Tony Morrison – The Long and the Short of It

Setting aside his poorly-rewarded role as EYEPLUG’s guitar maven, Tony Morrison is perhaps best known for his tenures with Long Tall Shorty and the Angelic Upstarts. Having wearied of throwing televisions from hotel room windows, Tony subsequently became an in-demand ‘guitar for hire’, before reforming LTS to much critical acclaim in 2001.

Now in his fourth decade as a professional musician, Tony’s enthusiasm for rock’n’roll runs as deep as his knowledge. With this in mind, we despatched our man Boo out into the summer drizzle and told him not to come back unless he’d tapped some of the aforementioned experience. Here’s what he came back with:

What are your earliest memories of getting bitten by the music bug?

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That would be when I was a young kid – Our family weren’t really into pop music and we didn’t have a telly until about 1973, but as long as I can remember, I was always fascinated by electric guitars. When we finally got a TV, I was about 12 or 13 and I used to watch Top of the Pops religiously every week. My dad would be sitting there going, ‘Look at that bloody poof’, or ‘what’s he wearing, he looks like a bird’. This, of course, was the glam rock era, with all those fantastic bands like Slade, T Rex, Sweet and so on. Whenever a group used to come on with either a piano or acoustic guitars, I’d be bored so it was definitely something about the electric guitar that made me want to be in a band.

Was your family background musical in any way?

No way whatsoever. The only stuff I used to hear in the house was things like Family Favourites on the radio, although my mum was always singing. I had the ungrooviest family in the world, but they were good people who worked hard to try and keep everything together. We were incredibly poor, and I don’t think they ever could have afforded to go to restaurants and concerts … but I think that’s just the way it was then. You got married, the wife stayed home to look after the kids and the man of the house went out and slogged his guts out for 10-12 hours a day doing a manual job and after that, I don’t suppose you could be too bothered about what John, Paul, George and Ringo were up to.

How did you find your way to the guitar as your main instrument?

Just seeing bands and then I finally saw one in a shop for £6.00 in about 1974, which is when I saw my first ever live group – the Glitter Band on my 14th birthday. After that, I used to go every week and I’d always get in free ‘cos I used to help the roadies unload all the equipment. There was always something about a guitar that was like the key to a different life. We were never expected to go out of the box in terms of a career or anything in fact my grandfather used to say, ‘Get a job at Dagenham Ford, you’ll have a job for life’. He’d be turning in his grave now after they shut that place down and made everyone redundant.

What were you original influences, and how have they changed over time?

Originally it was anything. As I said, I used to go and see every band I could, regardless of what sort of music it was because you can always take something away from anything. That first year of watching bands, I saw the Glitter Band, T Rex, Status Quo, Curved Air, Showaddywaddy, Suzi Quatro, Principal Edwards and the Magic Theatre, Medicine Head and they’re just a few I can recall. Then punk rock came along and it was the Jam, Clash, Gen X, Buzzcocks, et cetera. A lot of those bands had quite strong 1960’s imagery so you’d sort of look at who they were citing and check that out. Jimi Hendrix was one of the first musicians I was really into because I read a book about him that I bought for about ten pence in a WH Smith bargain bin. I didn’t hear his music until about 1976, but I was just absolutely in love with what he stood for so the music was kind of secondary. I then got to hear a lot of old blues music, rock’n’roll, early sixties beat groups and just absorb it all. When I was about 18, I knew everyone in every band by name, I was like a sponge. When I meet kids in their 20’s now and they’ve heard of the Yardbirds (for instance), I’m always surprised but I knew all those bands when I was 16. I could tell you who played the solo on a Chuck Berry song or who wrote this or that Elvis song, what Howling Wolf did before he became a singer, you name it, I was there! I still love most of what I ever did, I don’t go by genres, I go by songs, so I would happily have Buddy Holly next to the UK Subs next to The Stooges in my CDs.

Tell us about your first band…

The first band I had was just a little group we had at school in 1977 called Ben E Dorme and the Tourists. We’d moved to a rich area in Buckinghamshire after my mother got remarried and the others were all rich kids from my school that I attended from about 15. We were all playing at being rebellious and even had a song called ‘Fuck You’ which we played at the end of term in the local hall. All our friends thought we were twats but one teacher, Pat Jackson was married to a guy who produced Dr Feelgood and Motörhead and she thought we were ‘jolly exciting’, so she got us a day in her husband’s studio. We recorded a very early version of my first 45, ‘1970’s Boy’, plus ‘Watcha Gonna Do About It’ and a couple of other songs. One day I turned up dressed like Paul Weller after buying a pair of those Jam shoes and borrowing a load of clothes from my parents; roll neck sweater, suit jacket et cetera, and said, ‘Lads – Let’s dress like the Jam’. Two of the band left immediately but me and the drummer formed Long Tall Shorty.

