Years of Saturdays at 5pm were spent watching Don Cornelius’ Soul Train. The musical guests were performing live in the 70’s which later became lip synced in the 80’s onward. During my pre-teen years I was super excited about any music I could get my hands on in any format. My family had a great collection of albums. At my grandparents place in Hyattsville, MD Uncle Wayne had a lot of vinyl because of his deejaying. He would professionally deejay part time. Then my other Uncle Joey had a decent amount of vinyl and so did my mom in Silver Spring, MD. I was tapping into music my friends turned me on to as well. My beginning staples were basically Funkadelic, Al Green, Kiss, James Brown and Hendrix. Then came the wave of other artists such as The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Sly and The Family Stone, Mother’s Finest, Prince, Brothers Johnson, The Gap Band, The Jimmy Castor Bunch, Otis Redding and The BarKays, The O’Jays, Chaka Khan and Rufus, The Ohio Players, Gladys Knight and The Pips (whom I met at Shady Grove Theater, MD back in the 70’s), The Spinners (whom I also met at the same theater and I tried to run onstage and jump on the drums when I was 5 years old), The Dramatics, The Stylistics, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, Pleasure, and a slew of other R&B artists I was constantly exposed to casually in my young life. There were various radio programs I checked out which were either rock or r&b. My interest in jazz and instrumental music happened later. When I was a very young kid pop music was basically my main musical interest. There was a natural growth of exposure that shifted from time to time. But I stayed pretty consistent with my interests. In the 70’s and 80’s the dial in my mom’s car was tuned to WKYS, WHUR, or WOOK and sometimes WOL. The “Quiet Storm” during evenings was a hosted radio show which featured a mellow r&b playlist that was the 70’s version of the 50’s Doo Wop Era. I was getting a musical education that lent to my dynamics as a musician that would later serve me well professionally. Listening to all that laid back R&B and Soul Ballads was essential to my development. I didn’t realize it at the time because music was happening so much in my daily life it was as common a function as breathing and walking. When my grandfather Joseph Morris Sr was alive he was always swinging. I mean he was literally in swing mode. He would say, “Hey partner let’s go to the store” and then he would smack his teeth like he was swinging on the sock cymbal. He did this ALL THE TIME and I didn’t realize it and the impact it had on me until years and years later. And man let me tell you, my grandfather supported me like no other. He loved me and everything I was interested in which of course was simply, music. I had this Yamaha drum catalog in 1980 with a picture of this huge Terry Bozzio-like drum kit on the cover and I remember my grandfather saying to me, “Sean, if I could get you those drums I would.” It’s a blessing to have support like that and I had it everywhere from the rest of my family and all of my friends. This is something that everyone doesn’t have and it has everything to do with why I created thericklessons. Support is key to growth. I’ve run into people that haven’t had the same support I’ve had. I even have friends that were literally kicked out of their families for having the desire to work in music. The expectation of some parents for their children can create such a hindrance and division, I find it to be shameful and just unfortunate. A developing musician learns early in life that rejection comes from many places. One place it didn’t come from for me was at home. That was a blessing I never took for granted and used to the fullest. During the 70’s I was as influenced by Westernized pop culture a bit more than the average scruffy kid. I had a crush on a girl in grade school and I gave her my ice cream money everyday. When my mother found out, she came to my school and took me to Washington Music Center in Wheaton, MD. She bought me a guitar. I had no idea what made her do that but it took my mind off girls big time for a while until I was a late teen. I learned a few chords, scrapped the book I was studying and immediately started writing my own music. I got the kid next door to be the lead singer while I did backup vocals and guitar to my first tune in ’78 called “La La Baby”. It was silly of course but I was on the road to establishing my identity.
