Rick Moranis on His Transformation Into a Grammy-Nominated Country Western Singer

Feb. 5, 2006 — -- At first glance you would swear that the Grammy-nominated musician with a quirky country music album is none other than the Minion of Gozer.

Most anyone alive in the 1980s remembers Rick Moranis from that strange yet iconic role in "Ghostbusters" -- or perhaps from his turn as the phallic, yet fun Dark Helmut from "Spaceballs." Or, if you are the type who likes Molson and hockey, you know him best as one half of the Bob and Doug McKenzie duo made famous on SCTV.

However anyone envisions Rick Moranis, chances are they do not envision him singing country music. Until now. Moranis is the singer-songwriter on a new Grammy-nominated album titled "The Agoraphobic Cowboy."

"The music is pretty simple: It's, you know, it's country music," Moranis says, seated comfortably in a ramshackle recording studio in a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. "There's a couple of melodies that are OK, I guess."

Left Acting 10 Years Ago

But how did this happen? How did Moranis come to country. Has he always longed to be a cowboy?

"No, I'm not a cowboy," swears Moranis before relenting a bit. "Actually no. You know something? You should ask some of my friends whether I'm a cowboy. That's not a question for me. That's a question for, I think, some of the women I've dated."

There actually is a more serious answer. Moranis explains he more or less retired from filmmaking a decade ago.

I had pulled out of filmmaking and television years ago, just to take a break from it. I had little kids, and I was a single parent, and I got tired of hotels and airports," he says, "so it was time to go home and spend some time at home. and then I discovered that I didn't miss what I had been doing. So I stopped."

Moranis's wife had passed away. But even while he raised his two kids, he kept writing -- mostly columns and op-eds for The New York Times and other papers. But when his kids, now teens, started listening to country music, his writing turned country. All of a sudden, he had a handful of songs on paper.

Friends suggested that Rick seek professional help. He turned to Tony Scherr, a professional musician and producer who has worked with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones.

Did this semi-bohemian musician think it was weird when the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" guy said, "I want to come play country music with you?"

"Not at all," says the very earnest Scherr. "I thought if he's into it, that it would be fun to watch somebody do something they've never done before. Because he's always been in character, you know. This is a new thing: He's being himself, singing songs that he wrote and that's a very vulnerable thing."

Taking It to the Next Level

So in Tony's non-digital recording studio, which is his living room in his "lived-in" Brooklyn apartment, Moranis and Scherr went to work. Somehow, they managed to bang out "The Agoraphobic Cowboy" -- which, to misquote Donny and Marie Osmond, is "a little bit country" and a "little bit comedy."

One of the catchiest songs is titled, "Nine More Gallons." It has smooth, twangy music, and lyrics that, well … leave you chuckling:

I work all day

To pay the rent.

Before the money's earned,

It's all been allocated.

I got nothing on my plate,

But I wish that I were fat.

Nine more gallons,

And I'll have me a hat.

Another song is a kind of love ballad/stalking anthem titled, "Press # if you Love Me."

Despite the clearly comic themes, Moranis swears he is not making fun of country music.

"If it was a parody, I'd be wearing a hat and boots … and be talking about my truck and my horse. But that's been done. I don't need to do that."

Even with the humor, the album was country enough that Nashville came a' calling. Literally. Country Music Television invited Moranis and Scheer to come perform for its Web-based concert series, "The Studio 330 sessions."

Needless to say, Moranis was surprised when he got the call: "I've never in my life gotten a call from Tennessee. And it was a producer at Country Music Television in Nashville, who had discovered the album."

Grammy Nomination

After Nashvillle came the biggest surprise of all. Moranis was nominated for a Grammy. But not for country. The "Agoraphobic Cowboy" is up for a Grammy in the comedy category.

"None of it matters at all," opines Moranis. "I mean, it was nice to hear that we were nominated. It was a nice surprise. But [it] doesn't matter what category, or even if we were nominated. It's a nice thing to happen because it has meant is that more people are hearing about the album, so that's nice."

So far "The Agoraphobic Cowboy" has been downloaded thousands of times from the Internet, and more CDs have been printed to sell in stores. So what's next for this accidental cowboy? A national tour, a follow-up album? Don't count on it.

There's no grand design at all behind this," swears Moranis, "no attempt to start a career or reinvent a career or … or kill a career. I mean, whatever happens, happens because it's just been fun."

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