Reggae community loses a legend

Laguna Beach lost one of its reggae legends June 6.

Eric "Redz" Morton, 60, a bassist who helped start The Rebel Rockers band, died from liver failure at his Laguna Beach home, Morton's younger brother Bruce said Monday.

Eric Morton was instrumental in promoting reggae music.

He started playing at the Sandpiper lounge on Coast Highway in the early 1980s and last performed there about three weeks ago, said Chuck Harrell, who has co-owned the Sandpiper for 43 years.

"He's a legend in this area," Harrell said. "He was a mellow person, never was a problem, and was always ready to play."

The Rebel Rockers were a pioneering band from Laguna, helping to popularize beach reggae sound, according to a 2009 Laguna Beach Magazine story.

The group started in 1979 when Morton met Deborah Lee Sullivan, who became lead singer, the magazine reported.

Sullivan didn't grow up singing, but Morton encouraged her to pursue it after Sullivan hummed tunes at Morton's Laguna Beach home, where musicians often gathered for parties.

What made the Rebel Rockers' music special was fusing cultures — Jamaica with California's surf and rock lifestyle, according to Morton's friend Ron Pringle.

"Laguna had never seen that. They [The Rebel Rockers] set the standard," said Pringle, 48, who met Morton in the late 1970s.

The Rebel Rockers were in high demand as one of Southern California's few reggae bands during the '80s, playing five or six nights a week, Sullivan told Laguna Beach Magazine.

Morton, or "Redz" as he was known for his red dreadlocks, filled in with other bands too, a practice common among for reggae musicians, Harrell said.

Sullivan and Morton even recorded in Bob Marley's Tuff Gang studio and worked with other reggae artists to hone their craft, according to a February Coastline Pilot story.

If Morton wasn't recording music, he was often at the beach, Pringle said.

"He [Morton] was an accomplished body surfer," Pringle said. "I watched him catch waves at Thousand Steps Beach."

Morton welcomed whomever he met.

"He was 100% love, 100% of the time," Pringle said.

Friend Nick Hernandez shared similar sentiments.

"He [Morton] was one sweetheart of a man. He would never hurt anybody," Hernandez said.

Morton also had a thirst for knowledge and lived by the quote: "All you really own is what you know. Knowledge can't be taken from you," according to Bruce Morton.

Bruce remembered a time he joined Eric for dinner with a religious studies professor. They discussed philosophy.

"At one point, Eric explained one of Einstein's theories to the point where I couldn't follow," Bruce said. "He had an amazing respect for knowledge."

Eric Morton is survived by longtime partner Tiffany Cassler; sister Rachel Morton-Daniels; and mother Riva Morton-Dimond, Bruce Morton said.

A public memorial is tentatively set for June 29 in Bluebird Park, according to Morton’s sister Rachel Morton Daniels. A time has not yet been confirmed.

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