RIP Jesse Morris — “Punk Rock Johnny Cash”

Update: A benefit concert and radio tribute are planned for this Friday, Nov. 11, and Sunday, Nov. 13. Details.

We’re saddened to get word that Jesse Morris, whom you may know as “Punk Rock Johnny Cash” and one of the most beloved BART buskers, died on Sunday. This morning, our own Ed Casey alerted us that friends and fans on Reddit and Facebook have been posting tributes to Jesse. We also heard from several of Jesse’s friends about the sad news.

Many of you have seen Jesse performing at BART — we first wrote about Jesse in 2009 on BART Diaries. Jesse was interviewed by and talked about why he likes playing in BART stations:

“The acoustics are good down here, the people are friendly,” he says. “They stop and listen, they tip, they smile … I have a good time down here.”

Although Morris has a night job at a bar, and writes and plays original material with his band, Jesse and the Man Cougars, he keeps coming back to play at BART.

“I consider it a job,” he says. “Just like some people might work in an office, I work at the station entertaining people. I get to do what I love, and I can make a living at it.”

SFGate had just written about Jesse and his band, Jesse Morris and the Man Cougars, this January:

How did you name your band?
Jesse came to rehearsal and teased the “old guys” for having young, beautiful girlfriends, saying, “You guys are like a bunch of man cougars.” And the name stuck.

Photographer Bill Cendak shared this photograph of Jesse with us, taken at a band practice at Lennon Studios on Nov. 2, 2011. Jesse Morris and the Man Cougars were due to play at the Uptown this Friday. Cendak has been photographing Jesse Morris and the Man Cougars ever since the band started.

Photo by Bill Cendak

Jesse’s presence made a big impression on photographer Troy Holden, who pointed us to this portrait of Jesse at the 24th Street BART station.

“I see this fellow once each week playing Johnny Cash cover tunes. When I asked him if I could take his portrait, he flipped me off. Not until later did his gesture register with me.”

Jesse was referencing this iconic photo of Johnny Cash, taken in 1969 during his San Quentin performance.

Reader Jenner sent us a photo of Jesse and the Man Cougars at Bender’s earlier this year.

MC #1

Here’s an older photo of Jesse at the Montgomery BART station.

my johnny cash bart guy...
Photo by fiveinchpixie

If you are a friend, family, or fan of Jesse Morris, we would like to hear from you. Please comment or email us at and help us honor a great musician who brought light to our daily transit experience.


  • Deb

    I just heard …I will miss him so much; rest in peace sweet soul…

    • Brian

      Febuary 2nd 2018
      God Bless you my Freind you will be greatly missed.
      Rest in Peace and keep making Music. Thankyou Ottawa Canada.

  • victor

    I saw Jesse’s band play a time or two and asked if I could film him, I filmed his show at Annies at end of 2009, which was an historic show in my mind as it was last band to ever play a set at Annies as the club closed for music after that night. I gave Jesse a copy of the dvd at Benders some time later and he was very appreciative, I remember handing it to him and I had the flu that night and he seemed open to chatting but I warned him of my flu so we didnt talk much….that bothers me now when I heard the news…..Jesse, you will always really be here in SF, you will never be forgotten, and you are forever part of SF music history…you really “made it”

  • Aaron

    I don’t know what to say about Jesse. I came across his music on Facebook. From that point on I just loved all of his music. Never knew him and never seen his band. There is very few artists that have that same effect on me.I don’t know why, but it just happens that way sometimes. You hear a song or an artist, and then you love that song or artist your whole life. R.I.P. Jesse.

  • ace

    I just wish I could have got to meet Jesse in person. he seemed like a down to earth person and a awesome musician. when I him on the internet I learned his rendition of Sunday morning coming down. then I read he had gave up on life so sad r.i.p. Jesse

  • Albert

    I discovered Jessie on tube and like commenter Aaron said its a rare thing when someone attracts you,a total stranger but not . the music coming out of his mouth seemed sincere and original even if he was doing covers.

  • braun

    Is there albums of his anywhere?

  • Jonathan McClatchey

    Just found a video of him not quite sure if I’ve ever heard of him before but in the same moment found out he had already passed multiple years ago. That truly sucks on multiple levels.

    • Leeann

      Same here, someone shared a video of him doing Johnny Cash, I thought he was probably the best JC cover I’d ever heard, then two comments down found out he’s no longer with us. A tragic shame, I hope he’s now at peace and duetting with Mr Cash up there. RIP Bro 💜

      • Dieter

        Same here,

        I just saw the Johnny Cash roadshow a month or so ago and was really disappointed. I thought there was something missing there as well in the voice as the personality of the imitator. I discovered Jesse just this morning on youtube and was through the roof of joy that I finally found someone that could sing JC that well and showed in my opinion the same kind of humble, down to earth, charisma as Johnny himself. I was really excited about this. Maybe weird for someone I have never met, that I only know through youtube and for no longer than a few hours, but reading that he died really made me sad. I am however still very glad I found out about him.


  • Elinor Sue Coates PhD

    Jesse’s grandmother was my best friend for nearly fifty years, and after we both had moved away, we kept in touch throughout the year by phone and email. Her birthday was November 1st and I would always call her that day for a long visit. She adored her grandson and always told me what he was doing. In 2011, Jesse’s death November 4th broke her heart. Our annual birthday phone calls became a remembrance of Jesse. Now she has died of cancer, and for the first time I am not sharing this week with her. I remember Jesse as a middle school kid learning guitar and football, so I love reading these messages from his friends. Thank you for keeping his memory alive.

    • i distinctly remember meeting Jesse at a club just to hand him a dvd of his show at Annies in 2009, i was not feeling good but i remember he seemed to notice i was kind of “down” and tried to do more than just leave right away with his dvd, his band was fun to watch and he really “tried” (and succeeded) in connecting with the audience. he really sensed there was more than just the song, he would banter during the show and was ever the showman.

  • Ian fleming

    after a few videos just discovered his talent,i was saddened to learn I was so late in discovering Jesse,and shocked to know he had passed so. sad that his demons won over his sure in his own world he would have been a big big star.

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