Jesse Morris | San Francisco’s Punk Rock Johnny Cash

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Jesse Morris, a local musician and BART busking staple with an uncanny take on Johnny Cash, passed away in November of 2011. Morris had survived a suicide attempt by hanging once, but sadly did not survive a second attempt.

Morris, was just turned 28, who 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, 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.

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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.

“He could do impressions of anyone, even people he’d just met,” she said. “He was always one of my favorite people.”

Find Morris’s 2008 sessions here, more info about the benefit concert here, and more of his music here and here, and everywhere.

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