Jesse Morris, a local musician and BART busking staple with an uncanny take on Johnny Cash, died Sunday, Nov. 6, in his home, according to friends and colleagues. Morris had survived a suicide attempt by hanging in September, but did not survive a second attempt over the weekend.
Morris, who had just turned 28, also worked as a bar bouncer, but was better known as the Punk Rock Johnny Cash, playing raucous yet melodious music original songs and covers with his band, Jesse Morris and the Man Cougars.
For commuters in BART's Mission and Montgomery stations, though, Morris was also a regular fixture, performing Cash songs for the crowds flooding through BART faregates.
Morris and the Man Cougars were slated to play tonight (Nov. 11) at the Uptown in Oakland. Instead, the club is hosting a benefit concert for Morris's family, where local boys The Grannies and the Undead Boys will play.
Morris, who friends say struggled with depression and other anxieties for many years, is remembered as a charismatic musician with an open nature that made his songwriting that much more powerful.
"There was a frankness and honesty in the way he delivered songs and could turn a phrase," said Nic Pope, a sound engineer at Different Fur Studios, who recorded with Morris in the past. "One of my favorite lines he wrote -- 'I look around and see the wreckage of my past / It's bad enough sometimes I want to douse myself in gas.' It's a simple line, but it means something specific, confronts a really dark part of a personality ... It's heavy, but that was Jesse. He wrote this music as a way to get those feelings out."
Pope met Morris in 2008 in a BART station, and was so intrigued by his take on country songs that he pulled together a band for Morris to record with in the studio.
They worked together for a few months that year, but money for the project ran out, "so we never finished it," Pope said. "I'd see him around all the time, we'd talk about it -- we always wanted to finish it but could never find the time."
When Pope heard about Morris's death, he found the long-shelved recordings and released them as soon as he could. Proceeds from the digital downloads of the seven songs will go directly to pay for Morris's memorial services, Pope said.
"I know he wanted people to hear it," he said.
The comparisons to Johnny Cash may feel like a cliché, but Morris was known for his chameleon-like qualities, said Jenner Davis, a friend.