The great guitar mystery is simple to ask, and deeply revealing in its solution. Why did Chris Daring, end up owning Terry Morris’ guitar after he passed away in 1988? And, when his widow Debra, asked me if I would like to have his guitar, I asked her, “Why me?” She responded by saying:
“Chris, out of over a thousand people who came to his funeral, and all the hundreds of fiddlers who called me after his funeral claiming to love Terry so much, you were the only one – the only one – who ever called me just to see how I was doing, and didn’t ask me for anything.”
Among Texas Style fiddlers, the best also play guitar – well. Necessitated by a need (hopefully a desire) to return the favor, guitar becomes a serious fiddler’s second instrument several years after beginning to play the fiddle in response to pressure from other fiddlers (who already play guitar) seeking backup guitar players in contests, conjoined with a desire to take part and be welcome at jam sessions, and by the guidance of a thoughtful teacher.
In addition to merely providing more fun, learning to play the guitar teaches chord structure and solidifies the beginning fiddler’s rhythmic sense on both instruments. Ironically, the fiddler eventually ends up spending more time playing guitar than fiddle because of the time spent accompanying others during jam sessions.
Many don’t know that Terry Morris reversed that sequence by first learning guitar before learning the fiddle several years later. When I asked why, Terry told me he noticed that the “girls seemed to like the fiddle players better”. I then said “You didn’t get this good on the fiddle because the girls liked fiddlers better!” He said “Well, no, but that’s what made me start on the fiddle”!
While Terry told me about his guitar on several occasions, I never saw his guitar until shortly after he finally got it back from the repair shop. Apparently, the guitar required extensive repairs and had been in the shop for a long time, so he was really excited and clearly pleased with the work. After saying it wasn’t, “a pretty guitar, but it sure plays good”, he talked at length about how good it sounded and more about how easily it played. He was so proud to show it to me! It was then, at his home in Durango, with the guitar resting in his hands that he told me the story of how the guitar became his.
Terry said, “ Ya know, I dug this guitar out of Tommy Burger’s trash! I was nine years old. It didn’t have strings or pegs or nothin’ on it. I hid it in a shed & started sneaking strings & pegs out of my brothers’ cases. I only took a string at a time so they wouldn’t notice anything was missing”.
He talked in detail about how he “gathered and collected” parts for the guitar, followed by how he assembled it and soon had it to where he could play it. He said he just watched his brothers carefully & figured out a few chords. He told me he practiced in secret so by the time anyone knew he even had the guitar, he could play a couple of progressions!
It was about a year later that Terry died, at age 32, of an accidental drowning. It was so tragic & shocking to all of us who loved him. He was a friend to everyone he met. He was a hard-working, honest, kind person & a good father. He never used profanity-ever! He had a special place in his heart for older people & children. Especially sick children. He was a Shriner! He was always respectful of older people. He wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings for anything! He had a fun-loving way about him & could inject his almost child like sense of humor into nearly every situation. He loved practical jokes & teasing, but it was never mean-spirited. Terry was a good friend to me & told me I was to him, as well.
At the time of his death, Terry had been married only about 4 months. His widow, Debra Morris was heartbroken. She told me that “He was the best thing that ever happened to me, that’s for sure.” They seemed happy with each other. Debra welcomed me into their home and made me feel comfortable. I am sure there were times when she was sick to death of listening to me practice, as well as the time Terry spent with me teaching me to play.
Terry was a fabulous player & musician. By his own account, he was not a teacher. When I told him he was going teach me, he said “No, I don’t teach.” I replied “But you’ll teach me!” He asked “Why?” I told him I thought he was the best Texas fiddler ever & I wanted to learn from the best. I asked why would I go to someone else who might be able to get it about “half right” when I can go straight to the horses’ mouth & get it right. He responded with “Well, that’s true….but I don’t teach!” His voice went up in pitch & volume as he launched into an excited explanation. “I don’t teach! I don’t like it, I don’t have time, I’m not good at it, I’m not patient and I don’t need the money. I don’t teach!” I answered with “Yes, but you’ll teach me!” He just smiled, sighed & shook his head. I also reminded him that while he worked very hard on his own, he didn’t learn all by himself & that he had the best help there was. Here was his opportunity to “give back” what was given him.
