Sunday, April 3, 2016, by Mary Alice Blackwell, The Daily Progress
Writing and music have been a part of Keith Morris’ life for years.
As a journalist — both for The Daily Progress and C’Ville — he has had a lot to report about the Charlottesville music scene.
But, several years ago, he decided to put down the pen — and pick up a pick.
“I worked a variety of jobs over the years,” he said. “I am just focusing on the music now.”
Keith Morris and the Crooked Numbers, his band, will be celebrating the release of their third CD, “The Dirty Gospel,” on Friday at the Ante Room.
So how do you interview the master interviewer?
“If I were writing this story, I think I would go through the lyrics,” he said. “That was a big part of it. All of my songs on this album are lyric-centric … that, and a great band behind it.”
Apparently, he couldn’t put the pen down for long. It was an integral part of the new CD.
“It is the darkest record I have made so far,” he said.
Although Morris is reluctant to bring up the past, his music is overshadowed by the past that has created his present story.
“A couple of years ago, my brother committed suicide,” Morris said. “This record is fallout from all of that.”
Robert Morris was an award-winning architect who also was the subject of many articles for his company’s designs. He was featured in Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens and The Washington Post, to name a few.
But, according to his brother, “Rob had a lot of problems. He was bipolar.
“When something like that happens, you just get clobbered. The only thing I could think of was that this is going to be a horrible couple of years.”
Morris turned to what he did best.
“Write, write, write,” Morris said. “So that is what I did. Every night, from 10 o’clock on, I would spend it writing and just being in touch with the music.”
A lot of the songs on his most personal album came out of that.
“There was a lot of anger,” he said. “It was like the stages of grief … a lot of anger, a lot of hurt, a lot of frustration.”
He told his story through the music.
“We all grew up in Georgia,” Morris said. “My brother was several years older than me. He was growing up in the ’70s in the Deep South. He knew from the time that he was 5 years old that he was gay. Rob suffered a lot from that.”
The family was brought up in the Baptist church, he said, where the culture at the time was to “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
It was a time when televangelists heaped on the guilt.
“He suffered for that,” Morris said. “I think a lot of the emotional problems he had were the result of that. His anger and loathing of the mindless religious culture.
“I’m not saying that religion is bad, but I am talking about people who use religion to target other people. After he killed himself, it hit me hard. That was a lot of my anger. I had to sort that out. The emotions were so strong. Everything was so raw.”
All of it was right there in front of him. He just had to write it down.
“Once you get in the flow of writing and the songs are coming through, something interesting happens,” he said. “You have songs that just fall in your lap.”
“Dopesick Blues” came to him while he was driving.
“I didn’t write it,” he said. “All of a sudden, I just heard the song in my head. I pulled the car over and recorded it on my iPhone.”
It was the chorus — the back-and-forth with his chorus on the fourth cut of his latest album.
“Within 45 minutes, the whole song came to me,” he said.
“Psychopaths and Sycophants” had a similar beginning.
“It came to me in a dream, with the words attached,” he said. “The first verse was there when I woke up in the morning.
“So this CD came to me in two different ways. One was my ongoing need to write, and the other were the songs that just fell into my lap.”
“Pale Moon” and “Chipper Jones” were two more examples of the latter.
“Pale Moon” came to him the night he heard of his brother’s death.
“It was like I could feel his presence in the room with me, and it said, ‘Pick up the guitar,’ ” he wrote. “I did … It didn’t feel like I wrote it; it felt like it was given to me.”
His new CD is much different from his first two. Darker, he says, but very personal.
“Songs from Candyapolis,” his first album, was upbeat and light. “Love Wounds and Mars” had a darker edge, “but nothing like this,” he said.
All three have garnered praise in the press — something that he dished out when he used his writing to review other local bands. It was through that process that he met and befriended many of his own Crooked Numbers band mates.
“Bud Bryant was the Hogwaller Ramblers’ bassist,” Morris said.
He also rounded up Stuart Gunter, Tom Proutt, Mike Kilpatrick, Mike Cvetanovich and the choir — Keith’s wife, Jen Morris, and twins Davina and Davita Jackson, who also sang for the likes of Corey Harris.
“Stuart has been a friend of mine for a long time, Morris said. “After our first rehearsal, we started the band.”
Morris has many more words of praise for his musician friends, but perhaps it’s best to let you hear them for yourselves when they celebrate the release of “The Dirty Gospel” with some more of their musical friends at the Ante Room.
Sarah White and the Pearls will be on hand with Mister Baby, the duo.
“I knew a lot of these musicians when I was writing about music,” he said. “Sarah White is a wonderful songwriter … and I just love the way Megan Huddleston writes songs.”
Go hear what they all have to say.
Mary Alice Blackwell is a correspondent for The Daily Progress.