Robert Morris

Rockabilly Drummer & Songwriter, Senatobia

Rockabilly drummer and songwriter Robert Morris, a resident of Senatobia, was born in 1954 in Memphis, where he spent most of his youth in the Whitehaven area. His father was a “flat-top” guitarist and a musical associate of Bill Monroe in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Many musicians would come by the family house to hang out and play music with his father, who worked at home as an auto mechanic. Among his father’s acquaintances was Elvis Presley, with whom young Robert spent a day boating on a nearby lake.

From an early age, Robert wanted to play the drums, and his father bought him his first kit after he demonstrated his ability to play three chords on the guitar. His mother encouraged his playing, and when Robert was eight or nine, she took him to a local honky-tonk, Lil Abner’s, to sit in. He also often performed at parties and during lunch or before assembly at elementary school. He recalls that his first “paying” job was at school when he was compensated with school supplies. His first neighborhood band was the Volcanoes, who played pop songs, and he also occasionally played with country bands.

When he was seventeen, Morris joined the Marine Corps, and following his release two years later he settled in Memphis. He found work as a drummer with rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers. Morris worked on and off with Feathers, a noted eccentric, for the next five years. Rockabilly performer Eddie Bond employed Morris regularly, and he played at many of the country bars that flourished in Memphis in the ‘70s, occasionally backing stars including Ronnie Milsap, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played regularly at the Shanti Inn with veteran Beale Street blues artists including Memphis Ma Rainey (Lillian Glover), Little Laura Dukes, and Big Sam Clark.

In the ‘80s Morris fell into the alternative rock scene through playing with rockabilly guitarist Cordell Jackson and cult artist Tav Falco, often at the Antenna Club. There he also fell in with the singer-songwriter scene and began performing at songwriters’ nights at local clubs with his guitar. Outside of music he worked jobs including auto mechanic and ballroom dance instructor, and operated several restaurants and bars. In 1989 one of his bars was used for a scene in the Finnish film Leningrad Cowboys Go America, in which Morris and his wife Irene made cameo appearances.

Morris’ songwriting skills developed slowly but took off in 1995 when he was inspired by the true-life story of a trucker who arranged for his rig to deliver his coffin to his grave. Immediately after speaking on the phone to the widow, Morris wrote the song “Trucker’s Last Ride,” which was issued as a cassette single. Morris subsequently recorded his songs on the cassette issue “Old Friends, Old Songs, and Me” and the CD Greatest Hits. Other artists, including the Dutch singer Shannah, have also covered his compositions, which number over seven hundred.

Morris has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Memphis Music Heritage Foundation and is a member of the Rockabilly and Traditional Country Halls of Fame. His appellation of “Colonel” derives from his receipt of the honorary title of “Colonel aide-de-camp” from the state of Tennessee.

-Scott Barretta


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