About The Group
The Morris Brothers were one of several classic country duets popular in the 1930's and early 1940's. They were especially popular in the Carolinas and East Tennessee. Today, they are best remembered for authoring and making the first recording of the bluegrass classic "Salty Dog Blues" and being the first band to hire Earl Scruggs.
Natives of Old Fort, North Carolina, Wiley and Zeke had an older brother George who worked with J. E. Mainer, but seems not to have worked with his younger siblings. Zeke entered music first by joining Mainer's Mountaineers when George was unavailable (later George did join J. E.'s group). Zeke worked with the Mountaineers for a while and then Zeke and Wade Mainer formed a duet. Afterward, Wiley, Zeke and Homer (Sherill) formed a group that recorded an eight-song session on Bluebird.
After Sherrill left to go with Byron Parker's group, the brothers continued playing at Carolina radio outlets from WWNC to WPTF and recorded more for Bluebird simply as the Morris Brothers. At times they had a variety of band members including both Scruggs and Don Reno. Zeke recorded with Charlie Monroe in 1938 and 1939.
The brothers also played at WNOX Knoxville. In World War II Wiley worked with Buster Moore in the Dixie Pardners until he was drafted and Zeke went into defense work. After the war, in November 1945, they had a final session doing four songs for RCA including a remake of "Salty Dog Blues," (first done in 1938). After that, they retired from music.
The Knoxville newspapers would provide occasional promotional snippets of their appearances in the area. In February 1944, they appeared with the Rambling Mountaineers to give folks a "hill-billy music" program at the Valley View School in Hawkins County on Tuesday, February 15, 1944. In March they were amount a "group of hillbilly musicians new to Knoxville" that were to be the entertainment at the American Legion's 25th anniversary celebration at Market Hall. In addition to the Morris Brothers, Ray Atkins and Bashful Buster would be there along with emcee, Lowell Blanchard.
They, along with Bill Monroe, are the early founders of what is called bluegrass music today. Zeke Morris told John Robinson in 1978, "The old-timey (hillbilly or country music) was so much different from our music then that there wasn't no comparison. we knew in our minds that it was going to get bigger. And it's a multi-billion dollar industry now." He went on to say, "To trace it back, we are th eones, with Charlie and Bill Monroe, who started this kind of music. We have helped more people into this stuff than any other two people that I know of. Why, we gave Earl Scruggs the first job he had in the business. And then there was Dan Reno and Red Smiley."
From the early 1930's to the late 1950's, they went from "...town to town, school to school, radio station to radio station playing their unusual brand of mountain music." They tended to stay in each place until they were not drawing any interest or crowds.
Mr. Robinson told readers that they turned down the chance to join WSM's Grand Ole Opry in 1942. But Zeke said they were making too much money on WWNC in Asheville. But in retrospect, Zeke says if he had known what he knows 'now', they would have gone. But he said, "But then things wasn't like now. You didn't take chances then."
Wiley told Mr. Robinson, "But I have no regrets that we stopped because I have accomplished a great deal. I have raised a family and all my kids are perfect. They've all got a good education — I've seen to that — and are doing good for themselves. That's a gold mine right there."
Zeke went on, I knew someday it was going to be modernized. The younger people came along and added a little of this and took out a little of that and speeded it up. But it's the same kind of music. Wiley said, "The music business is a terrible, rough life. If you hit the big time, you're okay, but if you don't..." Zeke said, "We couldn't go modern if we wanted too. It's country music and that's about all you can say about it."
In later years the brothers worked in an auto body shop and repair business in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Wiley owned "Morris Body Shop," while Zeke had "Zeke Morris Body Shop." They appeared once at the Newport Folk Festival, on the Earl Scruggs Family and Friends TV documentary in the early 1970s, and at the Fan-Fair reunion in 1975. Wiley, Zeke and Homer cut an album for Rounder in 1973. Zeke also re-created some of the material he had done with Wade Mainer on an Old Homestead LP. They gave their last public performance at an old-time reunion in 1985. About half of their original recordings were reissued on a BACM compact disc.
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