Charlie Morris may be best known as a man who delivers the real thing on an electric guitar, but his first musical influence wasn't even a real person.
"This may sound funny, but what got me into it all those years ago was Schroeder in 'Peanuts,' " says Morris in a call from his home in St. Petersburg, Fla. "When I was a little kid, must have been 4 or 5, I was just crazy about Schroeder and I started listening to Beethoven and Mozart and that stuff. I remember I made my mom put on a party for Beethoven's birthday, because Schroeder was always talking about Beethoven's birthday, and she made a little piano-shaped cake."
Morris, who grew up in Georgia and Oak Ridge, started listening to the Beatles and other rock groups when he was about 12 or 13.
"Sometimes the very first thing journalists will ask is 'Who are your influences?' And what they want is for you to name some famous people and they can write, 'Oh, this is who this guy sounds like.' Me being a blues artist, they expect me to say Stevie Ray Vaughan or B.B. King. I love those guys, but they weren't big influences on me because I didn't discover them for many years. My biggest influences were actually my brother (Bruce Morris) and a harmonica player from St. Petersburg called Rock Bottom. But most journalists want to hear some famous name that readers are familiar with. And the people who influenced me don't necessarily have anything to do with what I sound like now."
It's easy to hear what Morris sounds like. His new CD/DVD, "Live in Fribourg," features Morris performing with the group he tours with in Europe.
He's an artist who straddles two continents.
In the United States, he's often performing at small clubs and festivals with a group of American players. In Europe, he has a regular group of European players (including British and Swiss musicians). Europe, he says, is a more satisfying experience.
"In Switzerland, they pay $30 and the place is packed. People there have paid to hear you. In Europe, it's more of a concert scene, which is good for us. It's not like the clubs in Florida and Knoxville where there's a bar band somewhere every night. That doesn't exist over there. They might have one show a week, but more often it's once a month. "
Morris recently performed in Spain for the first time.
"There was a place in Madrid — real bluesy place," says Morris. "A guy was there spinning old vinyl."
While Morris is definitely rooted in the blues, he's never claimed to be a purist.
"I've always played a variety," he says. "There's a lot of R&B, country and jazz influence in there."
His style might actually find a better fit in Knoxville than St. Petersburg.
"In Florida, there are great players and good stuff going on every night, but the Knoxville scene is hipper. A lot of gigs here (in St. Petersburg) are just somebody strumming well-known tunes. ... There's no Americana or bluegrass scene at all and not much jazz."
Recently, Morris has been bringing Florida-area blues players together for a recording a project called "The Blues Coast Sessions," which he hopes to have completed soon.
Morris is a little perplexed at the gut reaction of some people when they hear something labeled "blues," especially considering it's at the base of so much popular music.
"Sometimes someone likes something and then they'll say 'I'm glad you don't play blues!' ... If you told them, 'This is blues,' they probably wouldn't like it as much ... It's better to just play the music and have a good time."
Coming Home Blues Festival
With: The Charlie Morris Band, Natti Love Joys, Wendel Werner with Katy Free and DJ Tony Manley
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Grove Theater, 123 Randolph Road, Oak Ridge
Also: Charlie Morris will perform at noon Friday on the WDVX "Blue Plate Special" at the Knoxville Visitor Center, 301 S. Gay St. Admission is free. The show is also broadcast live at 89.9 and 102.9 FM and streams at www.wdvx.com.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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