“It’s fair to say that all Crash Test Dummies records don’t sound the same,” said Roberts by phone from his Manhattan apartment this week. “I have a very inclusive sense of musical taste, which spurs lots of ideas. If I were doing the same thing in the studio all the time, then my work would have grown old pretty fast. When you keep a stock sound, you may please the same fans over and over, but I trust that what I’m doing won’t alienate people who follow my work. On the Crash Test Dummies album Give Yourself a Hand, we went for a more urban sound, which represented maybe a one hundred and eighty degree turn from what we were previously doing. There were people who hated the album, but we also found new fans who decided they were interested enough in the band to listen to other stuff we’d done. And they kept coming back. So, I’m not adverse to the risks of making bold moves with my music.”
Roberts grew up in Winnipeg, Canada among family members who were self-taught musicians. His mom was a singer and his father played piano; both sets of grandparents played various instruments, including harmonica, mandolin and violin. “They’d stir up martinis and play music all night long,” Roberts fondly recalled of the family’s musical gatherings.
“In Canada where we lived, you’ve got some long winters, and guys either played hockey or found instruments and started bands in basements,” Roberts said. “I began on piano, then moved to guitar, which was cool because you could carry it around and play anywhere you liked.”
After graduating from the University of Winnipeg in 1986, Roberts stuck around town and earned a living in some of the local bar bands. He attended a songwriting workshop led by Lyle Lovett and then began to compose steadily. With his band, the St. James Rhythm Pigs, he recorded a demo of songs, which landed him a record deal. The band changed its name to Crash Test Dummies and released its debut album, The Ghosts That Haunt Me in 1990. Over 400,000 copies of the album were sold across Canada, earning Roberts and his cohorts a “Best New Band” Juno Award the following year.
Signed by Clive Davis at Arista Records, the Crash Test Dummies returned in 1993 with God Shuffled His Feet, which sold over six million copies and brought the band three Grammy Award nominations, largely on the strength of the quirky title track and a big radio hit, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” Listening to it today, the album has that oversized sound that was popular in the 1990s, when click tracks and booming snare drums made everything sound overproduced.
“We were so naïve when we first started making records—we had no idea what was going on,” Roberts remarked. “The first album rockets to the top of the charts in Canada, and we were simply oblivious to the fact about how rarely this occurred. By the second album we had more experience, but we still neglected to take stock of where we were. But this was the 1990s, before file sharing. We were successful enough that we could take time to make subsequent records and compose songs we liked.”
After Oooh La-La!, Roberts sent Morsberger a new lyric he’d written “on a whim,” he said, “and two days later Rob sent me a demo of the song now set to music with a beautiful melody and his vocals. I was flabbergasted that he’d take such interest in my words, and was absolutely floored by the music. I told him I had about twenty other lyrics, and before long we were working together on what has become Midnight Garden. I really wasn’t looking to make another record—this really fell into my lap, but what a blessing it has become. Rob is incredibly gifted and easy to work with—we did not clash once. He’s so level-headed and reassuring. We had such a great metaphysical meeting of the minds.”
Midnight Garden is a brooding, heartbreaking work, twelve songs that intertwine the search for happiness and world of loneliness. It’s mostly recorded with just Mosberger on the piano and a small string section, and on several songs Morsberger sings as well. I heard flashes of Stephen Foster, Randy Newman and Charles Ives in some of the arrangements; a ‘live’ efflorescence—a Westchester premiere!—is worth looking forward to.
Brad Roberts and Rob Morsberger plus special guests from Tribes Hill will perform on Sunday, June 3 at the Music Hall, 13 Main St., Tarrytown, NY. The show is at 7 PM. For tickets and more info, call (914) 631-3390 or visit


Musician Rob Morsberger finds redemption in Mystic
By Rick Koster

Published in The Day, 05/29/2012

Looking back, songwriter Rob Morsberger thinks his subconscious was trying to tell him something. It was the fall of 2011, and he was in the final mixing stages for his wonderful "Ghosts Before Breakfast" album - a wry, melancholy song-cycle about death, loss and mortality, and the spun-web effects of each.

After experiencing a series of severe headaches, Morsberger found himself in a hospital emergency room - and was subsequently diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma, the most severe manifestation of the worst type of brain cancer.

While he was in the hospital, coming to terms with the illness and its implications, he says the tunes from "Ghosts Before Breakfast" kept pulsing though him.

"The songs were speaking to me, and I realized they were so clearly about what was happening NOW," Morsberger says. "I think any time you're creating something there's always a connection with the subconscious. At this level, though, I can't explain whether it was spiritual or even biological, but there was some definite and hidden awareness within that I was not conscious of."

