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Morris Brothers (Wiley and Zeke)
WNOX Knoxville, TN
WPTF Raleigh, NC
WSPA Spartansburg, SC
WWNC Asheville, NC

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.

Promo Ad - Virginia Theatre - Danville, VA - Morris Brothers - Wiley, Zeke and Tiny - December 1939
Promo Ad - WSPA - Morris Brothers - January 1944

Radio Log - WWNC - May 1941 - Morris Brothers
Promo Ad - New Hits - Morris Brothers - Buckley Amusement - April 1946

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.

  • Zeke Edward Morris (B: May 9, 1916 — D: August 5, 1999)
  • Wiley Andrew Morris (B: February 1, 1919 — D: September 22, 1990)
  • Homer (Pappy) Sherrill (B: March 23, 1915 — D: January 6, 1996)

RCA Victor - 20-1783-A - Salty Dog Blues - Morris Brothers - Wiley and Zeke - 1945

Bluebird - B-7967-A - Let Me Be Your Salty Dog - Morris Brothers - Wiley and Zeke - 1938

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Program At School; February 15, 1944; The Kingsport Times; Kingsport, TN
  • Legion To Have Hillbilly Program; March 14, 1944; Knoxville News-Sentinel; Knoxville, TN
  • Annoucements - Oak Glen P.T.A. Plan Night Program May 31; May 28, 1944; Kingsport Times; Kingsport, TN
  • Ballad of the Morris Brothers: Times Were Different Back Then; John Robinson; January 22, 1978; Asheville Citizen-Times; Asheville, NC
  • Mountain Music Man, Wiley Morris, Dies; September 23, 1990; Asheville Citizen-Times; Asheville, NC
  • Obituary: Zeke Morris; August 7, 1999; Asheville Citizen-Times; Asheville, NC
  • Obituary: Pappy Sherrill; December 1, 2001; The State; Columbia, SC

Read More About The Group

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
Bluebird
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  7426 A Answer to Blue Eyes (with Homer Sherrill)
  7426 A Answer to Blue Eyes (with Homer Sherrill)
  7426 B Greenback Dollar # 3 (with Homer Sherrill)
  7426 B Greenback Dollar # 3 (with Homer Sherrill)
  7497 A Understand It Better Bye and Bye (with Homer Sherrill)
  7497 A Understand It Better Bye and Bye (with Homer Sherrill)
  7497 B Someone to Love You When You?re Old (with Homer Sherrill)
  7497 B Someone to Love You When You're Old (with Homer Sherrill)
  7572 A Is It Love? (with Homer Sherrill)
  7572 A Is It Love? (with Homer Sherrill)
  7572 B I Will Never Turn Back (with Homer Sherrill)
  7572 B I Will Never Turn Back (with Homer Sherrill)
  7628 A Under the Old Kentucky Moon (with Homer Sherrill)
  7628 A Under the Old Kentucky Moon (with Homer Sherrill)
  7628 B The Eastern Gate (with Homer Sherrill)
  7628 B The Eastern Gate (with Homer Sherrill)
  7903 A Great Speckled Bird (new version)
  7903 A Great Speckled Bird (new version)
  7903 B The Story of Charlie Lawson
  7903 B The Story of Charlie Lawson
  7967 A Let Me Be Your Salty Dog
  7967 A Let Me Be Your Salty Dog
  7967 B Darling Think of What You?ve Done
  7967 B Darling Think of What You?ve Done
  8025 A There?s A Trail That?s Winding
  8025 A There?s A Trail That?s Winding
  8025 B I Love the Silver in Your Hair
  8025 B I Love the Silver in Your Hair
  8043 A Just How Pretty You Smile
  8043 A Just How Pretty You Smile
  8043 B Married Woman Blues
  8043 B Married Woman Blues
  8103 A Does Jesus Care?
  8103 A Does Jesus Care?
  8103 B Will the Circle Be Unbroken Bye & Bye
  8103 B Will the Circle Be Unbroken Bye & Bye
  8136 A Don?t Say Goodbye if You Love Me
  8136 A Don't Say Goodbye if You Love Me
  8136 B Riding to See the Sun Go Down
  8136 B Riding to See the Sun Go Down
  8252 A One Little Word
  8252 A One Little Word
  8252 B Wabash Cannonball # 2
  8252 B Wabash Cannonball # 2
  8269 A My Lord Will Come for Me
  8269 A My Lord Will Come for Me
  8269 B He?ll Set Your Fields on Fire
  8269 B He'll Set Your Fields on Fire
  8314 A It?s Blues
  8314 A It's Blues
  8314 B Gabriel?s Trumpet
  8314 B Gabriel?s Trumpet
  8567 A Telephone To Glory
  8567 B Blessed Jesus, Hold My Hand
  8653 A Old Covered Bridge
  8653 B Farewell Kentucky
  8677 A I Will Meet My Precious Mother
  8677 B If You Love Your Mother
  8841 A Dream Of A Miner's Child
  8841 B Little Nellie
 
Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  8466 A Wabash Cannonball No.2
  8466 B One Little Word
  8467 A He'll Set Your Fields On Fire
  8467 B My Lord Will Come For Me
  8468 A Gabriel's Trumpet
  8468 B It's Blues
  8469 A I Will Meet My Precious Mother
  8469 B If You Love Your Mother
  8470 A The Last Letter
  8470 B Now She's Gone
  8471 A Blessed Jesus, Hold My Hand
  8471 B Telephone To Glory
  8472 A Farewell Kentucky
  8472 B Old Covered Bridge
 
RCA Victor
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  20-1783 A Salty Dog Blues
  20-1783 B Somebody Loves You, Darling
  20-1905 A Grave Upon The Green Hillside
  20-1905 B Tragic Romance


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