A few months later, Terry & I received a Master/Apprentice grant through the Colorado Council on the Arts and The National Endowment on the Arts. My husband Andy & Terry had several conversations about the application, how we would structure things and what work we would include in our proposal. While it was a three person team effort, Andy wrote much of our grant application & I think he did a great job of it. Apparently, the Council & Endowment folks thought so too, because a few months later, I was Terry’s apprentice!
About half-way through our work on the grant, Terry sat me down & said “Hey, you know, after we get through with the grant, once it’s over, you know, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep coming down here. I want you to know that even after the grant is done, I want you to keep coming down here to see me. You’re doin’ good!” I was thrilled, but tried very hard not to start jumping up & down & squealing like a fool! After completing the grant, typically, our routine began with Terry calling to ask if I was going to come see him this week. My answer was always “Yes!” With me living in Denver and Terry living in Durango (a distance of almost 400 miles), and then in Mesa, AZ part of the year, I usually arrived on a Thursday or Friday, stayed nearly a week, then would fly or drive back home only to return a couple weeks later and repeat the process. This went on for nearly two years!
Sometimes my husband went with me, so Debra had another person to entertain! She always made chili rellenos for us while Terry tried to get us to eat various kinds of peppers he claimed weren’t hot. Her rellenos are to die for! Debra & I discovered we had quite a few things in common. As friends do, we shared numerous stories & experiences. Consequently, after Terry’s funeral Debra and I kept in touch. Her whole life had been turned upside down!
About a year after Terry died, she called me. She asked me if I wanted to have Terry’s guitar. Thoroughly taken aback, I responded with “Wow, well, yes!, of course, but why me? There’s a lot of people who knew him longer than I did.”
Her reply surprised me even more and was deeply revealing, “Chris, out of over a thousand people who came to his funeral, and all the hundreds of fiddlers who called me after his funeral and claimed to love Terry so much, you were the only one – the only one – who ever called me just to see how I was doing and didn’t ask me for anything.” I was stunned! And embarrassed, saddened & ashamed by the implication.
As our conversation continued, Debra disclosed that people had contacted her to claim ownership of some of his clothes or to just ask for any or all of his clothes she didn’t want; they called to claim ownership of all of his instruments and to claim ownership of some of his instruments; they called to try to talk her into itemizing the instruments in her possession so they could tell her which ones didn’t belong to Terry but did belong to the caller; they called saying they were on their way to pick up his instruments and take them to the rightful owners; and she said some of the callers even provided vague descriptions of instruments they supposedly loaned to Terry in order to talk her into telling them what instruments she had at the house.
She said if the callers were believed, Terry actually owned very little, and most of what he did have, wouldn’t be left to her because they claimed everything had been “lent to him” by some well-meaning benefactor!
My own experience at the funeral caused me to believe what she was telling me was true! At the cemetery before Terry’s body was even lowered into the ground, I was aware of and watched a handful of people scurrying around blatantly claiming ownership of every instrument & bow Terry had and some they thought he had!
At the time, I was appalled but believed the emotions would soon calm down. But the focus of some people at the funeral was clearly more about getting their hands on every musical instrument & much of everything else the man owned, than in paying respects to a departed friend!
It was so disgusting and deeply disturbing to watch. Clearly, they thought Debra couldn’t know the history of all her husband’s possessions and were intent on taking advantage of her emotional state to get what they wanted from her.
Not long after she called, Debra came to our house in Evergreen & brought the guitar with her. I am proud & honored to have it. I’ll treasure it always.