Today’s zydeco musicians can win Grammys, perform on national TV and play in cities and countries that I can’t even pronounce. An unsung hero who helped open the doors for their international stage is Dr. Gene Morris.
Morris’ title of “doctor” was a nickname, because he had no medical degree. But for friends and fans, “doctor” was a symbol of the high esteem they held for his music history and influence.
Morris, whose real name is Gene Brouchet, has deep roots in zydeco. His brother, known as Jumpin’ Joe Morris, played bass for 15 years in Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band. Another brother, Jerry, was one of Chenier’s first drummers and a singer.
Gene left his mark in zydeco as a singer with Marcel Dugas, Sampy and the Bad Habits, Rockin’ Dopsie and Fernest Arceneaux, leader of Fernest and the Thunders. He croons on 1970s classics, like “Irene,” “You Don’t Have to Go,” “You Got Me Runnin’,” “Lonely Nights,” “Going Back to Big Mamou,” “Bald Headed Woman” and more.
In 2011, Lola Love, host of the Zydeco Workout webcast on ZydecoOnline.com, interviewed Morris at the second annual Clifton Chenier Celebration in Loreauville. Morris said Chenier was his first cousin, who gave Morris his first start as a drummer in 1953.
Years later, Morris went solo as Dr. Gene Morris and the Zydeco Surgeons. Through the years, Morris was able to travel as far as New York, Atlanta and Vegas as an entertainer.
“My music came from the old generation,” Morris told Love. “I played with a bunch of musicians. These guys came from a long way, to keep up the zydeco tradition.
“I want to thank my wife for putting up with me with the zydeco. I enjoy zydeco. I enjoy the people, everything about zydeco.”
A stroke kept Morris off the stage in recent years. But the decline in health didn’t keep him away from the music.
Morris’ wife, known as “Miss Nellie,” was often seen pushing him in his wheelchair at local events. The two of them always had encouragement for young musicians, as well as hugs and kind words for friends and fans.
Morris died Jan. 15, 2015 in his hometown of Lafayette, La., leaving behind some important recordings and fans touched by his words and music. Wayne Singleton, leader of the band Same Ol’ Two Step, posted a picture of Morris on Facebook and wrote “Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse. I’m gonna miss this guy, always had encouraging words for me. RIP friend.”
Those thoughts are shared by many, including yours truly. Dr. Gene will be missed, but as he told Lola Love back in 2011, he has no regrets.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it all over again,” said Morris. “I want to thank everybody for giving me a chance to do zydeco.
“I love zydeco. I wouldn’t change it for nothing in the world.”