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Members include Jesse Brock (born on July 18, 1972; replaced David McLaughlin) mandolin; David McLaughlin (born on February 13, 1958, in Washington, D.C.; left group), mandolin; Lynn Morris, (born on October 8, 1947, in Lamesa, TX; married Marshall Wilborn), vocals, banjo; Ron Stewart, fiddle, guitar, banjo; Marshall Wilborn (born on March 12, 1952, in Austin, TX; married Lynn Morris), bass, vocals. Addresses: Agent--Class Act Entertainment, P.O. Box 160236, Nashville, TN 37216, website: http://www.classactentertainment.com. Website--Lynn Morris Band Official Website: http://www.lynnmorrisband.com.
The Lynn Morris Band is known for its traditional bluegrass music. It is unusual, however, that it is headed by a woman. Lynn Morris never even heard bluegrass until she was in college, but she has helped to open the male-dominated bluegrass genre for women musicians; in fact, she is the first woman to be elected to the board of directors of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). She founded the Lynn Morris Band with her husband, singer and bassist Marshall Wilborn.
Lynn Morris grew up in Lamesa, a small, rural west Texas town, and earned a degree in art from Colorado College. She first heard bluegrass in a Colorado bar and told Mary Battiata of the Washington Times that the music's uniquely complex harmonies, the interplay between the banjo, mandolin, and bass, and hard-driving rhythms, "everything working together like a handshake," grabbed her attention, despite the fact that, as Battiata noted, "bluegrass lyrics about foggy mountains and Tennessee cabins were as exotic as a London streetscape when she first heard them." Morris told Ed Bumgardner in the Winston-Salem Journal, "I flipped. I suddenly knew that this music was what I was meant to do. I had to learn to play the banjo."
She sold the classical guitar she had been playing, bought a banjo, and then and there, at age 21, decided to devote her life to being a professional bluegrass musician, not realizing that at the time women were almost unheard of in that male-dominated genre. Morris told Alan Sculley of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call, "I think it's a pretty closed shop in an awful lot of ways. It's fundamental. I don't think it has anything to do with music at all.... I don't think a woman should be disadvantaged because of her gender. But you'll find it in bluegrass."
After graduating, Morris played for six years in a band called City Limits, taking any gig they could get. After that, she played in a country band that went on two tours of Southeast Asia to entertain American troops. Government rules said that there had to be a woman in the band; that woman was Morris. During this time, she practiced constantly. She told Battiata, "I worked my butt off. I used to take the banjo to bed with me." She traveled often, going to bluegrass gatherings to learn from other musicians. At one festival, she told Battiata, another musician told her that no matter how good she was, she would never get into a good band, because the other musicians' wives would object to her presence. "And I just thought, 'Well, that wasn't very nice of him to say that.' And then: 'Well, I bet I can.'" In 1974 she became the first woman ever to win the prestigious National Banjo Championship, held in Winfield, Kansas.
In 1982 Morris moved to Pennsylvania and joined a band called Whetstone Run, but the musician's prediction came true. Although the bandleader had invited her to join, the other members of the band didn't like having to share a motel room with a woman, and the band began to dissolve. Morris was dating her future husband, bluegrass musician Marshall Wilborn, at the time and they moved to Winchester, Virginia, so he could take a job he'd been offered by the Johnson Mountain Boys, a traditional and well-known band. Although northern Virginia was rife with bluegrass bands, Morris found that she couldn't even get auditions with the good ones because of her sex. She told Battiata, "I did not like it. Not one bit. I thought, 'Is this it? All this work at the music for nothing? To be denied because I'm a woman?'" Devastated, Morris worked for a temporary agency, drove a limousine, and considered her options.
Two years later, the Johnson Mountain Boys split up, and Wilborn was also looking for a job. Morris and Wilborn decided to take things into their own hands and founded the Lynn Morris Band. In the next month, they got married and bought a house. Morris, as official head of the band, found herself in a leadership position with no experience, so she read every book she could find on the topic, gathered her courage, and called promoters to book the band. Often unsuccessful, she persevered and built the band up to national status. She still handles all the business of the band: payroll, record sales, taxes. According to Garaud Mactaggart in the Buffalo News, the band is "democratically run," with members taking turns on lead and backup vocals, as well as among instruments.
