Epiphone Interview: Tyler Morris
If anyone had any doubts about the future of the blues as a major component of Rock and Roll, they should cease their worries and look no further than Tyler Morris. At age 20, Morris is a veteran of the road and the studio, with incredible chops and a thoughtful and passionate love of the blues in all it's forms, from Howling Wolf to Joe Bonamassa. Morris is a rocker, a writer, a band leader, and a rising star in the world of guitar clinics, where youngsters stare in amazement as Morris shows how to break down the fundamentals into bite-sized chunks that even mere mortals can understand. He’s also an inventor, with a line of custom guitar pedals whose fans include Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford (also an Epiphone Casino fan), Conan O’Brien band leader Jimmy Vivino (as well as Conan himself), Phil X of Bon Jovi, and many more.
Tyler Morris is also a considerate, soft-spoken, and enthusiastic storyteller who seems to relish any opportunity to talk about his favorite guitarists and the sheer joy of getting on stage and making a racket. We spoke with Morris soon after he had had received his new Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit and wrapped up a tour with blues legend and pal Bob Margolin –a heavyweight himself who was captured for all time in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz alongside Muddy Waters and The Band performing the single-camera incendiary performance of “Mannish Boy.” Be sure to visit the website for the historic Regent Theate for ticket info for Tyler's tribute concert on February 16, 2019 to Van Halen 1 recreated with authentic sound and stage equipment.
The pairing of you and Bob Margolin seems perfect. How did that come about?
My last record Next in Line
is actually on Bob’s label VizzTone
. I met him formerly last January and the first time we ever did a tour together was in June. And it was sold out so we decided to do it again. We played bigger venues this time and it progressed even further. It was sold out as well. But what’s crazy is Bob is from my town, Brookline, Massachusetts.
How did you get the guitar bug?
Basically what happened was my Dad was always into music—he’s a guitar collector. Together we now have many guitars, crazy Gibson and Epiphone stuff. I grew up around instruments. My Dad was the head of this house band—the Thursday night band at the Hard Rock Café in Boston at the old location. And when they would practice, I would try to go down and play. So he would rig up an acoustic guitar and tune it to an open D or an open G and together we would do Rolling Stones and Beatles songs. I wasn’t really playing—I was just strumming along. But it wouldn’t sound out of tune because he would put a capo on there and make it work so the rest of the band would not be offended by the horrible sounds I was making.
What kind of guitar player did you want to be at that point. Where you aware of what styles you were drawn to?
Around the time I was 10 or 11, I remember I expressed interest in guitar lessons and things like that. So he would teach me some stuff-whatever he knew. He figured that would be enough to get me by for awhile. The first thing he taught me was barre chords and some blues licks and that kind of thing. After about a week, it kind of clicked. One day I remember he came home and I had learned some of Aerosmith’s Honkin’ on Bo Bo
album. We grew up in that area so my Dad was friendly with (guitarist) Brad Whitford and those guys. I had been exposed to that stuff and was around it. Anyway, my Dad came home and—I believe it was that or maybe an AC/DC song that I had listened and learned by ear. You know he asked me: “How did you learn that, from a book?”
I said, I just kind of listened and I realized it was that barre chord thing you showed me.” He was pretty amazed, so he got me some lessons. I continued to learn stuff by ear. In lessons, it was more technical stuff. I learned rock and blues and more technical jazz stuff. I immersed myself in whatever I was listening from just hearing the records. And I continued to evolve my musical vocabulary.
When you are performing clinics and introducing kids to rock and roll guitar, how do put them at ease? In other words, how do you break down what you do so it seems approachable?
I like to show them things that they can gravitate towards. For example, everyone starts by learning “Smoke on the Water”. As I mentioned, I gravitated towards riffs that incorporate barre chords first. Which is why a subject like the blues is so attractive to all guitar players. There are so many different ways to approach it and I generally pick something easy and I show the kids. I will have a backing track up and try to show the kids how you can mess up! Additionally, I try to show kids to not be afraid of mistakes. That’s the first barrier that I found myself early on. When I’m watching these kids, sometimes they’ll just stop if they make a mistake. So I like to show them that it’s ok: Hey keep going
. No one noticed. The song might sound better.
That is why live records are so much better. The other thing is that I emphasize rhythm a lot in these clinics. I tell them if they’re trying to learn a solo or a song that’s complicated, put the instrument aside and really get the melody in your head. Then, you can put the notes to it and it’s already a little ear worm. Those are a few of the things I like to show people and I like to do that with my own music, too.
What are you plans for the new year?
We released the last record Next in Line
last February and in between that time I’ve accumulated about 30 new songs that I want to record. Currently, in the last few weeks, I’ve been narrowing it down to the 10 best songs that I want to put on the next record. I’m planning that out now—how I want to approach that, if I want any guests. We’re planning 2019 tour dates now and hopefully a new album in the spring. There are some cool one-off shows as well, including a Van Halen 40th
anniversary show where we’re playing the whole Van Halen 1
album and other selected tunes. I think during the second set, we might try to do Van Halen 2
as well. That’s at a 400-seat theater. I got one of Eddie’s Marshall touring cabinets for that show so we’re gonna try to do it justice. Like I said earlier, we’re going to try to do it as these guys would have done in live in ‘78.
I know you just got the Ltd. Ed. Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit…
Yeah, it’s amazing! And the bottle opener is a nice touch. I played it at a show the first night that I had it, planning to use it for a song, and I ended up playing it for an entire set!
What other Epiphones have you been taking on the road?
In the set I have one of those Joe Bonamassa Ltd. Ed. Firebird Treasures
. I believe I used that on “Down On My Luck” on the last record. I love that guitar. And I have a Ltd. Ed. Joe Bonamassa 1958 "Amos" Korina Flying-V Outfit
as well. My Dad has some vintage Casinos, an Epiphone Moderne, a Joe Perry Boneyard, and we have, of course, the Ltd. Ed. G-1275 Double Neck that I use when we do those type of songs that require 12 strings. I would say that the Treasure is my primary go-to before I got the Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul. I also went to engineering school and I make guitar pedals—the TMD Custom Booster
and the TMD Single Knob Overdrive/Fuzz Pedal.
Even before I was an engineering major, I met a guy at a local music shop who used to be the electronics manager with Aerosmith on tour and took care of all of Joe Perry’s amps. His name is Rob Lohr. He mentored me and then I had this idea for a treble boost similar to what Brian May, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton all use but I had the idea to make it with no knobs and a switch. That’s my most successful pedal to date. It all keeps me busy!