At what stage did it get serious and start to happen for you?

God, it was immediate. I always had this notion that if you were gonna do the pools, if you hadn’t won within six weeks, you were never going to. The same with success – I thought it would either come quick or not at all. The drummer, whose mother worked for Sham 69’s manager, got us a gig supporting Sham about six or seven weeks after we’d formed and then shortly after that, Jimmy Pursey signed the Angelic Upstarts to his label and we ended up getting the last five gigs as the tour support. Jimmy saw us at about the third gig and said, ‘I’m gonna sign you boys up!’ We were in Polydor Studios after about six gigs recording with a real pop star as our manager/producer/mentor – and he even gave me a guitar. We recorded our first single, then the mod revival suddenly happened (which didn’t really exist before all this) and everything looked very rosy. But having a pop star as your manager is a double edged sword, because as he got more and more famous, we kept getting delayed and eventually our record took about nine months before it was released and by then, every fucker in the world had overtaken us. We did have some laughs though. We were always borrowing Sham’s equipment for gigs and then of course there was the grooming by Warner Bros; photos, press releases, all that sort of shit, because we were just supposed to be a pop group according to the label, not just another mod band. I dunno where it all went kaput but these things happen and you hopefully move on, although I’m sure you’re aware, a lot of my contemporaries never did and they’re now still doing what they did when they were 17. Unbelievable.

Tell us about your guitar collection?

OK, you asked so this isn’t boasting – it’s my personal dream come true. I’ve currently got two 1959 Gibson Les Paul Juniors, a 1969 Les Paul Custom, a Gibson Les Paul special, two Fender Stratocasters, a 1966 Vox Teardrop, and at the luthiers being restored, a bastardised 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which I bought as a few pieces of wood a few months ago. An original one is worth about £200,000, but this was all wrecked and I’ve bought all the other pieces from eBay and other places. The restoration has taken four months so far, and should be finished in another three to four months. In the past, I’ve owned loads of guitars and just traded my way up. I always like to buy two of each because I play with loads of different people and if you’re doing a gig with a Les Paul and then break a string, you need another one exactly the same so your sound doesn’t change. The best overall guitars in my opinion are Stratocasters, but I generally play the Les Paul Juniors for live gigs as that’s the sort of sound I want at the minute.

What about amps and effects?

I use loads of different amps, but that’s only for practical reasons. The one I’d like to use all the time in a 1971 Marshall Super Lead, but it’s 100 Watts and doesn’t have a master volume – so it’s generally too loud for the places I play, because you have to turn it right up to get any sort of distortion. If the club is fairly easy to access, I take a 1975 Marshall Mark II Master Volume amp, with a Marshall 4×12 speaker. If the club is tiny and there’s loads of stairs, I’ve got a Fender combo which is easy to lug around. I also have another old Fender 1966 amp with reverb which I use for recording certain songs, a Peavey Classic and finally a 1978 Marshall 50 watt master volume combo, which is like the bigger Marshall’s I own but a lot more compact. The only effect pedal I use is a Distortion +, which gives more sustain and boost for choruses and guitar solos. I’ve seen some players who have shit loads of stuff in front of them on a pedal board, trying to recreate every sound that’s going, but ultimately it’s your ability that counts, not what wah wah pedal or phaser you’re using.

How has your sound changed over the years?

I never knew about sounds at all, so when I started I used to play everything really bassy because it always sounded like it had more oomph, but when we finally got recording that switched to quite a trebly sound, because I figured out how to get distortion. Nowadays if I’m playing my own stuff, I go for a classic Marshall/Gibson sound, slightly distorted for rhythm and then I jump on my pedal to boost the signal for guitar solos. If I’m recording with one of my other artists like Kiria, I’ll use a bit of a cleaner sound for rhythm because you don’t want to overdo the guitar when you’re recording with a proper singer!

What have been the highpoints of your career?

All of it, I only play because I enjoy it. Obviously, you get a few knocks along the way or a setback here and there, but I know as well as the next man that success is what you judge it to be, not what other people perceive. Kylie and Take That are among the biggest artists in the world, as The Sun is the biggest paper in this country but being big doesn’t mean you’re the best, it just means it’s more accessible to more people. As long as I can continue making the music I want to without having to resort to playing in a tribute band to earn a crust, I’ll consider what I do a success.

And the low points?

None, the minute I stop enjoying playing music is the day I’ll give up. I’ve read people saying, ‘We’d have been really big if this happened or that happened’, but that’s nonsense – Plus, look at the casualties along the way; Jimi, Amy, Janis, Kurt Cobain and so on. None of them were exactly living the life they’d have chosen by the time they died. I’m glad I’m still here, to be honest.

What about the present day set up?

