The Morris Brothers Long Road to Their Debut Album

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The Mobros release Walking with a Different Stride Friday, January 17 at New Brookland Tavern. 

The Mobros have been around a long time to just be getting where they are as a band. Now, that might sound crazy to say about two young blues brothers that play music beyond their years and have already opened for one of their idols, B.B. King. Not only did they warm up the crowd for the blues legend, but they were handpicked by King himself to play two tour stops including one show in Glenn Allen, VA and one in Columbia, SC. Add this to the long list of high-profile festival dates and one-off concerts the band has played all over the southeast and that first sentence sounds even more off. It’s hard to believe they’ve done this before the release of their first album and without any touring.

For The Mobros, their show Friday at New Brookland Tavern might be one of the most important ones they’ve ever played. It’s the first show where they’ll finally be able to sell their début album Walking with a Different Stride. It also kicks off a string of dates that has them on the road through February. In one night they’ll put two more holes in their band to-do punch card.

“We’ve never been on the road for more than four days at a time, but this is exactly what we have been waiting for and we have never been this excited.” Patrick Morris, the younger of the duo doesn’t seem phased about some of the turn offs of tour life. “This is definitely where it gets real, no showers, no hotels (too expensive), the occasional stay with friends of distant cousins, the occasional stay with favorite aunts and uncles, peanut butter sandwiches, cold Chef Boyardee bought in bulk, and plenty of blankets.”

One of the first lessons The Mobros learned in their budding career is the importance of patience, although they’ve experienced their share of frustration to learn that lesson. In March of 2013 they started a pledge campaign to pay for their début album and by June they reached their goal. It was a short-lived triumph as the band ran into technical issues with the recording process causing them to forfeit the session and start over from scratch. A tough blow for any band, but in the long run just a bump in the road. What do you do? You get back to work.

“After the debacle, we had to start from square one and come up with enough gig money to pay for studio time at Chase Park.” said Patrick Morris. That could turn out to be the best decision they’ve made as a band. 

Walking with a Different Stride was recorded over 5 days at Chase Park Transductions studio in Athens, GA with Will Manning. True to their style, they recorded reel to reel to 2 inch tape, a form of recording that some say offers a warmer sound than the digitally pristine recording process that took over the industry in the late 90’s. Two inch tape is a significantly more expensive process and if it were any other musicians than the Morris brothers that might be a source of worry. But for two musicians with their prowess it was business as usual.

“Usually recording live to tape in studio would seem like a treacherous affair, but between the cranked guitar amps and the punchy drums it felt right at home and speaking of which, they even let us sleep there.” said Patrick Morris.

Listening to the album you wouldn’t notice that there’s no bass or keys. It’s straightforward pitch perfect harmonies, next level guitar playing, and drumming that’s never overbearing and sticks to what’s right for the song. The Mobros started as a duo in high school before a couple of trial runs adding bass and piano. It didn’t stick, they’re a two piece band and always will be. It was the 2012 Free Times Music Crawl where they played for the first time as a duo without a bassist that made it clear that was the direction to take. 

“It’s what we started with and it’s as if our music is arranged just for guitar, drums, and vocals. You can add bass, piano, organ and or whatever you like, but it’s the space that makes musicians and others grow a keen ear and think, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be nice to put this line here’ because between us two there is room.” said Kelly Morris. 

That 2012 Music Crawl that solidified The Mobros as a duo also started what turned out to be another year of struggle, but looking back on it the brothers are positive. They refer to the unfortunate events and botched recordings as motivation, saying the album wouldn’t be what it is today if not for the difficulties. “This year being exceptionally difficult due to another failed attempt to release the record gave us a chance to make changes on the arrangements of our songs and hulk our craft together even more.” Kelly Morris goes on to say “The album has to represent what the band sounds like live and we can definitely say that this album sounds like us in one room.” After all, it is their live performance that’s gotten them so far ahead to this point.

My first encounter with The Mobros probably came through some live performance, but what I really remember is watching their video for “Mississippi Woman” which featured a cameo from O’Neal Compton. I’ve had the privilege of working with O’Neal over the years and it’s been a treat for me. After retiring from acting over 15 years ago, Compton’s been living in the lowcountry of South Carolina dabbling in politics, his true love of photography, and spending time with his family. But deep down he’s a blues man who loves to sit in with his harmonica any chance he gets. The Mobros refer to him as one of their biggest influences and mentors, but how they met and how the blues intertwined with film is something special.

Compton was visiting a doctor in Camden, SC (hometown of The Mobros) for leg pains and when they got to talking, Dr. Roy Smith told him all about two young local filmmakers. One was Smith’s daughter and the other was a 17-year-old Kelly Morris. At the time Compton was working on his “Film City” project where he propositioned the state legislature for some money to build several sound stages to bring movies and TV shows to South Carolina. But, as we all know, our state legislature has mush for brains and shot down the proposal.

It was later that Compton got some solid blues players together to form The Whole Hog Blues Band (Compton’s catch slogan) and included both Patrick and Kelly Morris.

“We played everything from Son House, Leroy Carr, and  Scrapper Blackwell, to Etta James and Aretha Franklin. So it was very educational and something that we will always cherish.” Kelly thinks back on it fondly. “Depending on where he is and where we are, he’ll come to our gig and sit in with his harmonica and we’ll play four or five songs together.” They even played a packed Compton family reunion in Sumter, SC a few months back.

The journey to where The Mobros are today has been an arduous one, but isn’t the journey what it’s all about? One thing is for sure, they wouldn’t be where they are today without their fans and supporters. Those people who have seen them live and believe in their talent. Those same fans knew that those two brothers from Camden, if given the chance to record at a world-class studio, would knock it out of the park, and they did. This album is next level. Silky smooth guitar riffs, clever wry lyrics, buttery vocals on top of vocals just don’t come along like this very often.

Kelly Morris said it best with the overall timing of this record. “The fact that all of our wonderfully patient pledgers were able to download their long-awaited album on New Years Eve just felt like we saved millions of American’s from a burning building where a One Direction concert was being held. It felt triumphant. The timing couldn’t be more satisfying.”