One of the more colorful characters in the post-expansion era of the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment), “Hillbilly” Jim Morris first moseyed his way onto the national grappling scene as an enthusiastic fan who routinely watched the action from the front row before eventually becoming a titan of the ring himself. His pairing with the most famous professional wrestler of the 1980s (and arguably, of all time), Hulk Hogan catapulted Jim to a level of worldwide stardom that the strapping, small-town country boy only dreamed of achieving growing up in the tranquil state of Kentucky.
Jim’s “babyface,” or good guy, persona was his trademark as his unassuming, gentle giant stature endeared him to fans immediately, especially to children, who he regularly danced around the squared circle with at the conclusion of his matches. Add in his ultra-catchy, familiar theme song “Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy” and Jim quickly became one of most recognizable athletes on the WWE roster.
Jim recently made headlines again when it was announced that the retired wrestler would be inducted into the 2018 Class of the WWE Hall of Fame, taking place April 6 in New Orleans during WrestleMania 34 Week. Joining him in the exclusive club as part of the annual tradition this year are fellow honorees Bill Goldberg, Jeff Jarrett, The Dudley Boyz, Ivory, Mark Henry, celebrity inductee Kid Rock, and Warrior Award recipient Jarrius Robertson.
Royal Flush had the honor of speaking with Hillbilly Jim in advance of his special evening, where, in addition to his induction, we chatted about performing in front of a record-breaking crowd at WrestleMania 3, his devastating knee injury and his current radio show host gig on SiriusXM radio.
Royal Flush: Congratulations on your Hall of Fame induction. How does it feel?
Hillbilly Jim: It’s humbling and it’s heartwarming. I wasn’t expecting it, and I’m not one of those guys who was waiting for that call to come. I’m honored. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a hall of fame life. And I’ve always benefited from this business and this industry, as has my family, and this was just above and beyond for me. It’s quite a lot to think about and process. Funny story: this year I wasn’t planning on going to WrestleMania because I went down to Orlando last year for it and I had the worst time because of the travel. I was delayed at Nashville Airport for three hours. I felt like I just couldn’t get caught up the entire time. Then I was delayed four hours out of Orlando. I told myself, this is a bad omen, and I think I’m going to bag it next year. So when they began calling me and asking me about this year’s WrestleMania, I assumed they just wanted me to come to sign autographs, do interviews, and stuff like that. Finally they got in touch with me and they said that this isn’t about WrestleMania, it’s about something else. Vince (McMahon) wants you to go into the Hall of Fame. My mouth went to marbles. I couldn’t say anything. I was speechless.
RF: I’m sure WWE has someone in mind but if the decision was yours, who would you choose to induct you?
HJ: If it was my decision, I would get someone completely away from this business that nobody knows, someone from my life. I’d give them the shot to experience it. But they told me that Vince has already decided who he wants to do it. They wouldn’t tell me but they said I was going to like it.
RF: You were part of one of the biggest wrestling events of all time, WrestleMania 3, in 1987, in a mixed tag team match with King Kong Bundy and several midget wrestlers. What memories do you have from that historic night?
HJ: Over the years I’ve been asked about that a lot. That particular match wasn’t one that I remember the most fondly. But as the years have gone by, due to the fact that people loved it so much, and because of the magnitude of that record crowd, I’ve gotten to like it more because I realized that I did something that not many people get to do. I got to perform live in front of a world record crowd and that record remained until just a few years ago when George Strait broke it. We outdrew the Pope, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis. The real magnitude of that crowd is hard to explain. If you were far away from the ring, it looked like a postage stamp. I had no idea the record would last for decades. Another thing that was a big deal to me was when I got to step into the ring for the first time in Madison Square Garden. It was the mecca. It was iconic. A lot of people didn’t get the chance to experience that. I savored all the times I wrestled at the Garden.
RF: You got your start in WWE as part of a storyline with Hulk Hogan. How was it working with Hulk and do you think he’ll back?
HJ: He has always been one of the most gracious guys and he’s been so good to me. In those days, if you got the seal of approval from Hulk Hogan, you were in. Back then, we only had three belts, the World Heavyweight, the Tag Team belts, and the Intercontinental belt. We didn’t have all these Cruiserweight, European, Hardcore belts that they do now. In my opinion, when you start bringing in too many belts, they start losing their value. Now when Hogan had that belt, no one was going to get it from him. He was the guy that was driving the vehicle. And the rest of us all played our roles. The tag team belts were for the different teams to fight over. The Intercontinental belt was for guys who would get in there and put in time in the ring, the real workhorses, like Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, guys like that. So for the rest of us, there wasn’t any chance of us getting a belt, and we knew it and we were cool with that. We were doing three shows a night sometimes. The one Hogan was on was always the biggest, the definite sellout. Hogan was always the main guy, and he was always good to me. He and Jimmy Hart each did a forward for my book and I appreciate that both of them did that. Hogan’s a great guy. I wish we were closer friends over the years but we lived like gypsies, all over the place. You don’t really get to see your buddies very often. But whatever he decides to do, I’m always on his side as a friend. As far as him coming back to WWE, you can never say never in the wrestling business.
RF: Early in your WWE run, you suffered a knee injury. How did that injury occur?
HJ: February 25, 1985. You never forget that. It was at the San Diego Sports Arena. I was managing Hulk and he was wrestling Brutus Beefcake. Johnny Valiant was his manager. It was a freak accident. I got kicked in my right knee and my kneecap actually moved to the middle of my thigh. It was horrible. That put me on the shelf. That was bad timing, because I was scheduled to do a lot of shows with Hulk in tag teams and I would’ve probably had a heck of a year monetarily but it just wasn’t meant to be. But they brought in some more hillbilly family members to fill the void, Uncle Elmer, Cousin Junior and Cousin Luke, so I could manage them until I got well.
