April 7, 1962 – July 30, 2021
John Barry Morrison was born in Cumberland on April 7, 1962, to Gloria and Barry Morrison. John died suddenly and tragically in the Courtenay hospital on July 30, 2021, at 59 years of age.
Sketch of the Man the Drummer (Un flappable / Subtle / Self-effacing / Confident)
Johnny Morrison Musician, Drummer, Health aide, gardener, self-taught carpenter, Friend, Roadmaster.
All of these things apply to Johnny in varying degrees. I can attest to this as I have spent nearly thirty years with him as singer/guitarist/front man on the stage, on the road, in hotel rooms, visiting his home.
Exactly when we met is difficult to say exactly but it was shortly after or before I moved to Vancouver Island which was 1988. We almost certainly met at a jam session or as a result of a tip about him.
Until poor health forced my retirement 2019 I was front man and band leader so it was up to me to hire new players.
One thing I do know is that when I first played with Johnny it was like we had been rehearsing for years. That’s the kind of drummer he was. Versatile, steady, sensitive, unflappable, personable and to top it off always well dressed in jacket and tie, with a ready smile old school style.
Johnny was the kind of person who was comfortable in his skin, who you could sit with but feel no need to talk, which is so rare among people.
When I would visit him at home he always made me feel welcome. He was frequently busy building, fixing, gardening or cooking which he loved to do.
As road musicians have experienced eating well and healthy on the road is difficult so many learn how to cook starting with one pot or frying pan in a hotel room. My advice from experienced road meisters was “save your pizza money”.
After a few years of that having a kitchen at home is sheer pleasure.
Johnny learned the hard way, that he had to eat healthy when after many years of truck stop burgers and fries he had to have a quad heart transplant plus extra stents. After an amazing recovery he was back with me on stage three weeks later. I was a lot more concerned than he seemed to be.
In addition to this he lived with live long type A Diabetes.
One anecdote sticks in my memory. In the middle of a gig on our intermission he suddenly collapsed on stage. Fortunately we were hosting a weekly jam at the old Arbutus Pub where the bartender knew immediately that he needed sugar and came over with an orange juice. He revived very quickly, took some med for his condition and insisted he was good to go next set.
That was when I found out he had this condition. I gave him hell for not telling me, as being band leader I took the care of the band members seriously. He just gave me his customary shrug that covered many things.
That’s the way Johnny was; in Tina Turner’s words “nice and tough”.
The first thing I remembered about him when I found out this worst of news was a body memory of his drums reverberating into my skin; the cymbals raising the hair on my arms, the snare echoing off my back, the kick drum vibrating through my feet.
His skill level always made me think of Charlie Watts who can play almost any style and capture its essence. Ironically the same day I heard the news about Johnny I also heard that Charlie Watts had turned down the Stones next tour. Synchronicity, who knows?
I was requested to write my recollections of Johnny and I realize I have spoken with nothing but praise for the man and Maker knows we all have many negative aspects. My writing is aimed at recalling him as a fellow Journeyman musician and not to speak of his personal life as he never saw fit to share it with me ergo I didn’t ask.
Life is rife with rumours and opinions. These things I have written here are neither.
Here’s looking at you Johnny Dollar!
Written by: Charles Wells for Layla
“My Brother was an amazing and caring man, although we didn’t see each other often, the moments we had were memorable. Fond memories of when Johnny got interested in music, jamming on the drums in our mom’s basement. Your smiling face will always be in my heart.
I love you and will miss you always.”
~ Your sister Kathy
“This is not goodbye, my brother, this is a thank you.
Thank you for being in my life and bringing me joy.
Thank you for the memories I will cherish forever.
But most of all, thank you for showing me how to be strong and carry on until we meet again.”
~ Love Jackie.
“Johnny was a gentleman. A man without malice. He had an integrity, honesty and humility that was hard to miss. He had a lifetime of health challenges but was removed from the negativity that can compromise the human spirit. Some called him Johnny Thunder, but there was nothing ominous about his playing or persona. His playing to me was more like a ray of sun after a storm or a rain shower after a drought. A reflection of who he was – Johnny was a natural drummer and played with great precision. The first time I jammed with Johnny, we bonded as musicians and friends. Knowing Johnny has been a privilege. I feel the loss of a brother, gone way too soon.”
~ Steve Nelson
“I cannot remember how or where I first met Johnny. After knowing him for a short period of time I found him to be such a gentle soul and he had a child like smile that made it impossible to not like him.
Ten or more years have passed since that time, and I do not recall if Johnny asked to teach drum lessons at our store (GOTIT-NEEDIT-WANTIT) or if we approached him to teach for us. Either way he was a great fit for our students. He was loved and adored by all that took lessons with him, old and young alike.
We would constantly have to remind Johnny to turn in his invoices so that we could pay him for his services. I believe the reason for this was because he did not view what he was doing as work. He was just passing on what he had learned and loved to see the light turn on in his students as they progressed. His students always appeared to be looking forward to their lessons and when it was over, they seemed satisfied with the lesson and their teacher. Many students would bring him gifts to show their appreciation for what he had given them.
He would always take time to attend when his students were doing a performance to praise and support their efforts.
No one gets through this life without trials and tribulations, but if our test in this life is to be liked by others then Johnny passed that test with flying colors.
Somewhere over the rainbow, we will meet again. Until then…
~ Love Caroline & Bob
“John was a drummer and musician, yes. However, he was one of those unique individuals, who are rare on the earth that truly care for those he surrounded himself with.
The individuals he supported, he protected with all the drive of a true champion of their rights. His belief was rooted in fair play and was delivered with kindness. John’s empathy was unwavering for those needing advocacy in his community and will be missed. John was someone we respected, and we truly feel the ground has shifted, the air has lost its electricity and our surroundings are muted with his absence. Walk softly a dream slept here.”
~ Love from Matthew, Daniel and the team
John is survived by his devoted spouse Layla “who he loved the most”, his sisters Kathy and Jackie and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and a vast array of friends.
A Celebration of John’s Life and graveside service is being planned for the autumn and details will be announced closer to the date.
In lieu of flowers please consider donating to a charity of your choice in John’s memory. It is beautiful to envision John’s legacy rippling outward in a community he loved.