Morris' VH tribute act Cathedral pulls into Salisbury, MA on October 14. But it's full-speed ahead also for the 24-year-old's heavy blues trio, a country music band and a slew of promo opportunities, endorsements and recording sessions.
AHN - Musical Artist Spotlight
By COSMO MACERO JR.
Massachusetts-based guitarist Tyler Morris has packed a lot of music career into just 24 years.
About 14 of them represent the entirety of his growth from a 10-year-old beginner, to a whiz-kid teen and YouTube phenom, to the mature and supremely talented player he is today. The Newton, MA native blends maximum shredding skills with a strong feel for the blues and a fine command of country licks to be able to cross over between styles for the three different bands he has founded and currently plays with.
The "shredder" version of Morris brings his Van Halen tribute act - Cathedral - to the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury on Friday, October 14.
Named for the otherworldly sounding instrumental track from Van Halen's 1982 album "Diver Down," the group focuses exclusively on technical integrity and authentic performance of the VH catalog, and eschews the tribute band cosplay that is common with other such acts.
Morris was introduced to guitar through his father, who had played in house bands at a Boston club and got him his first guitar - an imported acoustic - when he was just a child. "I was probably four or five years old and I liked to mime and pretend I was playing," Morris said recently in a phone interview.
But the miming didn't last for long. On a family vacation to Florida when he was just 12, Morris had advanced so much in his playing that the music director of B.B. King's House Band took notice of him noodling at a local guitar center near West Palm Beach. He was asked to go up on stage that night at the club and play with the band on "The Thrill is Gone."
"That was the first time I had ever played live," Morris recalled. "That's when my dad said: You should probably start a band."
Tik-Tok, Instagram and Facebook have enabled talented guitarists worldwide - even those whose playing careers exist entirely in their bedrooms, basements or home studios - to make an impact with their music and develop a base of fans or at least followers.
But far and away it is YouTube that has opened the instrument up to players at all levels and from all generations, and given a platform for standout (but initially unknown) artists and gifted guitar instructors to achieve notoriety of one kind or another.
Morris does indeed post live performances and demonstration videos. But his social media sweet spot may be tied as much to his love for classic guitars as it to his flawless playing. He's been regularly featured in YouTube promos for Vintage Guitar magazine. And he is a highly regarded "part of the family" who stops in to do spots playing priceless instruments at Norman's Rare Guitars in Los Angeles, CA - one of the most celebrated vintage guitar shops in America.
In addition to the Van Halen tribute project Cathedral, the eponymous Tyler Morris Band - rooted firmly in a heavier style of blues/rock - is on a steady run of live gigs in support of Morris' latest release "Living in the Shadows." On top of that he has a country music project, is employed full-time as an engineer and is the founder of a boutique guitar effects company that makes custom-designed effects pedals for touring musicians, celebrity guitarists, recording artists and other players. He has endorsement deals with Dean Guitars and other gear companies. And he has even earned two Grammy nominations for his recordings and is currently in a regional chapter of the Grammy nominating committee.
Morris attended Newton South High School and Beaver Country Day, and completed his undergraduate studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in three years. He holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from Tufts University.
"I was always songwriting since I was maybe 13. And I released my first record when I was 14," Morris said. "A lot of it was doing solos. Like Steve Vai shreddy stuff. And I would go to NAMM shows and do clinics and demonstrate products."
The Van Halen show Cathedral, however, is what Morris credits for getting him in front of real audiences with consistency. It appears, also, to be having a positive spin-off on his other live music projects.
"That kind of launched my (performing) career," he said of Cathedral, which plays Blue Ocean Music Hall starting at 8 p.m. on October 14. "We've been selling out 600-seat venues with Cathedral."
The business side of the music business is something Morris has been focused on from very early in his still-young professional musician journey. He sees himself as an entrepreneur as much as a hugely talented creative artist. He tracks down many of his own gigs before flipping the leads to his agent to lock up. He is always on the lookout for possible live performance opportunities - from county fairs and small festivals to club gigs and opening slots for larger touring acts.
And he is a relentlessly active networker: connecting with everyone from PR people and local radio stations to venue managers and other musicians. Morris also has some pretty big names in his contacts through opportunities he's had to talk shop with Boston-bred giants like Elliot Easton of The Cars and members of the J. Geils Band, and arena staples like Sammy Hagar, John Mayer and Billy Gibbons.
Ultimately, as with most artists, Morris explains: "I just want to make the best music I can."
But nobody ever went wrong trying to outhustle and outwork everyone else. And he's doing an excellent job with that, too, while flexing his guitar virtuosity in every performance.
Cosmo Macero Jr. is a media consultant and an independent journalist. He is the founder of American Household News on the Newsbreak platform and mobile news app.