Bobby Morris

Born: June 30, 1927 in Wilno, Poland

The life of drummer Bobby Morris reads like a classic pioneer tale. A New York immigrant who cut his teeth playing bebop on 52nd Street, in 1950 Morris jumped at the opportunity to “Go West, young man.” His destination was Las Vegas, a sleeping giant in the middle of the desert that consisted of a mere five hotels and a population of thirty thousand.

Once in the new frontier, Morris quickly used his exceptional drumming skills to establish himself as one of the top guns in town. By 1954, he had hooked up with Louis Prima, a former big band leader who, along with wife and partner Keely Smith, was trying to redefine himself in the wake of swing’s demise. Backed by Morris and a crew of crack Vegas regulars, Prima assembled a sound that incorporated a raunchy mix of Italian folk songs, tight vocal harmonies, blaring tenor-sax riffs, and explosive backbeats. Almost all of Prima’s signature songs, which include “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Oh Marie,” and “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail,” were rooted in a particular shuffle groove of Morris’s design. The now legendary “Prima shuffle” gave the band its own signature, and allowed it to rock as hard as anything being released at the time.

Today, Louis Prima’s legacy may be less renowned than other artists who bloomed during the earliest years of rock, but his impact during the mid-to-late ’50s is undeniable. The Prima band reigned supreme on the airwaves, at the hottest nightspots across America, and appeared regularly on major television shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Indeed, many of the drummers interviewed for this project listed the “Prima shuffle” as an important element in their own understanding of what makes music “rock.”

Outside of the eight-plus years he was with Louis Prima, Bobby Morris has enjoyed a stellar career that includes stops at the Capitol Records building as a rock’n’roll session man, a stint in the Bill Haley spinoff group the Jodimars, and a clinic tour of the Far East playing alongside none other than Buddy Rich. After more than sixty years as a sideman, bandleader, and booking agent, Bobby’s story is as rich as that of his adopted home, and offers us extraordinary insight into Sin City’s role as an indelible part of American music and culture.

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