Billy Morris Interview;
Playing The Sand Trap
With Tim "Ripper" Owens On
August 17, 2020
Local guitar slinger, Billy Morris has had an interesting career. Starting from his own Cleveland based band, Kidd Wicked to his five year stint as the guitarist in Warrant, to being a touring guitarist in Quiet Riot and now fronting his own band again, Billy Morris and The Sunset Strip, Morris has been around the world.
Morris and his band The Sunset Strip, along with former Judas Priest lead singer, Tim "Ripper" Owens, will be performing a free show presented by Otter Entertainment, at The Sand Trap Grill & Bar in North Royalton on September 5th.
We had the chance to talk with Billy to discuss his upcoming show, as well as his career.
Greg Drugan: How have you been handling the quarantine?
Billy Morris: It was definitely a curve in the road for us. We were booked every single weekend, Friday and Saturday for about the whole year. Then coming back from a motorcycle/dirt bike race and I listened to the governor’s press conference in March and then bam, everything got cancelled! So it gave me a different outlook, sitting home on Friday and Saturday nights. I thought to myself, I don’t mind a couple of nights off with my children on the couch. I’m handling it good because I have the food trucks to fall back on. The food trucks have been very successful because what’s the one thing everyone has to do in the world? You gotta eat!
When you play every weekend like I have been doing since I was fourteen, it becomes kind of a grind. So I am rediscovering some of the passion that I had and I’m looking forward to some of the gigs.
GD: Is this this longest amount of time since you have performed live?
BM: Yes it is! I was fourteen years old, and I was told by my father, who is Bill Morris from Eddie and the Edsels. He said, “Get up in the practice room, your mom’s guitar player quit and you’re the new guitar player for your mom’s band.” Ever since then, I’ve always played out. That’s been my job, whether it’s been at a local bar or Blossom Music Center, I’ve always played out. I’ve never had a day job other than hustling some cars here and there or fixing things. I’ve never had the 9 to 5. From fourteen til now, I’ve never had a three month layoff from playing.
GD: So, you and your band are going to be playing with Ripper and Scott Jones, have you played with Ripper in the past?
BM: Yes, we did a show together about a month ago at a really cool club in Galion, Ohio. We played, and he came up and did a set with us. But Ripper and I go back a few years. He produced a band in my recording studio, called Spawn. He was the producer and I was the engineer. I owned a recording studio in Cleveland and he came in and recorded some vocal tracks on a full on Ripper Owens CD there with an outside producer. We played together once, but we’ve been longtime friends.
GD: Are you going to be playing all cover songs?
BM: Yes, it will be a mixture of some Judas Priest, Dio and some heavy metal songs that we enjoy playing and will knock it out of the park. We’ll be playing a bunch of songs that I can’t sing, so I want to play these songs and I’ll finally be able to play them but I can’t sing them but Tim can.
GD: So Tim’s doing an acoustic set first and then is it going to be an electric set after?
BM: Yes. The cool part is, I’m looking forward to performing with his guitar player, Scott Jones. Back in the day, I used to sneak into bars and watch his cover band called US Metal. We would always go see them, but I never played with him. So I’m looking forward to sharing a stage with him because he was one of the guys I looked up to when I was playing locally.
GD: Wow, I didn’t realize he was in US Metal. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time!
BM: You remember that? So you're probably of the age of going out on a Sunday night to Filthy McNasty’s and watching Foxx and US Metal.
GD: Sure! I think I remember seeing you back in the day with Kidd Wicked at the Akron Agora.
BM: Yeah, we were one of the mainstay bands there. I started the Akron Agora with a band called Spyoled. Then I left that band and formed Kidd Wicked. We were a mainstay at the Akron Agora until they closed their doors. It was home base for me.
GD: Around what time did you form Kidd Wicked?
BM: 1990. I got to enjoy one good year of hair metal until Nirvana came and knocked us out. I played the hair metal when it was popular, I played it when it died down. People ask me what do I think about my musical career? I say I made it. I got to join Warrant, I got to go on tour buses, I got to play Blossom Music Center opening up for Poison. I feel good about everything. Not only my cover band, Sunset Strip, but I also just released a CD of new music last year that might get re-released, plus I got a folder of new music that I’ve been working on because of Covid. So I never stop.
GD: That’s great. Looking back on your career, who inspired you to become a guitarist? I know you mentioned your dad, but was he the main influence?
BM: By far he was the main influence. He was a guitar player who started in the ‘50s. He played with BB King when he was eighteen years old, he played on the Upbeat Show which was a local, American Bandstand style show hosted by Don Webster. My dad was the house guitar player in the Upbeat Show band. I remember running around the set of the Upbeat Show set at four years old, looking up to Don Webster. Growing up in a musical household, it was so different than it is today. We would go to Parmatown Mall, once a month and he would buy $10 worth of one dollar singles. Then we would go back into the practice room and he would learn those songs from the singles.
