Morris was "one of the coolest guitarists doom has ever seen," wrote Nick Ruskell of the British metal magazine Kerrang!
"His nickname was the black Iommi," said Maryland's Scott "Wino" Weinrich of the seminal doom metal band the Obsessed.
That's "Iommi" after Tony Iommi of the British metal pioneers Black Sabbath and "black" because Morris was African American, a relative rarity in the world of metal.
Morris spent hours perfecting his sound: growling, sinewy riffs with a subterranean low end. Weinrich remembers the first time he heard it. It was the late 1970s and he was in the 10th or 11th grade at Walter Johnson High in Montgomery County, Md., a fan of Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper.
"I was dating this girl," Weinrich said. "One of her girlfriends came over and said: 'Yeah, my brother's in a band. I'll bring you a cassette.' "
The tape was by an early Morris band called Force.
"That tape blew me away," Weinrich said. "It hit me right away with that heavy grooving."
Morris was an Air Force brat who went to Central High in Capitol Heights, Md., and Montgomery College. He was blessed with the ability to play anything he heard.
In a 2005 profile in the Washington City Paper, Mike Kanin wrote: "He played soul music because one of his father's friends asked him to. He played metal because he loved it."
Said Kanin, now the publisher of the Texas Observer in Austin: "He was so amped about the fact that he was able to re-create perfectly the Black Sabbath guitar sound. He was so singularly focused on this thing. That can be produced only by passion, I would argue."
After Force and another band, Rat Salad, Morris formed Iron Man. It started as a Black Sabbath cover band. Over time, it developed its own repertoire, releasing a handful of albums and EPs, including on the Hellhound label out of Germany.
"His soloing, to me anyway, was sort of this cross between Iommi and Jimi Hendrix," said "Screaming Mad" Dee Calhoun, the singer in the last incarnation of Iron Man. "When people talk about Al they always mention his riffs, his tone."
Morris told Calhoun that his aim was to sound like a combination of Iommi's guitar and the bass of Sabbath's Geezer Butler.
There are as many flavors of metal as there are species of birds in the rain forest. Morris was known for his contributions to doom metal.
"It's slow, low-tuned, gut heavy, visceral" stuff, Weinrich said. "You feel it. It usually deals with the themes of life, which aren't always bright: loneliness, alienation."
Our area is a doom metal hotspot, thanks to one of the genre's earliest practitioners, Pentagram, from Alexandria, Va., and to the support that bands from Frederick, Md., to Richmond give one another.
Iron Man songs may have titles such as "Among the Filth and Slime," but, as Calhoun put it: "Al was a legend within the scene. I never saw anything but the utmost reverence and respect and love for him."
Two benefit concerts are planned to help Morris's family pay for funeral expenses and lingering medical bills: Jan. 27 at the Depot in Baltimore and Feb. 17 at the Jeffersonian Patriotic Club in Frederick. (For details, search "Iron Man Band" on Facebook.)
I asked Weinrich — a giant in the metal community — how he'll remember Alfred Morris III.
"I will remember him as a very gentle, soft-spoken, genuinely nice and humble guy who could play his [copulating behind] off," he said. "And his riffs were heavy."
Stop the presses
In my column Wednesday, I gave Alfred Friendly a promotion. I said he helped run Bletchley Park during World War II. His son Jonathan pointed out that Friendly served as a translator of German messages there. Also, while Friendly ran the Washington Post newsroom with the title managing editor, there was an executive editor: Russell Wiggins , who oversaw the news and editorial pages.
Bye for now
I'm taking a week off. See you back in this space on Jan. 29.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.