When I asked Kelly Morris how long he and his brother, Patrick, have been in a band, he replied, “Since birth.” I noted no irony in his answer…understandably, since there are stories of the two boys, diaper-clad, atop a toy box, using cooking utensils and vacuum cleaner parts as instruments for their precocious performances.
The Morris brothers officially began their musical career with a public presentation of their talents at Cardinal Newman High School, at a talent show, no less. Kelly was a freshman and Pat was still in middle school. Penning a song the night before that they called “Shake,” The Mobros were on their way.
Their first bassist was their Drama teacher…seriously. The three wound up playing music before and after their classes. Patrick Boos not only shared their Trinidadian heritage, but also their love of the music indigenous to the West Indies. Although this trio seemed like destiny, Boos’ time as a member of the band was short-lived; he and his wife were having their first baby and priorities prevented his commitment to The Mobros. So, in stepped Zack (Zee?) Slaughter; a talented jazz musician, he remains their bassist while also attending school in Purchase, New York.
Their Calypso-infused upbringing was a jumping off point for both excavation and influences. They reached back into the past and began to connect these artists with those that they influenced…The Gipsy Kings, Harry Belafonte, and Buena Vista Social Club, to name a few. The two brothers draw from an abundance of cultural ingredients that produced Calypso and layer these with other influences to yield results that, on the surface, seem dissimilar, even mutually exclusive, but ultimately swirl together in an evocative mixture. Listen to their “My Baby Walked Out” for such a concoction; elements of rockabilly, Brazilian Baion and Samba, along with a heady dose of blues-tinged vocals blend together infectiously.
How does their music fit into the local music scene? “There’s a music scene here?” jokes Kelly. He bemoans the usual hallmarks of indifference among Columbia’s population, citing poor attendance and recognition for several local acts that are topnotch head-turners whenever they play out of town. “Columbia, SC is definitely not Austin, TX, and it doesn’t seem to be headed in that direction any time soon,” he adds with a grin. “But, whatever we are doing, it seems to be fine with everyone, so I guess, in a way, we fit.”
Patrick and Kelly want to reinvent what Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Wilson Pickett were doing in the 60s. Trying to distill and dispense the “soul groove” that this triumvirate concocted is akin to a calling for them. Reconnecting with the rich past of these giants, not just to stand on their shoulders, but to also channel their spirit in a fresh, new way, is their mission.
“Things are going very well and very quickly for us here, and we are thankful for that,” he says (sincerely). “Though, as a musician in Columbia, you can only do so much with your music. I don’t think there is much we can do here besides film and record more material. It’s great to play the venues around town, but we are focused on recording as much as possible. Honestly, Columbia is an odd place to be a musician.”
The brothers have an uncle in St. Lucia who also happens to be the Arch Bishop there. On a recent visit, they filmed a video for a new song, “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” and got to perform for audiences of children, nuns, and the elderly. “I have never seen people come alive and be so thankful for the music we played them, “ Kelly recalls. “The fact that we were simply playing to play and not for profit, for people who love to listen, was a special occurrence for us.”