Patuxent CD 358 Leon Morris - The Best of Leon Morris
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Canada was a hotbed of country music in the 1930s and 40s, as Leon Morris was growing up in Simcoe, Ontario. The music of Canadian country super-stars Hank Snow and Wilf Carter, also known as Montana Slim, and their emulators was ubiquitous on radio throughout the country. Fans could also tune in mainstream country stars from the United States on WLS (Chicago), WWVA (Wheeling), and sometimes on a clear night, WSM in Nashville. At home in Ontario, Leon's family performed locally with his mother on piano, brother on guitar, two fiddles and an accordion.
When Leon was old enough to start playing, his older brother showed him how to play the G, C, and D chords on the guitar. He practiced his playing and singing diligently and by the age of 13, he was ready to show his talent. The event was a local amateur talent contest for kids near his hometown. Leon took first place by yodeling a couple of Wilf Carter songs.
Prize in hand, Leon was ready to be on record. His brother loaned him a dollar and a half to record four songs at a local radio shop that had a disc cutter. He still has those recordings.
A few years later, a chance meeting helped guide seventeen-year-old Morris toward bluegrass. Migrant tobacco farmer and musician Jim Ross from Danville, Virginia, who was working in Ontario, was playing music with fiddlin' bootlegger Norm Boyles as Leon happened by in his car. Never without his instruments, Leon stopped and joined them on mandolin. This led to the formation of a duo known ad “Jimmy and Leon.” They played all over Ontario until Ross returned to the United States.
In the mid-1950s, Leon joined Canada's first bluegrass band, the York County Boys. The line-up was “Big John” McManaman on banjo, Rex Yetman on mandolin, Brian Barron on fiddle, Dusty Leger on bass, and Leon on guitar. In addition to extensive touring from New Brunswick to western Ontario, the group appeared on CBC as guests on the Cross-Canada “Country Hoedown” show, which later became “The Tommy Hunter Show.”
In 1957, Leon performed as a multi-instrumentalist on television as a member of Lonnie and Lottie and the Po' Folks. Their program, “The Mainstreet Jamboree,” aired on CHCH, in Hamilton, Ontario. He picked up the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, or banjo to accompany the brother and sister singing duo.
In 1959, Morris crossed the border to Detroit to work in the house painting business with his brother. While there, he met Earl Taylor, who had relocated there and was working the bluegrass clubs with Walt Hensley, Vernon McIntyre (Boat Whistle) and Billy Baker. Earl was looking for a guitar player and tried to hire Billy Gill, who would later record with Pete Gobel. Gill was unable to join the band and told Earl about Leon, whom he hired. Shortly thereafter, Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys left Detroit in search of better venues. They tried Chicago without any success, finally settling in Kansas City, Missouri. They booked the Buckeye Club and a couple of other bars in Kansas City, where they worked five nights a week. After about two months, some of the band members became homesick for Baltimore, so they headed east.
Upon arriving in the Baltimore-Washington area, Leon teamed up with Bill and Wayne Yates and worked with them through 1962. Later in 1962, he was married, quit full-time music, and started a painting business, settling in northern Virginia.
Leon played with Jack Tottle, working the clubs in DC and Virginia, in 1964 and 1965. They recorded an album for Folkways, but it was never released. In 1968, he teamed up with Buzz Busby, recording the album “Honky Tonk Bluegrass” for Rounder records. They toured and played around the DC area until 1971 Since then, Leon has continued to play music with his own band, recording several albums and employing some of the area's best musicians.
Leon also plays mandolin with Jay Armsworthy and Easten Tradidition and is on their 2020 Patuxent CD “My Best Friend”
This album is a retrospective look at Leon's work and consists of previously released material recorded over the last 40 years.