Reggie Wayne Morris, Photo: Gina Davis
I've known about area bluesman Reggie Wayne Morris for quite some time. In fact, the late president of the Baltimore Blues Society, Dale Patton, over a decade ago highly recommended this stellar guitarist as an up and coming figure to be reckoned with. And at his behest, I witnessed a live performance at the Full Moon Saloon and subsequently interviewed him for the Maryland Musician Magazine (now the Music Monthly).
Text: Larry Benicewicz
Then, as now, this tall, lean, and lanky dynamo with long hair (it's braided today) flying everywhere delivered his signature, highly charged performance. Prancing, strutting, and fretting, he was all over the bandstand with his in your face playing and his energy level invariably affected the listeners, so that they soon were up out of their seats and on the dance floor. For Reggie never had difficulty with audience participation.
As an artist, his playing reminded me more of a J.B. Hutto--loud, raw, and unrefined, but who never sacrificed feeling for technical proficiency. When he did attempt the blues, Reggie, could compete with the best of them, especially with his emotional range--squeezing sobbing notes out of his guitar on slow numbers so that they sounded like laments and, on the other hand, just as adroitly conveying his exuberance on up tempo tunes.
R. W. Morris, Photo: Gina Davis
But there was a problem. His program consisted of a lot of material that could not only turn off the blues purist but also the casual blues listener--funk, metal, soul, and even rock. Indeed, he was all over the musical map, perhaps trying to please everyone (or demonstrating his virtuosity). Although it was 1992, Reggie was still including a lot of wah-wah, reverb, and many other such "index fossils" in his repertoire--trappings of an earlier psychedelic era. And honestly many of his fans came just to see him pay homage to Jimi Hendrix. And at times, I must admit, he rose to the occasion to a degree that he and the rock demigod were virtually indistinguishable. But I had to wonder if we really had a bluesman here at all.
As for my overall appraisal, I gave Reggie a hearty "thumbs up" and told him that he had the "right stuff" for becoming a bluesman, based on potential alone. And I think he was disappointed that I withheld my total endorsement, one without reservations.
At the time, he asked me what he needed to do to succeed and I told him that he'd have to first and foremost focus upon the blues and forge his own identity in this crowded field. I added that he'd really have to go back to the roots, the original masters, and receive a firm foundation rather than listening to blues second or third hand, such as the British Invasion or the Allman Brothers. It was asking a lot--an almost complete makeover. He'd have to reinvent himself. But I was comforted by the fact that he didn't protest that much. In fact, he could have used the pejorative idiomatic expression involving the word "opinions" as a handy retort to my advice. But, to his credit, he didn't.
Bobby PARKER , 2002, Photo Larry B.
Maybe he took my suggestion to heart or possibly it was the poor showing of his first album, a real mixed bag, to motivate him in this regard. But suffice it to say that in the last decade, Reggie Wayne Morris has become an exceptional bluesman. He's paid his dues, playing whenever the opportunity might present itself, even a notorious biker bar like the Holiday House on Harford Road in Baltimore, which, with no cover, could not possibly be paying very well. And if he isn't yet a household name in the local blues community, it's because he often has to travel out of state to secure that venue, like to Pennsylvania to play at Klinger's in Hanover, Boondocks in Glenrock, the Symposium in Centerville, and the Rusty Nail in Harrisburg. Now, there's hardly a weekend free for this wandering road warrior.
REGGIE with Blues Fans, Lyon, France,1998, Photo: Larry B.