Their colorful tassels would blow behind them, tied taught to their arms as they ran to the ring. Tens of thousands of screaming fans would cram into arenas, waiting for the emergence of Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton. And as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express came through the curtain the sound was deafening.
The venues were sold out, and the women were in hysterics. It was like the Beatles coming to America, only this was the squared circle. Gibson and Morton were so popular they often needed a police escort just to enter the building. Fans would literally jump on their car; trapping them until help arrived. The love affair with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express lasted decades. But all of a sudden the spotlight would fade, and it seemed to Morton that the business he loved so much, the business he poured his blood, sweat and tears into, the business he had quite literally devoted his life to had left him behind.
Some would say he was bitter, but more nights than not Morton, with his unmistakable blonde hair, would still lace up his boots and get in the ring. Yes, the crowds were smaller, but the call to perform never waned. So he wrestled through the pain. It was a dull sting that would linger for years.
And one day that all changed with a phone call. It was WWE on the line. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express had not been forgotten. They are among the most recognized tag teams of all time and would be taking their place in the Hall of Fame. It was a moment that reduced this manly iconic performer to tears that washed the bitterness and resentment away.
Now, business is booming for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, and Morton’s phone continues to ring. Only this time its promoters wanting the iconic tag team to step in their squared circle.
How has life been for you? Has reality set in since WrestleMania weekend, when you were inducted in the Hall of Fame ceremony?
It’s really hard for me to even explain to somebody. Robert and I waited all of our life for this. The treatment and the royalty that WWE gave Robert and I were there. It was an unbelievable time.
How did you find out that you were being inducted? Did your phone ring during dinner? Who was on the line?
It was Mark Carrano in talent relations. I was sitting here thinking about a hundred things, and Mark Carrano called us. Actually, I cried. I guess I’m just a big baby. It was emotional. It wasn’t only good for Robert and me. My wife was so excited, my children, my grandkids. They were all there and spent the week with us. WWE took care of all of that. They flew us first class, and I stayed in a suite as big as my house. The things were so fun. Going to the autograph signings and how everything just clicked. They had a display for us for the Hall of Fame, and the way they put all that together was fantastic. I don’t know that I can ever top that moment.
Do you remember where you were when the call came?
I was upstairs. To tell you the truth I missed the call from him at first. I had just come back from the gym and was in the shower. I saw I had a missed call, and I called back [and] it was WWE that called. It was the farthest thing from my mind. If you look at all the great people that aren’t in the Hall of Fame yet, and they bring Robert and I in. Gosh, man, it was great.
You did an interview about five years ago where you said you thought that the business had left you behind. Have your feelings changed since the Hall of Fame induction?
Yes, absolutely my position changed. Our business changed too. In our business you never stop learning. When you think you know everything, you need to get out of our business. I’ve been doing this for 44 years, and I have a wrestling school, and I’m still learning there too. I don’t go there thinking that I know everything and have all the answers, because you don’t. What really made it cool was when Hunter (Triple H) and them told us they’re trying to make the Hall of Fame… they want a real Hall of Fame. He said you can’t have a real Hall of Fame without the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express in it. What a compliment! It blew our mind when they called us and said, “Dude, we gotta put you in the Hall of Fame.” Do you know how excited I was? Not only me, but Robert and my family. This was an exciting moment and right now we’re still living off the perks of it.
Has the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express seen an uptick in bookings?
Robert and I we stay booked a lot anyway. It’s just that the revenue went up. Robert and I work hard. We don’t just come in and sign autographs, we still wrestle too. If we don’t give the people their money’s worth, we’ll quit. Sometimes I think we really deserve it. I’m not just trying to pat ourselves on the back, but we work hard at what we do.
You and I have joked around about you guys raising your rates. Is the extra revenue from that or extra dates?
Well, a little bit of both. A little bit of both. I’ll make that short and quick. (laughs)
What about enrollees in your wrestling school? Have you seen a surge?
Oh yeah, buddy. I have new people show up all the time anyway. I ran a School of Morton show on a Tuesday night at a high school in Greenville [Tennessee]. I couldn’t believe we had over 200 people there. That’s very good. And my boys at my school did an excellent job… What’s very cool is I try to make dreams come true. One of my boys, it was his high school. He got to perform in front of all of his friends. Did you ever dream of being a rock star when you were in high school? This was the same thing.
(Editor’s note: That’s roughly two percent of the town’s entire population.)
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Speaking of school and education, you told me that promoters were robbing you at the height of your career. What did you mean by that? Were you being paid less than others?
I didn’t find out until later on that even the Midnight Express and Jim Cornette had a contract for $250,000 a year. My biggest year in the business was $125,000. When they were selling all of the posters and records and things, I sold over a million of them for $19.95. You know, we never got a dime of that. It’s my own fault. I’m not sitting here trying to blame Jim Crockett. They got away with it. The only person I can blame is myself.
When you guys burst on the scene you were true rock stars. The cheers for you were deafening, and the fans were rabid. I’m sure that led to some wild times. What was the single craziest fan encounter that you can remember? Mind you, we need to keep this PG.
Robert and I didn’t realize that we were rock stars. We just didn’t know it. When Robert and I did our thing and they first put the belt on us, we got to the Greensboro Coliseum, and they mobbed us. Robert had a new Trans-Am. You never seen so [many] people’s faces smashed. There were so many people behind them. They smashed them, so they had to get on top of his car. It took police 45 minutes to get us out of there and into the building. Robert’s car was brand new and it looked like it was in a demolition derby.
He must have been ticked off.
Yeah, on one hand. But, buddy, we knew we had something special. That’s just one story off the bat, but if you give me time I’ll give you a lot more.
I know that you guys were innovative in the 80s and 90s, but today we see a lot of these crazy high-flying stunts off of the top rope, off of cages, and off of ladders. Did you guys ever think about doing something like that?
No, not really. You have to understand this was before the days of contracts. These guys have contracts now and make millions of dollars. For millions of dollars, I guess I’ll take a couple of bumps like that. But some of these guys it’s just like wow. Take Jeff Hardy, for instance. He has to be one of the toughest guys in the world. I’ve seen him fall 20 feet and every show off the top rope and to the floor. Do you know who else impressed me? Shane McMahon. Even though he’s Vince’s son, good Christ! Did you see some of the bumps he takes?! That’s impressive as heck. He didn’t have to do that, but he does. That’s part of the love of our business.
Back in our day the scaffold matches were our thing. You know me, I’m all gung-ho. I get up there, and I start climbing that ladder. You know it’s harder to climb back down than it is to go up it. If you ever go back and watch those matches you’ll see me talking and screaming a lot. It’s not that I’m calling the match, I’m yelling at Robert and everyone else for shaking the scaffold. I’m scared of heights. I don’t even get on top of my house and clean gutters. But in our business you gotta do what you gotta do. We’re entertainers, and we gotta do that stuff.
News and Notes
In Ring of Honor news, it has been reported that Adam Cole’s contract expires at the end of the month. However, I’m told that Cole is booked on a number of ROH shows in May and June. I cannot confirm, but it appears that at least a short-term agreement has been reached.
ROH officials were impressed by Travis “Flip” Gordon’s work at the television tapings in Baltimore earlier this month. Fans chanted “please sign Flip” following the match. A high-ranking source said those chants did not go unnoticed.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.