Wailers in the 50's
Dangel, Burk, Marush, Morrill, Greek
Wailers in the 60's
Ormsby, Andersson, Gardner, Morrill, Roland
Hanford ~ Guitar, Vocals
Ricky Lynn Johnson ~ Drums, Vocals
John "Buck" Ormsby ~ Bass, Backing Vocals
Neil Rush ~ Saxophone
Andersson ~ Guitar
Mike Burk ~ Drums
Rich Dangel ~ Guitar
Kim Eggers ~ Saxophone
Gary Favier ~ Vocals
Ron Gardner ~ Saxophone, Vocals
John Greek ~ Guitar
Gail Harris ~ Vocals
Allen Lynn ~ Drums
Mark Marush ~ Saxophone
Kent Morrill ~ Keyboards, Vocals
Rockin' Robin Roberts ~ Vocals
Dave Roland ~ Drums, Vocals
Denny Weaver ~ Guitar
Jerry Werner ~ Bass
Amans (AKA “Hoss”) ~ Road Manager
Sandy Gillispie ~ Roadie
Lance Lambert ~ Roadie
Jim Thompson ~ Roadie
Robin Roberts 1940-1967
Ron Gardner 1945-1992
John Greek - October 2006
Rich Dangel 1942-2002
Mark Marush - August 2007
Kent Morrill - d: 15 April 2011
Wailer No. 1 is gone.
From The Tacoma News Tribune - 16 April 2011
Kent Morrill, the Tacoma-grown lead singer of The Fabulous Wailers, died Friday. He was 70. He’d battled cancer for four years. Even at the end, he was thinking of the show.
Only a few days ago, he reminded his wife, Toni Morrill, about his June gig at the Snoqualmie Casino – his Roy Orbison tribute, a show he’d tuned to perfection over 10 years of touring.
“He reminded me that I needed to get the contract put together and sent back,” Toni Morrill said Friday. “He was still singing.”
It was the voice that got Morrill started more than 50 years ago, the voice that landed him a spot in The Wailers. Along with The Ventures and the Sonics, also Tacoma-born acts, The Wailers rank in pop-music annals as founders of garage rock, proto-punks before punk had a name. Their sound was raucous, messy, delirious.
They were known for “Tall Cool One,” and a cover “Louie, Louie,” later also covered by the Portland-based Kingsmen. But there were many more songs. Buck Ormsby, The Wailers’ bassist and Morrill’s long-time friend, has his own favorite: “Dirty Robber.” Morrill wrote it and played his way into the band with it.
“He went out and played that on a regular piano,” Ormsby said, recalling the reaction of the band members “They went, ‘Whoa, we want that guy in the band.’”
The song as recorded by The Wailers starts with a piano riff. Then Morrill’s voice rips in:
Well, I had a little girl
She was so mean to me
Told her off now
Said you’re a dirty robber ...
The voice lands somewhere between Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, sailing up and down, wailing.
“He was amazing,” Ormsby said. “Amazing singer.”
The Wailers’ heyday ended in the late 1960s, but they stayed together through the years, playing and recording. Morrill had the singing chops to match Orbison, note for note. He turned his knack into a side gig, playing Orbison hits along with those of The Wailers, sometimes hooking up with The Ventures for team-up performances that featured the original Northwest sound. Always, they stayed close to home.
“We’re Tacoma boys,” Ormsby said. “We moved back here from the places where we were living to get back to our hometown.”
Morrill gave a distant impression at times, Ormsby said. It didn’t fit.
“They said that Kent looked like he was unapproachable, but he was probably one of the nicest fellas you’d ever want to meet,” Ormsby said. “He was the funniest guy. People didn’t really know that.”
Online videos show the voice never let Morrill down.
One 2009 performance is typical. It’s a short gig at Meeker Days in Puyallup, a quiet suburban festival.
Morrill stands onstage, backed by members of The Ventures. He wears a fedora, a loose blazer and a Hawaiian shirt, looking more like a tourist on vacation than a rocker. A familiar rhythm and backbeat starts behind him, and he cuts loose. It’s the Ray Charles classic, “What’d I Say.” Morrill belts it with ridiculous ease.
He is survived by two sisters and a brother. He and Toni had six children together. Twelve grandchildren followed. Friday, she recalled her husband as a humble man, active in his church, an elder in the Brookdale Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He was never one to advertise his history, she said. At gatherings, Toni would be the one to tell people they were talking to Wailer No. 1.
“He’s the best person I’ve ever known,” she said.
Ormsby plans to rerelease a solo album of Morrill’s recordings. Originally cut in 1987, the album is called “Hard to Rock Alone.” It features some of Morrill’s self-penned work, as well as standards from the rhythm and blues canon. At the time, against a backdrop of hair metal and synth pop, the record earned little notice.
“It’s a monster record, probably the best that I’ve ever heard him sing,” Ormsby said. “His album’s gotta come out, and I think people gotta hear him – this album is absolutely beautiful.”
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 firstname.lastname@example.org
The News Tribune
Read more about The Wailers at
Beyond Louie Louie
Ace Records - April 2011
Kent Morrill lead singer and keyboard player of the Fabulous Wailers, died from a prolonged battle with cancer in Tacoma, Washington, in the early hours of April 15th, 2011, at the age of seventy. Alec Palao mourns his passing.
“I never really listened to anybody except Little Richard and Ray Charles. In high school, I’d hear these guys talking about ‘Tutti Frutti’ by Pat Boone, and I’d just wanna scream.”
