It started in a bathroom. A high school-aged Chuck Morris, still years away from being nicknamed "The Cat," heard the sound of a wailing harmonica from inside a stall.
"The reverb of the bathroom amplified the sound," recalls Morris. "I just knew instantly that was something I had to do."
Morris was a typical late-'70s teenager, rocking out to Aerosmith and Blue Oyster Cult, but his first run-in with the harmonica soon bred an obsession with the blues. By the '80s, he was gigging regularly with bands in Atlanta, including the Heartfixers with Tinsley Ellis. Morris even recorded "Georgia on my Mind" with Ray Stevens and the Atlanta Symphony for an official state tourism commercial. Somewhere along the way, the mascot for a cat food company named Morris earned the harp player a nickname of his own.
After another decade in Boston, Morris made his way to Charleston in 1996, where he took up with Gary "Shrimp City Slim" Erwin. "Silent" Eddie Phillips was also a member of Erwin's band, and the pair would jam regularly at the Pinckney Café's monthly blues jams. Eventually, they even joined Erwin on European tours, playing all over France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Incidentally, Erwin is playing overseas this May and June during Spoleto, so Morris and Phillips decided to team up as a duo. It's a refreshing challenge to fill the space of a whole band with just two instruments.
"I'm a fairly sparse player, so I definitely play a lot more," says Morris. "That's the great thing about blues music. It's so intuitive and spontaneous. We'll just find our groove and get comfortable. I need Eddie to be the rhythm and the bass and bottom."
Phillips enjoys the two-instrument setting as well.
"It gives more space to work and play off of one another," he explains. "You can really focus on what the other person is doing."
Although Morris handles most of the vocals, "Silent" Eddie has recently come out of his shell and taken on some singing roles.
"I'm really an introvert," says Phillips. "I get up there and play guitar and support the other guys who sing. But they started egging me on, so over the years, I've begun sharing vocals."
The duo sticks to covers, paying tribute to their favorite artists and influences, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, and Big Walter Horton. They've got the street cred to take on the works of lauded bluesmen; Morris counts Gregg Allman and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown among the artists he's jammed with during his long career. And he's got the evidence to back that up, in the form of two five-gallon water jugs filled with worn-out harmonicas.
Phillips credits the Lowcountry Blues Club's monthly jams at Home Team BBQ as sparking a blues resurgence among Charleston's young people.
But it takes seasoned veterans like the Cat and Silent Eddie to pass those traditions along.