RF: How did you enjoy working with Uncle Elmer, Cousin Junior, and Cousin Luke?
HJ: It was fun but it was also kind of frustrating because I would’ve rather been doing my own thing. Not being able to get in there and wrestle was kind of tough for me. And traveling while I was still injured was tough.
RF: You had a memorable feud with the late Mr. Fuji in which you wrestled in a series of tuxedo matches. How was that experience?
HJ: Fuji was a character, man. Doing those tuxedo matches in the Garden, oh my goodness (laughs). Hilarious stuff and he was one of a kind. He was a grizzled old veteran, such a tough guy. I got to be good friends with him outside the ring. A lot of these guys from back then are gone, they’re leaving me. Those memories are special.
RF: “Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy” is one of the most recognizable theme songs in WWE history. Did Jim Johnston, who recently left the company and wrote many of the WWE themes over the years, write it?
HJ: Great question but no. It was written by a great singer-songwriter down in Nashville named Marshall Chapman. At the time, she didn’t know who I was, I could’ve been the Easter Bunny (laughs). Since then we’ve become good friends. We got some famous players to play on it. The guy that did the music for the Deliverance theme was Eric Weissberg. He and his band did the music for “Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy” and I sung it of course. I recorded it in New York and Philadelphia. Then I did another song for WWE on their next album, Piledriver. It was a duet I recorded at the Hit Factory in New York.
RF: Right, “Waking Up Alone.” Who was the woman you sang with? She’s credited only as Gertrude.
HJ: You know what? I’ve never met that girl and I wouldn’t know her if I stepped on her toes. She did her part in Nashville, I did mine in New York and we never saw each other. I think she was a session singer. But I’d like to know who she is. I do my radio show in Nashville and I’ve been trying to find out.
RF: You’re the last of the characters from the classic 80s Rock n’ Wrestling cartoon to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. None of the wrestlers voiced their own characters. Do you know why that was?
HJ: It’s funny you mentioned that because someone brought that to my attention about a month ago and I’d never realized that. When we did Legends House, all of the guys in that house were in the Hall of Fame except for me. And they all got mad about it. Everyone except for me. I felt if the company didn’t think highly of me, then why am I in this Legends House with you all? We didn’t do the voices because of the travel schedule at the time. It was too time consuming. What we were doing in those days is not even considered today. One time I wrestled 63 straight nights, all over the country. And I flew 53 of those 63 dates. We did a tremendous amount of days in a row. So we just didn’t have the time to do something like voiceovers. There’s no telling how much WWE had to turn down as far as endorsements and opportunities because it would’ve taken away too much time from our ring stuff.
RF: You did commentary for WWE in the early 90s. How was it transitioning from being in the ring to the announcing booth?
HJ: I did the MSG Network with Gorilla Monsoon and also Lord Alfred Hayes, who was a good friend of mine, God bless him. That was a lot of fun for me. I also co-hosted All American Wrestling with Gene Okerlund on the USA Network and I was on the panel on Prime Time Wrestling too.
RF: You returned to WWE in the mid 90s as the manager of the Godwinns. How did you enjoy that run in your career?
HJ: I was Director of Sales for Coliseum Video at that time and me being back on TV was a good way to sell more videos. Coliseum Video was a big revenue earner because video was hot then. I got the opportunity to do that, my radio show, and a lot of other things not because I’m Jim Morris. It’s because I’m Hillbilly Jim. This business has afforded me so many things.
RF: Did you enjoy doing the Legends’ House show and would you be interested in doing a second season?
HJ: Absolutely. I enjoyed myself. But it was tough for the other guys on there. They couldn’t loosen up because they took away cell phones, computers, magazines, TV, newspapers – we had to be away from all of that. It was no problem for me. I loved it. But it was hard for those guys to give up that social media stuff, technology. So that caused a lot of stress and anxiety for them. I enjoyed every minute of it.
RF: You’ve been hosting your own country music radio show on SiriusXM since 2005. What can you tell us about it and is it something you’d like to continue doing for the foreseeable future?
HJ: It’ll be 13 years in July. My boss is Steven Van Zandt. They created a channel called Outlaw Country. I play classics, blues, southern rock. I enjoy doing it. If you look at my M.O., I don’t quit jobs. Once I got to the big leagues in WWE, I stayed with them. I never went to WCW or those other leagues because I didn’t want to take a step backwards. I realized where my bread was buttered. And it doesn’t get better than WWE. I also never changed from a good guy to a bad guy. I stayed Hillbilly Jim my whole career because that’s how I wanted to end it. So I’ll probably stay with this radio show for as long as they’ll have me.
RF: Any final comments to your fans?
HJ: Just that I can’t accept this Hall of Fame award for me only; it’s for my family, my friends, the friends I’ve made in this business, all the people of Kentucky, and finally, for all the fans. If it were not for the fans, accepting me from the very beginning, it would’ve never happened. The boys in the dressing room can get kind of jaded sometimes and want to talk about who’s a better worker, who’s a better wrestler in the ring, stuff like that. I never cared about trying to impress the boys in the back. I connected with the fans and told a story in the ring. There were guys out there who killed themselves doing crazy moves, the acrobatics, and they ended up crippled. They didn’t get it. This business is for the fans. I got over with the fans, not by doing crazy stuff. And now I’m in the Hall of Fame. If the fans went home happy after watching me, then I did my job.
Click here to purchase Jim’s book Hillbilly Jim: The Incredible Story of a Wrestling Superstar
Click here for information on Hillbilly Jim’s show on SiriusXM radio