IF YOU GO
WHEN: 9 tonight
WHERE: Brackins Blues Bar, 112 E. Broadway, downtown Maryville
HOW MUCH: $5
ON THE WEB: www.charliemorris.com
By Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times Staff
Musicians cobbling together tracks for a live album have a tough choice to make — do they zero in on the songs that display the best musicianship, or do they home in on the ones that best capture the buoyant spirit of playing live?
Blues man Charlie Morris chose the latter approach for his new album, "Live at the Gator and Chips," recorded last year during a tour of the United Kingdom. Mistakes are inherent in any recording process, he told The Daily Times this week — but a good vibe can make a song rise above any sort of musical flaws.
"For me, what I'm really concerned about is capturing a good feel and some good audience reaction, because to me that was much more important than getting the perfect performance," he said. "I wanted something where the audience is getting into it, because a big thing for me is audience participation.
"That's what I was going for, so I would listen carefully to the songs, and yeah, I would hear a lot of places where there's some weird things going on — songs speeding up and slowing down and timing mistakes, but I didn't worry too much about that. I wanted something that sounded live and captured the fun of the live show."
Given his steady touring both at home and abroad, it's something of a surprise that "Live at the Gator and Chips" marks Morris's first live album. After all, he's been a fixture on the national and international blues circuit for almost two decades, and his interest in music goes back further than that. He started writing songs when he was 6 years old and first played professionally in 1980 with a band called Lotus.
Lotus released an album of original music in 1984, and three years later, Morris joined a dance band called Cheers, traveling throughout the Caribbean with the group. Various gigs on cruise ships led up to the 1990 formation of a blues band, and that's the style he's embraced ever since. In 1992, he went to Europe for the first time and fell in love with the continent, and it's been somewhat of a second home to him ever since.
"We always have a real good audience reaction over there, and there are some hard-core blues fans over there in England," Morris said. "There aren't as many as we'd like because they're getting old and don't go out anymore, but there are some very hardcore blues fans who appreciate the blues and an original band.
"We seem to do very well over there because they seem to be very open to a band doing its own thing. We're not a big name, and we don't necessarily do the trendy kind of blues that's popular, but people seem to be willing to listen to something new and check it out, so that's kind of the strength of playing to the people over there."
Not that he's ignoring his fans in the States. In 1998, Morris released an album of original material called "Bluer Than Thou," and after it sold out, it was re-released on the BluesPages label in 2000. In 2003, "Still Got 'Em" was also released on BluesPages, and Morris continued to cover the Southeastern blues circuit. The whole time, he said, he's kept the examples of those who taught him firmly in mind.
"If you can put on a show and entertain people, they almost always respond to it, even people who aren't particularly blues fans," he said. "David 'Rock Bottom' York, a harp player from St. Petersburg, used to play places where they didn't have the blues at all, and he played a real rootsy style of blues. But he could be real successful in places where people knew absolutely nothing about the blues, because he put on such an entertaining show."