Bobby Morris Tribute

We regret to announce the passing of drum legend Bobby Morris, on May 1, 2021. Bobby Morris, 93, entertainment industry icon, author, show producer, entertainment director, agent/manager, and drummer extraordinaire, passed away peacefully on May 1, 2021 in San Diego, CA.

Below is a collection of memories and tributes from Hudson Music and friends paying tribute to Bobby.

When Bobby Morris first reached out to see if Hudson Music would be interested in publishing his autobiography, I had two concerns: Do enough people in the Hudson Music audience know who he is? And was this something Hudson could pull off, as we had never published an autobiography or printed a proper hard-cover book. I never mentioned the first issue to Bobby, but I made the second one clear. I said, though, let me read it and we can go from there. Well, he emailed me a draft of the book and I couldn’t put it down. His life was like something out of a movie….

He arrived in the U.S. from Poland at age 10 in 1937 and his family landed in New York City. He took a liking to drumming and as he shined shoes on the street he dreamed of one day being a drummer. He saved his nickels and started taking drum lessons with Henry Adler, where he befriended another young student in the time slot just before his named Freddie Gruber. Even though they were close to the same age, Freddie had started playing a little sooner. Bobby noticed the fast hands and technique Freddie had developed and strove to be able to play like him.

Before he finished high school, he started doing gigs in New York City and developed a reputation as a good player who could read music well. He also learned to play vibes and started doing gigs in the Catskill Mountain hotels backing various regional and national acts. When he was in his 20’s he heard from a friend that there might be some work out West in the desert at a place called Las Vegas, which at the time had a few lounges in some small two-story motels. In 1950 he packed his drums and drove out West, where he befriended local musicians and played with anyone he could. He eventually landed a steady gig in the Last Frontier Hotel (one of five hotels on “The Strip”) and decided to give Las Vegas a shot. 

With Bobby’s reputation for being a good and professional musician, he often worked six and seven nights a week. Through this period, Las Vegas was developing, and high-rise hotels began springing up. They all needed musicians and bands and Bobby would often get the call to either play drums or contract a band to back an act or singer.

He eventually got an invitation to join Louis Prima’s band. At the time, Prima was hugely popular in the US and toured extensively, even traveling internationally. The gig lasted 8 years. Bobby is credited by many as one of the early Rock N’ Roll drummers, as you can hear a distinct backbeat in the shuffles in Prima’s music. He accented the 2 & 4 while playing a very fast, swinging shuffle where the shuffle rhythm is played with the left hand. It was called the “Prima Shuffle” or to some, the “Morris Shuffle”. Bobby told me how difficult it was to play at fast tempos for the long shows they did. He developed this as he felt it gave the music a big lift and when Prima first heard it “went nuts”.

Bobby was also the rehearsal drummer for The Buddy Rich Big Band. Since Buddy didn’t read music, Bobby would play down the charts as Buddy listened and memorized them (often in one pass).

During the period touring with Prima, Bobby was also contracting bands for various night clubs and hotels. After Prima, he went on to perform with some of the greatest stars: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher and dozens of others. He famously turned down an offer to join Liberace’s band as Liberace was about to start a new TV show. During the golden age in Vegas, Morris also became a conductor (remember his reading and mallet chops) and was musical director for one of the most famous shows of all time in Vegas, the Elvis Presley comeback show in 1969.

As he began booking more and more rooms, musicians and artists, he started his own booking agency, the very successful Bobby Morris Agency, and had his own building in downtown Las Vegas. He told me at one point his agency had at least one name on every major marquee in Vegas, representing over 70 acts.

Bobby rubbed elbows with American presidents, playing the Kennedy Inauguration and befriending a young actor named Ronald Reagan. His life is an inspiring and nearly unbelievable story of one man achieving his dreams and rubbing elbows with the greatest personalities of the 20th century in the process. And after reading the draft of his autobiography, I told him that Hudson simply had to publish it. His life was what movies are made of. It was a story that had to be told.

Rob Wallis (5/24/21)

I first met Bobby Morris in 1995, when i was doing a run of gigs in Las Vegas with my band Royal Crown Revue. I’d heard that the man who had created the legendary “Prima Shuffle” was still actively gigging and running his own talent agency, so I rang him up. Bobby and I hit it off immediately. One couldn’t help but be swept away by his buoyant personality, his tremendous zest for life, and his charm as a master storyteller.

The stories came pouring out of him, recounting a wondrous life journey that intersected with many of the 20 Century’s most iconic musical moments. As a teenage wunderkind working with legendary beboppers in New York City; as the top show drummer in Vegas during that city’s mythical rise in the ‘50s; as a member of Louis Prima’s band, where he enjoyed a front row seat for the explosive birth of rock’n’roll; as a pioneering double bass player and international drum clinician; as the rehearsal drummer for Buddy Rich’s “new swinging band”; and as music director with many the biggest acts in the business, from Elvis to Barbra Streisand. When the new century rolled around, Bobby’s greatest desire was to capture all his stories in a book, and I am so very happy that he was able to realize that dream while he was still with us. Thank you, Bobby – it was a blessing and a privilege to know you. You really did it “your way.“

Daniel Glass

Bobby Morris was one of the architects of rock’n’roll drumming and lived an amazingly successful life as a drummer, conductor, bandleader and Las Vegas music executive. He rubbed elbows with people I have only read about in books, like Buddy Rich, JFK, Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and so many more. I had the privilege, through Hudson Music, of being the editor of Bobby’s autobiography My Las Vegas, and he placed his trust in me to tell his life story. It was my great honor to help him tell that story, and to gain his friendship in the process.

Bobby was a kind and sweet man, always ready with a word of praise and encouragement whenever he asked about what I was doing in my career. And he was the kind of guy who always asked! A memory I will treasure is Bobby coming to see The Doo-Wop Project near his home in Florida, and being able to introduce him to the audience. At the mention of “Louis Prima’s drummer,” a thrill of excitement went through the crowd. He loved our group so much, all he could talk about was trying to help us with his industry connections. What a great guy, what a life, and what a story. I will miss him greatly, and will always treasure the memories of my friendship with a man who truly embodied the American Dream as lived by a drummer.

Joe Bergamini

Bobby Morris was a great friend and mentor. We had great conversations about drums, drummers, and the entertainment business. He had the best stories. I would ask him to tell me the same stories over and over. I loved hearing them.

I got called for a Frank Sinatra Tribute show. I knew Bobby had played Frank Sinatra’s gig. So I called him and asked for some tips. He told me to think “Irv Cottler”, keep it simple, nail the kicks and to “sit” on the time. And to play with confidence and never let up. The gig went great. He called me that night to find out how it went.

Bobby was the best!

David Bronson
Drummer and Cymbal specialist at Istanbul Mehmet Cymbals

I met Bobby Morris when he was in his late 70s, he was upbeat, curious and full of energy! To me, one of the most impressive events in his inspirational life is that he was Buddy Rich’s rehearsal drummer because Buddy couldn’t read music. Bobby Shew, the lead trumpet player in Buddy’s band in 1966, told me when Bill Reddie came to Las Vegas with his new arrangement of the “West Side Story Medley,” Buddy sat in the audience, smoking cigarettes, watching Bobby Morris rehearse the difficult arrangement for two hours before the band had grasped the music. During that time Buddy had memorized the arrangement relying on Bobby to do the heavy lifting of reading the chart and rehearsing the band! Bobby’s life story has more ups and downs, twists and turns than a Dickens novel. He was warm and loving person, a joy to spend time with and an outstanding role model for all drummers. I loved Bobby Morris.

Steve Smith (5/21/21)


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