I’ve been a musician all my life. My mother Renee Morris was a professional singer since she was a teenager. When she had me she landed a gig playing the role of Mary Magdelene on the first American tour production of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 -71. I stayed with my grandparents which is where I was exposed to the drums as an infant and toddler. Her younger brother Joey was 14 and had a drum kit. He was in bands and was a snare drummer in all of his school marching bands. Rhythm and music were always around me through my grandparents and my uncles Joey and Wayne while my mom was on the road doing Superstar. I immediately showed a sense of steady pulse to the point where my family made many 35mm home movies of me in the crib dancing, clapping and banging on the crib gate to the point where I broke it and it would no longer pull up. I climbed out the crib and went to the basement where the drums were. This was a daily thing and as natural as breathing for me. I imitated my own version of the traditional grip my uncle was using. At the time, the stick didn’t rest under my left hand index finger. Instead the stick was stationary on top of my lower index finger held down only by my thumb. He had a set of Ludwig’s I think. The snare was a little lower than my chin so I first began standing up like James McDonnell aka Slim Jim Phantom from Stray Cats. I hit the bass drum rim as my hi hat replacement because the real hi hat was too difficult to reach and use the foot pedal simultaneously. Because of my size, who needed a hi hat? Anyway, this went on for years until I grew tall enough to sit. My family was so astounded at my work ethic, focus and sense of metronome they invited neighbors and friends over all the time just to watch me. I remember hearing, “Sean go down and play drums for so and so..” almost every time we had company. I had two homes. One with my mom and the other with my grandparents. My mother and I lived about three miles from my grandparents so I was back and forth daily to weekly from 1976 to 1988, the year I graduated high school. My grandparents lived in a nice split level home in Hyattsville, Maryland that reminded me of the Brady Bunch house. The basement was literally the “rec room”. My other uncle Wayne was a bit of a deejay and he was always spinning the latest r&b, rock, disco and instrumental music of the time. My choice of music in 1975 was mainly Funkadelic, Al Green, and James Brown. I really had a thing for James Brown. Every instrument had its own part in every James Brown song. I began to hear him cue the band on records. The horn stabs and the breakdowns. The A and B sections were prominent and triggered by his cue-ing. Even on “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose” you can hear the horns hesitate on the first two cues he gave to the point where James says “Start over again” on the recording. That “rec room” was my musical sanctuary for years. I would meditate on music for hours and hours. While many kids played outside which I often did, I also spent a lot of my childhood watching records spin, watching the level indicator lights go up and down, and of course, listening to the music. At my mom’s place in Silver Spring, Maryland the guitar and bass were the instruments of choice because we lived in an apartment. I played drums there and defied every complaint from the neighbors and various apartment managers. I didn’t give one shit about them. I never responded to threats and ignored pretty much everyone. Consequences had no value. I breathed music. Eventually I made my mom’s place the guitar place and my grandparent’s the drum place. This served me well as a developing musician over the years. I had a library and two sanctuaries. It was more than splendid. Along with that came Kiss, more P-Funk, The Beatles and then Hendrix. Jimi really changed the game for me in 1980. I saw him in an interview years before that thinking, “Man this is a heavy cat.” He just looked heavy and I hadn’t heard his music yet. I knew I would take some serious interest in that guy when I first saw him. I think seeing him in that pimped out black hat with the feather and that light blue jacket was too cool for words. His demeanor was so together and separated from the common world too. I was in the habit of playing full songs in my head on the drums. I would mimic every tune I liked as if I was on the recording sessions themselves. I never practiced and worked on anything as a kid. My technique developed rapidly and I never really thought about it much. I just wanted to sound like everything I heard. Every style. And I did. This is why memory is very important. Little did I know then I was developing my brain to literally remember everything I heard. This was my fun. This was what I did daily like eating a meal. I would sit behind those drums and play all the tunes I thought were cool. I didn’t work on drum things. I worked on MUSIC. I listened to how all the instruments fit together, played off each other, supported the tune, the vocals, the whole nine. I noticed early on how the drums propelled everything and were the basis for the overall sound of every song and recording. Without the right drums, forget everything else. No amount of singing, guitar playing, bass playing, keyboards, horns, etc can overcome the importance of having the right drums for the right song. Without the right drums, the song doesn’t have the personality it needs for all the other elements to work together. I still “practice” this way today. I play full tunes from the drum chair pretending I am Neil Peart or Mitch Mitchell or Tony WIlliams. I pretend I am onstage with the other members of those groups playing those tunes I love so much. This lends to creating your own sound which is what I discovered years later.