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Friday, September 2, 2022

Rocky and the Rollers singer keeps faith at center of cancer battle

It was early Sunday morning.

The amps were silent and the stage bare at Brownwood Paddock Square.

The massive crush of rock and roll fans had vanished into the night after “Rocky and the Rollers Anniversary Party” ended.

Al Morse is back on stage while battling prostate cancer
Al Morse was back on stage while battling prostate cancer.

And Al Morse, who rocked the house the night before with his soulful, blistering brand of rhythm and blues, was in church.

“Barbara and I went to church today and it’s always good to be with God,” Morse, 71, said of he and his girlfriend Barbara White. “The Lord has blessed me, and I put everything I have into the hands of God.”

Including cancer.

During the past couple years, Morse, one of the most popular and beloved singers in The Villages, has been fighting prostate cancer.  Due to the disease, he has missed many gigs, and had to back off being a regular with the Rollers. The band spends a lot of time on the road, backing national acts and playing oldies shows.

Morse, who occasionally sings with the Rollers and at local venues, had to focus in his health.

“I will always feel a part of Rocky and the Rollers,” Morse said. He was a regular until cancer and Covid stopped everything.

Al Morse with his companion Barbara and friend Brenda Durkin
Al Morse with his companion Barbara and friend Brenda Durkin.

Seader has long been a supporter of Morse, since the singer joined the band nearly a decade ago. “We needed Al, he’s a great singer.”

When Morse took the stage during the anniversary show, Rocky said: “God is good; Al is here.”

Morse sang some of the fans’ favorites during the show. He started with “The Duke of Earl,” and then went into “Land of 1,000 Dances.” He teamed with Kathleen Kane on a wild romp through “Proud Mary.” Morse came back near the end of the show with one of his soulful specialties: “Can’t Turn You Loose.”

He seemed like the Al of old. Morse is big, burly guy, who constantly flashes a gap-toothed smile. He has a knack for bringing joy to others with his music and personality.

“So many people love Al because he makes them happy,” said DJ Al Brady, who has been with Rocky and the Rollers nearly four decades. “No matter what happens, Al keeps smiling. He is a big man and a kind man. He embraces the love of others.”

Brenda Durkin works with the Rollers and understands what makes Morse so appealing to an audience. “It’s that personality and that smile. Al Morse is all soul and all charm.”

Morse always was the life of  Rocky and the Rollers’ concert parties. The big, cuddly guy who could roam out into a crowd and start a sing-a-long. He was the “Duke of Earl,” in his white suit and top hat. Performing in the Squares, Al would jump off stage and lead a line dance.

But now there is another public side to Morse. Faith is at the core of his being.

“I have a great family and I have friends,” he said. “And its all a blessing from the Lord. I just want to thank all my friends and fans in the Villages for their prayers. They mean so much to me.”

Barbara White is Al’s companion and helps in his bout with cancer. “He’s getting better and we’re trusting in God to care for him.

“I don’t what I would do without Barbara,” Morse said. “She is like my right arm. She is the love of my life.”

Music has also been a big part of his life. He sang in school and had his own rock band as a teenager. Later, Morse auditioned to sing with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, one of the most popular bands of the 1960s, with hits like “Peppermint Twist.”

“Al was a talented singer and a great guy to work with,” Dee once said. Morse stayed with Dee for about a decade and then joined another famed group, Carl Gardner’s Coasters.
“It was like a dream,” Morse once told me. “When I was a kid, I was listening to the Coasters, then I became one of them.”

After leaving the Coasters, Morse bounced around a couple of years before hooking up with Rocky.

Now Al Morse awaits the next chapter of his remarkable life. “On stage is where I really feel I belong,” he said. “I just take each day as it comes, and I just want to keep singing.”

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