In Memoriam: Lotus Co-Founder Jesse Miller Remembers Chuck Morris
Lotus percussionist Chuck Morris and his son Charley tragically lost their lives while kayaking in Arkansas in March. The band just released a live album from Morris’ final performance with the group, on February 25, 2023, dedicating Live in Steel City “In loving memory of Chuck and Charley Morris.
In 2002, a day after we threw a college graduation party, we packed up an unreliable van and drove from Goshen, Ind., east toward Philadelphia. Three tire blowouts later—and after a night spent sleeping in a rest-stop parking lot—we arrived at a large house, with no electricity, but with hopeful dreams of playing music and touring the country as a band. I lived in that house with Chuck, our bandmates and a few other friends for a number of years. We shared meals, housework and made as much music as we could. We barely knew anyone in the area when we arrived and very few people knew our music. But we booked small gigs around the region, and with youthful optimism we started to build up a fanbase one show at a time.
We all got various manual labor jobs that would allow us to call out for a couple days at a time to play shows and still have work when we got back— landscaping, house painting. For a while, Chuck had a job doing home clean outs. Everything in the houses was to be thrown out. To me, it all looked like junk, but Chuck would bring home truckloads of items rescued from the dumpster. I would attempt—hopelessly—to put it out with the trash at rate that equaled Chuck’s acquisitions.
Chuck saw potential value in that junk. Maybe it was an antique item that could be resold, a piece of furniture to fix up or some metal or wood that could be turned into a percussion instrument. If you ever got a close-up look at Chuck’s gear, then you might have noticed old bells, custom cut wood pieces made into stands or other odd items like a battery taped to a piece of hardware to keep it all balanced in a system only Chuck understood. Where most people saw trash, Chuck saw the potential for music.
I think, for Chuck, that worldview extended to people. He saw potential friends everywhere. Chuck was outgoing and charismatic, becoming instantly close with people that he had just met. He would call out names from across the room upon spotting someone he knew. Everyone was a potential good hang, a future musical collaborator and a new friend.
In the early days, we traveled in a van and with trailer, dealing with all the trials and tribulations that come with that style of touring. Chuck would be the first to get under the hood if there was a problem with the engine. Miraculously, we only missed one show. It was a Sunday, and we had a long drive to a gig in Montana. The van broke down when we were at least 30 miles from a city, and we couldn’t find an auto shop that was open. I don’t remember exactly how, but after several hours, Chuck managed to get the van running again and we continued on. About an hour further down the road, loud scraping sounds started emerging from under the van. From one of the back benches, I hear Chuck calmly say, “Oh, that might be my bad.” I think he still had a few screws in his pocket from a plastic cover that wasn’t completely reattached and was dragging under the van. As with most things, Chuck had his own way of working. But, at the end of the day, he got the job done.
We traversed the country and made a few international trips, including six runs in Japan. Our first tour of Japan was a wild one. It was two weeks of sleep-deprived travel and gigs that ran the gamut from festival headlining spots to tiny bars with no stages. Despite the language barriers, Chuck became immediate friends with the entire touring party, and he still remembered all their names years later.
Chuck loved a wide breadth of music—folk, weird electronica, ‘90s rock, a large variety of African and Latin music. He performed with Lotus, but also made his own electronic music and played drums and percussion with many other groups when we weren’t on tour. A few years ago, he surprised us by saying he was playing drums with a country band, although, as the kids say, “Video or it didn’t happen.”
I think Chuck saw potential everywhere. And the hardest part of this tragedy is the lost potential. There will be no more chances to look back onstage and see Chuck playing a tambourine with another tambourine or an outstretched arm playing a carefully chosen shaker with a determination and focus rarely applied to the instrument—the lost potential for another wild story of Chuck wrestling someone late at night after a show or drinking a bottle of hot sauce.
As dark as this loss is to the world, I’ve seen a beam of light through the clouds of grief. So many people have reached out to show their love for Chuck and to express what the band has meant to them over the years. This is potential realized—the potential to gain strength in numbers when you feel alone, the potential for people from across the country to connect through a love of music and the potential for those connections to grow into lifelong friendships. It is a light that has revealed a genuine desire to lift up others when they are down. It has shown the strength of this community and how many people Chuck touched through the music and his friendships.
Let’s all try to see beyond the rust on an old cowbell and hear the music.