Well, our band is still Jim on drums and John on bass, but I’m also playing with a fabulous girl called Kiria, occasionally with Spizz in a band called Wild Mutation and a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to play guitar for the final gig of the present line up of Sham 69. They’ve called it a day because the original line up is back together and it would create loads of legal problems, apparently. I spoke to Dave Parsons, the original guitarist, who I have utmost respect for and said ‘I’ve been asked to do this and wanted to tell you personally’ because he was very kind to me in the past. Unfortunately, I can’t advertise this gig because I don’t want to create friction anywhere, but I’m delighted to have been asked as they are one of my top five bands ever and it’ll be a real honour to do it. I’m totally excited.

Thoughts on today’s music scene?

Ha ha, I don’t have any. I listen occasionally to Radio 2 in the car, and once in a while I hear a nice song but artists are too patchy for me to want to go and buy their records. There was a great song out recently, ‘I Need A Dollar’ or something but I don’t have a clue who sung it. I bet the rest of his LP was a bit of this and a bit of that, so why would I want to buy that?

What’s in the pipeline?

The new Les Paul, the Sham gig, possible recording with Kiria, the Wild Mutations gig on 18 September at the 100 Club, Long Tall Shorty gigs – and something else, which could be interesting involving a famous drummer – but I’ve been sworn to secrecy about that for now, but it could be quite exciting. I’ll just keep on going until I drop.

Heroes and zeroes? Passions and fashions?

None, none, none and none. I never thought it pays to have heroes, they only let you down and ultimately they aren’t any different to you or I. I’d love to meet Jimmy Pursey again, after all these years and say ‘Thank you’ for what he did, as I thought it was a God-given right at the time and until the time I get to speak to him, he’ll never know the gratitude and esteem I have for what he did for us. As for fashions, I’m old, wrinkly, a bit podgy, so I lie low on that, black t-shirts or turtle necks, Levis and a decent pair of loafers, same as always, really.

Pick one band that you would loved to have been in?

I’m gonna pick two: Sham 69 and Slade. If I could pick more it’d be Generation X, Ramones, Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Any regrets?

Absolutely none, not in music, not in business, not personally either. Failures; yes – but I always learn by my mistakes and you can only be a better husband, businessman, father, musician, whatever, by cocking up a few times and then rectifying it. Only an arrogant idiot blames other people for their failings and we’re only human after all. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taught my son to swear when he was three but he seems pretty grounded nowadays, so maybe that’d be good advice for all parents.

Tell us a funny tale of being on the road…

I was on tour when I was playing bass for the Angelic Upstarts in 1981/82 in the USA. We were staying in a hotel called the Iroquois in New York City, having a drink in the bar with The Clash who were on tour with The Who but staying in the same hotel. It was just after Joe Strummer had re-appeared and everyone in The Clash camp were really sensitive about it – ‘don’t mention Joe’s disappearance’ and stuff like that. There was a lot of banter going on but being a fan, I couldn’t resist so I went up to Joe and said, ‘Why did you disappear then’. The bar went silent and he just laughed and started telling me all about the pressure he’d been under and so on. I could visibly see the relief on everyone’s faces. Shortly after this conversation, we saw our car, which was parked directly outside the hotel, being hoisted up onto a police tow truck.  We all ran out going ‘Stop! We’re English, you can’t do this!’ Turns out our driver had parked by a fire hydrant which is a big no-no in the USA, so the cops were gonna tow it to the car pound. We were remonstrating and a little old man in the sharpest mohair suit comes up, stands there listening and then goes to the cop, ‘Hey Joe, what’s the problem, give these guys a break’. The cop replies, ‘They can’t park here Mister Gotti, we gotta tow the car away’. The old man takes the cop across the pavement, gesticulates a bit and then the cop, looking rather crestfallen, turns back, lowers the car back down and drives off. ‘Amazing’ we all say, ‘come and have a drink’. The old man comes in and we’re all thanking him, buying drinks, shaking his hand, introducing him to The Clash and Iggy Pop who by now had joined us. He got to telling us about his career as Frank Sinatra’s lawyer and all these other stories about Sammy Davis, Vegas in the old days, Peter Lawford and the Kennedys. It then dawned on us, he’s a mafia don! We never had any trouble with the NYC Police from that moment on.

Switch us on to a good movie, a good book and a great new band…

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1961), is the best film ever. A great book is Jungle West 11, written in 1964 by a woman who arrived in this country in 1958, ended up in the slums in Notting Hill and then became a prostitute working all the hours to pay her pimp who also happened to be her husband. It’s the story of her descent into crime and her eventual escape from that. A tale of poverty and gritty realism. As for bands, there’s a group in London called Krakatoa who recently supported us and they’ve been snapped up by Adam Ant’s manager. They are mid 20’s, good looking and they rock, so watch out for them.

Long Tall Shorty on MySpace

Long Tall Shorty website

Originally posted 2011-08-17 10:20:11. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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