Now 52, Morsberger is an extremely versatile songwriter and composer whose tunes are at once sophisticated and literate, melodic and cleverly structured. Along with "Ghosts Before Breakfast," he's released several superb albums, including "The Chronicle of a Literal Man" and "A Periodic Rush of Waves," all of which resonate in a fashion that suggests the work of artists from Cole Porter and Randy Newman to Bruce Hornsby and Paul Simon.

Over the years, he's also appeared as a side man/arranger for such luminaries as Jules Shear, Marshall Crenshaw, Patti Smith, My Morning Jacket and the Roches.

Despite the gravity of his illness, Morsberger has no plans to slow down. He's finishing two new CDs, both of which should be ready for release by September.

"There have obviously been some changes, but I feel great, and there have been no debilitating effects from various treatments," he says. "Plus, when I'm writing or playing music, it's the best medicine. You just feel connected to a vital life force that is unstoppable. It's important for me or any artist to keep doing it." He laughs. "I'm not sure my doctors - bless 'em - get it. The science versus aesthetics thing, I guess."

In that spirit, Morberger is on the phone from his home in upstate New York, a few days before he plays a Thursday concert in the performance hall at the Olde Mistick Village Arts Cinemas. In tow, Morsberger will bring two close friends, Crenshaw and Steely Dan guitarist/solo artist Jon Herington.
The show will not only serve as a benefit for Morsberger's family - he and his wife have four children - and to help defray medical expenses. The concert also is a celebration of the release of his new song called "Mystic Redemption" - a tune he was commissioned to write by another friend, Bill Dougherty, owner of the cinemas.

"One of my favorite things about being a touring musician is meeting people," Morsberger says. "I'd done two shows at the Art Cinemas as a member of Jon's band and, loading in the first time, I met Bill and a number of lovely people who work there. I just liked Bill right away; we bonded and became friends."

When word of Morsberger's illness reached Dougherty, the theater owner didn't hesitate.

"I just thought that we as a community had to do something to help Rob," Dougherty says. "The obvious idea was to get him up here to play, and fortunately he's feeling great and wants to play."

Then a second concept hit Dougherty.

"I was looking around Rob's website and noticed that he'd accept songwriting commissions. I was trying to think of a different way to approach the benefit, and this seemed perfect. I'd get Rob to write a song about Mystic."

The theater owner's only request was that Morsberger do his own research in Mystic and come up with the song without any historical or anecdotal input from Dougherty himself.

"He's the songwriter," Dougherty laughs. "I wanted Rob to work his magic in his own way."

The result, "Mystic Redemption," is indeed a terrific song that reflects not only Morsberger's compositional strengths but also weaves together several iconic elements of the town's personality.

"I was thrilled with the idea of the commission," Morsberger says. "I love the challenge of writing songs where I'm telling someone else's story. In this case, it resonates with me that Bill took over the theater from his father, and there's a profound sense of love and legacy. Plus, I always think there's an autobiographical element in any creative progress. So, in the end, the song's got a bit of Mystic and a bit of Bill and a bit of me."

Writing as a commissioned artist is nothing new for Morsberger. In fact, it's a big part of his career. He's written numerous scores for television and film and was recently an arranger/performer on a Loudon Wainwright III track included on the Grammy award-winning "Boardwalk Empire" soundtrack.

Of course, while having someone of Morberger's skill custom-craft a song about your hometown is sublime fun, Dougherty did so with an ulterior motive - all the proceeds from the sale of "Mystic Redemption" will also go to help Morsberger in his battle against cancer.

"I told Rob, 'Your gift to our town will be this song, and our gift to you will be a chance to help you and your family,'" Dougherty. "That we're getting to do this concert is one of the most emotionally proud moments in the history of this theater. Rob deserves this - and we get to hear his music."


Singer Rob Morsberger Takes It Day-By-Day
May 11, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jonathan Takiff

Rob Morsberger is one of the best rock/pop singer/songwriters you’ve never heard on recordings or seen in concert. There is still time to make amends, but urgency is suggested, as the guy is “living with an illness that could rapidly derail me at any time,” he acknowledges with admirable nonchalance. This weekend, Morsberger performs two shows in the area — Friday night at Kennett Flash in Kennett Square and Saturday at Psalm Salon in Overbrook Hills, where talent booker Jamey Reilly calls him “an artist we love.”

Master of an eclectic musical nature, wry and inquisitive lyrics and a reedy, naturalistic singing voice that pierces like a knife, this classically trained talent has been writing songs about love and death and historical curios for more than two decades.

His are songs that aim high, that might evoke the mind-set of a Dalton Trumbo or last thoughts of Henry James, put words to the images of surreal silent-film pioneer Hans Richter or ponder the cross dressing Swedish Queen Christina. It’s storytelling song craft that seasoned music critics compare favorably to the eccentric best of Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Loudon Wainwright, Harry Nilsson, Gary Brooker (Procol Harum), Tom Waits and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. But let’s be real, people. It’s also stuff that the kids buying music today don’t understand — or give a hoot about.

