I first saw Tizzy ten years ago today, on August 4, 2001. They were opening for Barbara Manning in an afternoon show at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA. At that time, and I'm not sure why, I rarely went to shows in bars, which was where Tizzy usually played. Because of this, I only saw Tizzy a handful of times before I eventually joined them. Fortunately, it only took seeing Tizzy once to get me hooked.
It was a strange atmosphere: the first incarnation of Flywheel resembled a low-ceilinged church basement, lit only with flourescent lights. It wasn't air conditioned, so it was uncomfortably muggy, and the afternoon sun wasn't particularly conducive to a transporting atmosphere. I hadn't heard Barbara Manning, though I'd heard good things about her. For reasons I don't recall -- likely, because anything following Tizzy would've been a disappointment -- I didn't stick around for her set.
On this particular show, Tizzy played as a duo -- guitarist Caleb Wetmore, Teri's husband, was out of town, leaving bassist/singer Jen Stavely and drummer/singer Teri Morris. I had heard Tizzy on a couple of websites, but hadn't seen them live before. As the disarmingly lilting "Butterfly Party" surged towards its frantic end, I thought three things: 1) who is this drummer?; 2) what is she doing?; and 3) how can I weasel my way into this band? Teri's bass drum pedal was doing things I hadn't thought possible, much less likely. And she was singing.
The next time I saw Tizzy was a couple of weeks later at Ladyfest in Easthampton, MA (August 25, 2001 to be exact). Caleb was back in the lineup. His roaring chords and incisive melodies were always perfect -- his shoes were extremely indimidating to fill when I later joined the band. Their set began with Teri announcing, "Hi, we're Tizzy and we're loud," immediately careening into "Cut Down Fight." After their set, I bought all their records at their merch table, and listened to nothing else for the next few months. I would drive around Northampton with Tizzy blaring out of my car speakers; I felt like everyone needed to hear them. I still feel like that.
Their release of Down With The Furies in the fall of 2001 couldn't have come at a better time, not unlike a life preserver. It included the first Tizzy songs that Teri wrote and sang, "Turnstile Girl" and "Half-Step Century." Her singing was like her drumming: confident, layered, versatile, powerful, and deeply affecting. Later, when I was lucky enough to record with Tizzy, I would be stunned at how self-critical Teri could sometimes be about her singing. I also don't think I ever witnessed such intricate self-awareness of one's own talents and abilities as I saw with Teri. She would record a flawless vocal track, deem it below her exacting standards, record it just as flawlessly two more times, and compile parts from all three into the final track. And she knew exactly which parts to use: "Use the first line from the third take, then the next two lines from the first take, then the first half of the next line from the second take..."
She was similarly meticulous about her drumming, but without the slightest shred of self-doubt. We would work through new songs, sometimes spending hours on one song; at the next rehearsal, Teri would have scrapped everything she'd so carefully worked out at the last rehearsal and come up with something completely different and, though we didn't think it was possible, more stunning. In a couple of instances, she completely re-worked entire songs she'd written, even after they'd been performed live a number of times. I don't think I've ever worked with anyone, in any area of music-making, who was so fearless.
In October of 2001, after another incredible Tizzy set at the Brass Cat in Easthampton, I was encouraged by one Mr. Pabst to approach the band. While I've met a number of musicians I admired (completely by accident, sometimes hilariously so; that's right, Robert Plant, I told you that I DO remember laughter), I've only felt star-struck on three occasions: when I met Rashied Ali; when I met Elvin Jones; and when I first met Teri Morris. I think it has to do with all three being drummers whose abilities I aspired to, drummers I could never even hope to imitate. I asked Teri about one of the new Tizzy songs, "The Day Duran Duran Came To Town," and it turned out that she, Jen and I had all seen Duran Duran on the same tour in 1984 (Teri in Tempe, AZ; Jen in Largo, MD; and me in Chicago). There's a fill she does at 3:14 in that song that still flummoxes me to this day. About a year after first hearing the song, during a rehearsal, I asked Teri to demonstrate that fill for me.
"Teri, how does that go?"
"You mean this?" (plays fill, confuses me)
"Yes! That! What is that?"
"Oh, it's just this." (plays fill effortlessly again, confusion mounts)
"But how do you do that?"
"I just do this." (plays fill again, I give up, open a beer)
When I started writing songs for Tizzy -- something I was reluctant to do, since I felt Tizzy's voice was Jen's and Teri's -- I would have ideas for how I wanted the drums to go. Naturally, these were all swiftly forgotten as soon as Teri started playing her ideas, things I couldn't have ever hoped to come up with: jagged, driving, yet always swinging. Her playing style bears some comparison to Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, but I think Weiss got many/most of her ideas from Teri. Not only had Tizzy been making records and touring for a couple of years before Weiss joined Sleater-Kinney, but one of Corin Tucker's pre-Sleater-Kinney bands played on a bill with Tizzy in Northampton in the early 90s; about a year later, suddenly there's this band called Sleater-Kinney that sounds a lot like Tizzy.
Every time I sit down at the drums to work on a new recording, a show or new song with Thrillpillow, or just to practice, I go into WWTD mode: What Would Teri Do? Her drumming was so distinctive and imaginative that, beyond forcing me to reexamine my own approach, it made me jump up and down. Every Tizzy show I played was, without exception, a dream come true. I was always a Teri fan, and I will always be a Teri fan.
Teri Morris passed away on June 9, 2011 after a six-month battle with breast cancer. Teri and Caleb faced their battle with a strength, fearlessness and humor that was beyond inspiring.
I will always miss you, Teri.