The band's other members have long been devoted to bluegrass. Vocalist and bassist Wilborn was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and enjoyed a busy career with some of bluegrass's best known traditional bands, including Jimmy Martin, the Johnson Mountain Boys, and Longview, before joining forces with Morris. Marshall and recorded a solo album on the Pinecastle label, Root 5, that was nominated for Instrumental Recording of the Year by the IBMA in 1999.
Multi-instrumentalist Ron Stewart grew up in a musical family in Paoli, Indiana, and played in his family's band. At the age of nine he was invited to play with famed banjo artist Lester Flatt. Stewart has won the Indiana State Fiddle Championship twice and was the IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year in 2000. He has recorded a CD on the Rounder label, Time Stands Still.
Mandolinist Jesse Brock also grew up in a family with its own bluegrass band, and has been a professional musician since he was nine years old. In 2002 he released his own album, Kickin' Grass, on the Pinecastle label.
The group's first album, Lynn Morris Band, had five songs that reached the top 25 of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine's survey of radio airplay. The group's second album, Bramble and the Rose, spent a month at number one and nine months in the top ten. The title track of the following album, Mama's Hand, was number one on the National Bluegrass Survey Chart for six months, and won the IBMA Song of the Year Award; the album itself spent 14 months on the bluegrass charts.
According to Sculley, their music succeeds because although each member is a virtuoso musician, the band puts "a premium on melody and emotional content, rather than instrumental chops." Morris told him, "If I had to take a guess I would just say it's lack of pretense. I think people who love bluegrass are drawn to it in a lot of ways because it's the alternative to all the hype you get when you go for country music or rock 'n' roll."
Morris has won numerous awards and was the first woman elected to the board of directors of the IBMA. She spends much of her free time working for animal welfare organizations and has served on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) board in Winchester, Virginia; she is sponsored by Petsmart USA and Spay USA. With the band, Morris recorded a public service announcement in which a catchy bluegrass song urges listeners to spay their pets; the jingle was played throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Australia. In May of 2002, the band hosted its first annual "Pickin' for Pets" benefit concert.
Of her life in music, Morris told Battiata, "Once you kind of get hooked on this stuff, you'll drive long distances, eat bad food, stay at some bad hotels--you'll do anything you have to do to get it." And, she said, her "favorite thing is to go hear that beat rock my world."
by Kelly Winters
Lynn Morris Band's Career
Founder Lynn Morris learned banjo at age 21; won National Banjo Championship in 1974 and 1981; with husband Marshall Wilborn, founded band, 1988; released first album, Lynn Morris Band, 1990; released second album, Bramble and the Rose, 1992; title track from Mama's Hand, 1995, was number one on the National Bluegrass Survey Chart for six months and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Song of the Year; released album You'll Never Be the Sun, 1999.
Lynn Morris Band's Awards
Morris: National Banjo Championship, 1974, 1981; seven-time winner of the Society for Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America's Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year Award; International Bluegrass Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year, 1996, 1998, 1999; IBMA Song of the Year for "Mama's Hand," 1996. Wilborn: International Bluegrass Music Association Recording of the Year for Root 5, 2000. Stewart: Two-time Indiana State Fiddle Champion; International Bluegrass Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year (Fiddle), 2000.
- Selected discography
- Lynn Morris Band Rounder, 1990.
- Bramble and the Rose Rounder, 1992.
- Mama's Hand Rounder, 1995.
- You'll Never Be the Sun Rounder, 1999.
- Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), March 28, 1996; September 28, 1996.
- Morning Call (Allentown, PA), June 7, 1996.
- Washington Post, June 25, 2000.
- Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC), September 10, 1999.
- "Jesse Brock," Pinecastle Records, http://www.pinecastle.com (September 18, 2002).
- Lynn Morris Band Official Website, http://www.lynnmorrisband.com (September 18, 2002).
Lynn Morris Band Lyrics
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