Interview ROBBIE MORRIS (Shanytown)
August 2011 (by John Molet)
First can you explain to us how you started to be a musician ?
I suppose being from the Van Zant family I just slid into it! I was given a guitar and Johnny was given drums. I took over the drums! I still fool around with the guitar a little when we’re writing.
How did you become a member of the Johnny Van Zant Band ?
Johnny and I started the band around 1977-1978. However, before that we had the “Austin Nichols Band”
Do you live close to Jacksonville ?
I live in the country outside Jacksonville. I am originally from Jacksonville.
Can you tell us how the JVZB started ?
As mentioned Johnny and I started the band. It seemed the natural thing to do, given Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38. Special. Music was all around us... a daily part of our lives. I think “Papa V” (Grandpa Lacy) expected it!
Were you very influenced by Skynyrd ?
Yes, of course, but we also wanted our own sound, which I think we achieved.
Did you know that you had a lot of fans in Europe
I do now! And my band now (ShanyTown) also has many European, Asian, and South American fans.
It’s a terrific feeling and we are very grateful!
What are for you the great moments and memories of the Johnny Van Zant Band ?
Being on the road and of course recording the albums, and meeting other artists
whom I greatly admired.
Which JVZB's album do you prefer ?
“No More Dirty Deals.”
What happened for you after the Johnny Van Zant Band's split ?
I took some time off and then started playing with other bands.
Did you keep contacts with Erik, Danny Clausman, Johnny, etc... ?
I am very close to Johnny and see/talk with him very often. Unfortunately, none of the other band members have kept in close contact.
For how many time Shanytown was formed ?
I joined the band “Southern Exposure” in 2008. Shortly after joining the band, we were offered a record contract. It was during that period, and when we brought my brother Ronnie into the band, that we decided to rename the band “ShanyTown”
The name ShanyTown can't be a random, can you explain why you chose this name ?
My uncles, brother and I were raised in a neighborhood my uncle Ronnie nicknamed “ShanyTown”.
It seemed like a great name for the band, so we changed the name from “Southern Exposure” to “ShanyTown.”
As I listened to the first tunes of the album, the sound and some similitudes with the 80's JVZB stroke me, are you still hooked to those atmospheres ?
No, not really. There are two or three tracks that could be crossovers (“country”), and one pretty heavy track “Loud Pipes”. But honestly, I never thought of the JVZ Band while writing, and certainly it wasn’t intentional!
For example recently I wrote the album's review and I compared tunes like "Peace of mind"
and the "Stand your ground" from 30 years, do you feel the same like me ?
I never really thought about it...I’ll have to compare the two! But, again, certainly it was not intentional. Actually, “ Peace of Mind” and few other tracks were written by a band member we brought in after signing with the label.
How does ShanyTown work ? Who composes ? Do you make frequent rehearsals ?
Myself, my wife, my brother Ronnie and Duane Johnson do most of the writing and composing, although of course the other members (Kevin Williams(guitar)and Charles Moody(bass) greatly contribute to the overall finished product. It is a team effort all around. We rehearse as often as possible.
Broadly speaking, how and where did you record this album?
The album was recorded in Jacksonville Florida.
I picture that this album represents something important for you and for the band,
what are you expecting from it ?
Not many people get to do twice what I have already accomplished (Johnny Van Zant Band), and I feel blessed to have this second opportunity! We look forward to continued good sales with this album, and many more albums to come.
Did you let Johnny listen to this album ?
Yes, of course. He listened to it from “day one”. His opinion was very important to us and he gave us the “thumbs up”. And it was important to us that Uncle Donnie (38 Special) liked it as well.
Do the current economic difficulties in the USA have an influence on the opportunities to tour with your band ?
I think the economic difficulties affect every band out there. However, music is very important during hard times, providing a couple of hours of escape to concert goers. Bands will continue to tour but perhaps not as heavily.
You were 17 when you became a member of the Johnny Van Zant Band, is it easy when you're young to express yourself and to go on the road with a band at that level ?
ActualIy, I began my professional career at age 14 with Johnny in the “Austin Nichols Band”, which eventually became the Johnny Van Zant Band. When you are so young it’s a completely different experience. When you’re young it’s all about the girls, money and fame, etc. You don’t look at it as a “job” or career per se. And rarely do you look past tomorrow. When you are older it’s all about the excellence of the product you deliver, and you think “long term”. Simply, we’re grown up. We all have families and the long term future is important. It’s fun because we love what we do, but now it’s our “job” that we take very seriously.
Do you often meet your uncles (Donnie et Johnny !) ?
I see them as much as I can given everyone’s schedule!
Do you have a relationship with Jimmie (Van Zant) ?
Jimmie and I don’t keep in contact.
We know you because we have the JVZB records, but we don't know Ronnie.
Can you tell us a little about him because I think that our readers will be interested ?
Ronnie is my little brother, and was nicknamed “Lil Ronnie” as our mother named him after our Uncle Ronnie Van Zant. Ronnie was given his first guitar by Uncle Ronnie and has been playing/singing ever since. He has been in several bands and is well known for his prowess on the guitar, and, of course, his voice. His stage presence is remarkable and is reminiscent of our uncle Ronnie. He has tremendous charisma.
For many years we go in your country for the Simple Man Cruise,
(this year you probably spoke with my friend Sebastien !)
Did you go once on the SMC and what do you think of the cruises for the Southern Rock ?
Yes, I spoke with Sebastien! Unfortunately, I haven’t been on the cruises.
What do you think about the term "Southern Rock" ?
I am not sure what I think. I know people categorize ShanyTown as “Southern Rock” but I think we offer a little of everything. I don’t think of us as Southern Rock per se. Frankly, I think Southern Rock is too “niched”, because now the genre offers many styles..lots of crossover. The sound is ever evolving. Yet, at the same time, there is that undeniable “something” about Southern Rock that makes it what it is..makes it special. One thing is for sure: Southern Rock is here to stay!
Does it have musically a special meaning for you ?
Mostly, I think of good solid rock n’ roll (not necessarily southern). My uncle Ronnie really ushered in “solid” rock (I believe) and just happened to be from the south! Good rock n’ roll is good rock n’ roll, no matter what region of the country it originated. I suppose “Southern Rock” is special to me because it is such a huge part of my family, my heritage.
What are the bands or artists that influenced you the most ?
There are so many. Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin,
and the list could go on!
A traditional question : if you have to leave to finish your life on a desert island, taking only 5 albums with you, what would they be ?
That’s a hard question! Make it six albums! “ShanyTown” of course, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd,
38 Special, Rolling Stones..and one more: Mozart.
We would have a lot of questions that we'd love to ask you but we don't will to go too far, so if you can sum up and send a little message to the European Southern Rock fans that always appreciated your way of playing drums, thank you !
I just want to thank everyone for their support over the years; it is greatly appreciated! And please keep ShanyTown in mind! We hope to tour Europe in the near the future.