GD: You mentioned Warrant. how did you hook up with Jani Lane and become a member of Warrant?
BM: When I was in the band Kidd Wicked, I knew Jani before Warrant became big. When he would come into town, he knew he could come in and sit in with us. He would say “Hey Billy, we’re playing the Coliseum, opening for Motley Crue. Book your band at the Akron Agora and I’ll make an announcement and we’ll pack the place.” That’s exactly what would happen. It would be a Tuesday night, the Agora would typically be closed. He would make the announcement to come down to the Agora and it would go from zero people to two thousand people in a matter of how quickly they could get the people in the building. We would play a set, then Warrant would come in and take our gear over. So, I’ve always had a good relationship with those guys.
He went through a few guitar players and he, and his management knew that he needed a guy that he could relate to. Janie was from Brimfield and he was in a band that were all born and raised in California so they had nothing in common besides the band and rock and roll. I could play all the songs and knew all the harmonies, but they knew that we could sit in a hotel and watch Cleveland Browns games or Cleveland Indians games and relate. We were like best friends and roommates for four or five years, then his demons took over. That’s how I got in Warrant in ‘99. They needed a guitar player and I was the guy. When he quit the band, I stayed with him and went on to do some solo tours with him and we did a tour called The Bad Boys of Metal. It was Janie and Kevin DuBrow from Quiet Riot. Kevin knew me from doing past tours with Warrant, Quiet Riot and Poison. He enjoyed playing with me and that was the reason he called Frankie Banelli and reformed Quiet Riot, because he didn’t want to do the Bad Boys of Metal and he knew he could rely on me to do the songs properly. So he put Quiet Riot back together and I got that gig too and stayed with them for about six months, then unfortunately he passed away. Then about five years ago I put Sunset Strip together and then I started my food truck empire with my Smokin’ Rock and Roll food trucks. I’m a very busy man with a full time band, full time multiple food trucks on the road, three kids and a yard! (laughs)
GD: You are a very busy man! When you were in Quiet Riot, it was Kevin, Frankie, you on guitar, and who was on bass?
BM: We had two different bass players. It was Chuck Wright who was the original member of the band. He played on the record Metal Health, and he’s currently in the band now. Then we had a guy named Shawn McNabb, he was in Quiet Riot, I believe he was in Great White, he was in Lynch Mob. He’s just all around a great guy. I think he was even in Sons Of Anarchy.
GD: When did you put the Sunset Strip Band together?
BM: About six years ago, I decided to leave The Breakfast Club, an ‘80s tribute band. I wanted to be in more control of my destiny. It wasn’t really my band because I joined that band. It was time for me to own the band and run the band myself. I run the band, I hire my own guys, I book it, I have my own sound system, I am the singer. I own the truck. It’s what I want to do.
GD: When did you start your food truck business?
BM: Five years ago, about the same time. I was coming home from gigs, and I started cooking. I came home late one night, sitting under the stars and I started thinking, I kinda like this smokin’ thing. Maybe I’ll start a party business where I’ll come over and smoke for you and feed you. Then I’ll go over to a stage and rock for you. So it’s smoke and it’s rock and roll. That’s exactly what I did. I had a custom smoker built in Alabama and I towed it behind my Jeep. But that wasn’t enough so I made my own food truck. That wasn’t enough so I put a trailer behind it that serves ice cream. So I can serve you dinner, then I can serve you dessert. But that wasn’t enough, so I bought another truck called the Smokin’ Rock and Roll Mac Truck that specializes in Mac and Cheese. We have a location in Bay Village, Ohio. Tuesday through Saturday. One truck stays there and the other truck goes out on location. Check out smokinrockandroll.com
Am I going to see you at the show?
GD: Absolutely! I got to check out Tim and Scott a couple weeks ago at The Sand Trap and their acoustic set was fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys play some electric music.
BM: Oh man, we’re gonna bring it.
GD: I’m looking forward to seeing you guys live again, what can fans expect from the show?
BM: We’re gonna open up with our hair metal set, we’re gonna do some original songs. Then we’ll let Tim and Scott do their thing, then at the end of the night we’ll have a jam session where we’ll play some Priest and Dio and Accept and end it right. It’s gonna be a great night of good, old fashioned rock and roll!
GD: Sounds fantastic! I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.
BM: I look forward to reading it and meeting you and I appreciate it!
Make sure you check out Billy Morris and The Sunset Strip along with Tim Ripper Owens and Scott Jones at The Sand Trap Grill and Bar on September 5 presented by Otter Entertainment. There is no cover charge and the show starts at 6.