And scream he did, but only in his unique and instantly recognizable fashion. Kent Morrill had that uncanny visceral element to his voice that effortlessly delivered, in meat and bone, the essence of what real rock’n’roll is supposed to be about. Not too many other vocalists have risen to such a challenge. Yet another member of the dwindling coterie of authentic 50s-era musicians to depart this mortal coil, Kent leaves an especially deep hole. Drummer Mike Burk is now the lone surviving member of the original line-up of the group that put the Pacific Northwest on the map: The Fabulous Wailers of Tacoma.
Like that other famed Northwest hamburger throat, Jerry Roslie of the Sonics - who’ll readily admit to Kent as an influence - Morrill was a quiet, self-effacing chap. Once he opened his mouth on stage however, it was a different story. He’d originally joined the Wailers in 1958 as a pianist, and it was Kent who came up with the tinkling piano lick that helped make the band first record, and highest national charter, ‘Tall Cool One’, into a totem of instrumental cool. The Wailers’ act was largely instrumental in their first incarnation, but if a vocal was required, Morrill was the man. He once told me that in the early days of the Wailers, when there often was no vocal PA of any kind, he would literally run out into the audience and belt it out right in front of them. That’s the kind of training that gave Morrill the rich, but never raspy, overtones to his unique pipes.
Although he was the best singer the band would ever employ, Morrill was completely a team player, making a significant contribution to the songwriting, and adding his not inconsiderable keyboard skills to the instrumental powerhouse that was the Wailers’ stock in trade. The revue format the band used in their early 1960s halcyon days, featuring other singers such as Rockin Robin Roberts, Gail Harris and the Marshans, also saw Kent in a mostly supportive role. Thus his leads are only dotted around the Wailers’ catalogue, but they are some of the finest moments: a suitably cathartic ‘Lucille’ from the Golden Crest era; the raunchy ‘Isabella’ on “The Wailers & Co”; his tortured, teasing, ‘Baby Don’t Do It’ from the “Out Of Our Tree” album; and the originally unreleased splendid retro-rocker ‘Livewire’. Kent eased off in later years, letting newbies Ron Gardner and Dave Roland do most of the squalling, and seemed content just to croon the Wailers’ gentler numbers, such as the groups last hit ‘It’s You Alone’, from 1966. No problem; this was the guy who could turn even the terminal schlock-fest of ‘Unchained Melody’ into a sweet, soulful and eminently enjoyable interlude, amongst the regulation crunch of the Wailers’ standard repertoire.
Few would argue however that Kent’s most enduring legacy comes in the shape of his own self-penned signature rocker, ‘Dirty Robber’; a true Northwest standard, and an item so popular, the Wailers recorded it on four separate occasions. Whether it be the adenoidal yelps on the 1958 single version or the more controlled intensity of the 1965 treatment, the singer communicates the basic constituents of what made, and makes, rock’n’roll truly great, in any shape or form.
The Wailers split at the end of the 1960s, although Kent continued to record from time to time, making a very enjoyable solo album under the supervision of Wailers bassist and Etiquette honcho Buck Ormsby in the 1980s. In later years, he had a steady gig as America’s foremost Roy Orbison impersonator, and anyone familiar with Kent’s range would know he fit that role to a T (an uncanny physical resemblance to the Big O notwithstanding). After the grungefest of the early 1990s put the spotlight on Northwest rock, there were numerous calls for the granddaddies of the whole shebang to reunite, and so The Fabulous Wailers returned to the stage with a line-up that included Kent, Buck, and original axeman, Rich Dangel - another late, great Wailer. I was lucky enough to catch them several times – a blistering wee hours marathon at the Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis was one highlight among many. And I always relished the point in the set when Kent, replete with his fedora, and that sly, knowing look he so often cast, took to the mic to tear it up one more time. At those treasured moments, Kent Morrill was still rock’n’roll incarnate.
Alec Palao, Ace Records, April 2011
Album Release Date April, 10th 2009. Two Car Garage is a 50 year Celebration of two bands: Don Wilson and the Ventures and The Fabulous Wailers. This ground breaking CD is now available for your consumption at Two Car Garage Music.
roared in, jumped off of her bike and took the stage wearing her
- on a sweltering hot afternoon. John Hanford, May 2005
The Fabulous Wailers Website
For some reason The Wailers needed a saxophone for an out-of town gig. John Greek gave me a call and I jumped on it. I was about 17 at the time. .. What a rush that was for me.
Dwight Gaskins, October 2002
Allen Lynn played drums with the Wailers from 2000 to 2002 and still fills in for them when Ricky can't make a gig.
Allen Lynn, October 2006
The Wailers - Photo courtesy of Ron Attfield
Gary Favier John and Rich were both military brats at McCord AFB and I was stationed there. After we went on tour and I had to come back early, the Air Force sent me to Corvallis, Oregon and so that was the end of me singing with the Wailers and Robin Roberts sang with them after that.
Gary Favier, January 2004
Cool One (1959)
I Idolize You with Gail Harris
Bama Lama Bama Lou with Dave Roland
Cadillac to Mexico (2001)
If you have corrections, a neat photo or more information, please send it to:
Last Update: 11 June 2011
Contributors: Kent Morrill, Genie Allen, Dwight Gaskins, Gary Favier Neil Rush, Billy McPherson, John Hanford, Lance Lambert, Allen Lynn, Glenda J. Guilmet, Ron Attfield, Larry Thompson, Robert Elms, Rich Longstreth, Tacoma New Tribune