Morsberger has therefore made ends meet by playing piano and writing/arranging for other artists — from scoring and performing science-themed ditties for the PBS “Nova” series to fleshing out string arrangements for a soon-to-be-released Patti Smith album.

At least, he was doing all that. Ever since the fateful day last fall when excruciating headaches sent him to New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and a most malignant, Stage 4 cancerous tumor was discovered and removed from his brain, Morsberger has been focusing “almost exclusively” on his own career, on “the work that gives me pleasure.”

He’s just finished a song cycle with good buddy Brad Roberts, the distinguished voice of Crash Test Dummies. Tentatively titled “Midnight Garden” (or maybe “He Heard a Melody,” both song titles from the set), the work is being readied for an early June debut at a concert hall near Mosrberger’s home in upstate New York.

“Brad came to me with all these lyrics ready to score. And it came together unbelievably fast — in less than a week, I’m almost embarrassed to say,” Morsberger shared in our recent conversation. “I often can’t write more than a song in that time. This time, the music just poured out of me.”

Morsberger also is “weeks away” from releasing a concert-video DVD recorded at NYC’s Bitter End to celebrate the release of his last album, “Ghosts Before Breakfast,” and featuring the same tasty band he’s been working with for years, fronted by guitarist Jon Herrington (who also holds down the seat in Steely Dan).

“The multitrack sound recording of the show is amazing,” said this sophisticated sound painter. “We may put it out as a CD, too.” (Here, this weekend, Morsberger is working solo.) Also newly “wrapped” is Morsberger’s sixth studio-album project, “A Part of You,” now planned for release in September. Brad Roberts makes an appearance there, too. Likewise Suzzy Roche. There’s a lot of dealing “with the issues at hand,” he acknowledged.

Clearly, there’s some legacy-building going on here. And maybe thoughts of creating an annuity to help support his wife, Lisa (a professional flautist and music teacher, now about to graduate from nursing school), and their 7-year-old son, Elan, who’s had three heart operations at Columbia Presbyterian. “Most people drive by a hospital and get a feeling of dread. When I go past there on the West Side Highway, on my way out of New York City, I’m filled with joy.”

On recently immersing myself in the Morsberger catalog, I was making perverse sport of picking out the redemption songs from past productions likely to be singled out by other artists to record on a tribute album, a project that could make him a posthumous star. Death, it’s said, is often a great “career enhancement.”

Maybe the set should open up with the prescient “Will You Come to My Funeral” from the 1999 album “Relativity (Blues),” originally released as the work of the Robert Secret Band. (He was trying to stay low-profile as a popster, to not spoil opportunities for his more serious scoring gigs.) Then from his most countrified “The End of Physics,” gotta pull out the utterly romantic “Planet Blue” — one which Rob now claims he’s “practically forgotten.” With just a little gender adjustment, Taylor Swift could easily score a hit with that one. And how about the old-timey/down-South “Well Traveled Road”? A natural cover for Randy Newman.

By the way, there’s likewise “a serious Stephen Foster influence — and a touch of Schubert — on the new song cycle,” said the artist.

Morsberger was mostly dismissive of my album-building mind game, saying he “tries not to think about these things.” But there was no stopping me. I’d also throw in more recent gems from “The Chronicle of a Literal Man,” like the sardonic “Independent Movie” (Fagen should sing that one) and the organ-scored, Bach-meets-Procol Harum “Where Is the Song.” That got Morsberger talking about his formative teen years spent in Britain (his father taught art at Oxford University) “where they still teach classical music in the schools” and how Harum’s Gary Brooker is “one of the greatest vocalists ever.”

OK, and we have to throw in nods to the seemingly death-defying stuff on “Ghosts Before Breakfast,” which critics have cited as showing Morsberger’s bravery, but which he swears he had written before the discovery of cancer and that’s “just part of a great tradition of songwriting.” Grateful dead, indeed.

We’re talking especially about his flip bit of hereafter speculation “The Great Whatever” and the haunting “Feather in A Stream” — painted in the reverent tones of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and a natural for Paul McCartney to croon.

“Whoa, not so fast, “ Morsberger finally interrupted, with a laugh. “You know, it doesn’t happen often, but I could beat this. The doctors at Columbia Presbyterian swear they took the whole thing out. And the operation went so smoothly, they didn’t even wake me up in the middle, to make sure my speech was still functioning properly. That’s usually a big issue with brain surgery. Two days after the operation, I was back in my studio working on the music. Talk about a miraculous recovery.”

Morsberger said he’s still feeling good, enjoying every sandwich. “There are ongoing treatments. Every three months, I go in for another brain scan. The last one gave us an awful scare. They thought they saw a new growth. But then they did it over and the shadow disappeared. So basically I live from day to day. But who among us doesn’t?”