Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead’s alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, only hours after he had arrived home from New York City. After waking his children and dropping them off at school, he was on the road again, headed for another long day of work.
But Morehead is not the typical commuting dad.
For the past week, his 12-hour-plus workdays have not been spent staring at a computer screen, but drumming in rehearsal with his band DangerZone and rap’s household names Ludacris, Chingy and Bobby Valentino, all in anticipation of a live performance last night — on the Late Show with David Letterman.
DangerZone, founded in 2005 by Morehead and his family and friends, is no stranger to big gigs. The group has performed at venues including Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno alongside artists such as Mary J. Blige, Amerie and Nokio. Balancing politics, family and music may be all in a day’s work for Morehead, but preparation for this performance in particular has been especially demanding because of the length of the set and the short rehearsal period.
“This is the hardest that I’ve ever rehearsed,” Morehead said. “When we did Leno, David Letterman and Saturday Night Live before, there was less rehearsal because we were only performing two songs … but we just started rehearsing last Wednesday to learn 12 new songs. It’s a lot.
But jamming on Letterman with Ludacris is not all Morehead has going on. There’s helping his wife raise their eight-, six- and three-year-old boys. There’s managing several business ventures in and beyond the music industry, including heading up an anti-spyware repair business. And, of course, there’s answering the myriad e-mails and phone calls Morehead receives each day from his ward’s constituents.
When asked how he manages to juggle home, work and music, the alderman sighed. “I pray a lot,” he said.
Morehead grew up in a family of singers and musicians in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., a city that simultaneously raised hip-hop greats Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Heavy D. He began playing drums in church when he was eight years old, never learning to read music but simply mimicking what he heard and inventing his own beats. From 1996 until his wedding in 2000, Morehead toured nationally with a variety of small-time artists. Today, DangerZone reflects that diversity of musical styles, he said.
“Our band is a chameleon band,” Morehead said. “It can adapt to any artist. We play not just rap and R&B, but jazz and pop.”
Morehead keeps his kids involved in his hectic life by sharing his music with them. Not only does the family jam in their basement studio, but the boys frequently accompany their father to rehearsals and performances. During a school vacation last week, the boys traveled to New York to watch their father, uncle and father’s cousin rehearse. But this past week, the boys did not get to tour Letterman’s set — Morehead would not allow his sons make the trip on a school night.
“They were right in the element down in the studio,” Morehead said. “During breaks, they would each get on an instrument and play.”
After marrying, Morehead restricted his recordings and television appearances to local venues to spend more time with his family. Last April, he hired a road manager to take over arranging gigs for the group and took his sons campaigning with him in his ultimately successful bid for alderman.
“The coolest thing about him being a musician is that it makes him a positive role model for the kids in New Haven,” said Jacob Koch ’10, who has worked with Morehead as director of the New Haven Action Fund, a Yale group that engages in local politics.
Reaching out to young people has been one of Morehead’s top priorities from the beginning of his campaign. And while not all of them have yet been yet been realized, some of the major goals of his first year in office have been pushing the city to create a youth center, speaking to students about life choices and giving advice to young black entrepreneurs about starting their own businesses.
One of Morehead’s most popular initiatives is Open Mic Nights, an opportunity for youth to display musical talent.
Morehead’s friend and Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08, who has been to Open Mic night, said the well-attended events open the eyes of young people interested in music to potential carriers in the business, not only as musicians but also as writers and producers. She said they also allow the community to come together and relate to their alderman.
For Calder, Morehead’s talents are second-nature.
“Greg’s a very talented drummer,” she said. “It comes naturally for him. He works very hard, practices a lot and is extremely dedicated.”
That seriousness and dedication leads to a hesitation to brag about his achievements. He said he generally avoids discussing his more flashy experiences in the music business unless asked directly.
Still, Morehead’s favorite artist to work with — Ludacris, who often finds himself embroiled in controversy because of lyrics in songs like “I Want to Lick You” and “You’z a Hoe” — practically epitomizes that very flashiness.
But, at least according to Morehead, who first played with the Southern rapper in 2005, Ludacris’ appeal runs much deeper than that.
“One time, while the band was warming up, I was changing the peddle on the drums and someone was tapping me on the shoulder,” Morehead recalls, “I turned around, and it was him. He said ‘Thanks for doing this.’ Out of all the artists, he was the only one to personally come to all of bands and talk to them. Things like that I don’t forget.”