Morris was born in Long Beach, California. Before beginning his musical career, he served in the US forces in the Vietnam War. Morris came to attention with saxophonist David Murray's groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Morris's brother, double bassist Wilber Morris, sometimes performed and recorded with Murray during this period. Morris led a group called Orchestra SLANG. The group features Drummer Kenny Wollesen, alto saxophonist Jonathon Haffner, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and others. He performed and presented regularly as part of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, held annually in New York City. Morris wrote most of the incidental music for the 1989 TV show A Man Called Hawk, which starred Avery Brooks, with whom he co-wrote the theme music, along with Stanley Clarke. He also played with well-known artist and would-be drummer A.R. Penck in 1990. For AudioBox Matera 1990: International Festival of Sound Experimentation (Pinotto Fava, curator), Morris created Spiriti Materani featuring Wayne Horvitz (keyboards, electronics), J. A. Deane (trombone, electronics), and Butch (cornet). The project took place in Madonna delle Virt, a 12th-century rupestrian church in Sasso Caveoso, Matera, Italy.
Morris is the originator of Conduction (a term borrowed from physics), a type of structured free improvisation where Morris directs and conducts an improvising ensemble with a series of hand and baton gestures. These conductions have received generally positive reviews, and are often considered quite unique, not quite fitting into any one musical genre. Critic Thom Jurek has written, "There are no records like Butch Morris' conduction sides, nor could there be, though he wishes there were." and Ed Hazell writes, "At his best, Morris can shake players out of their old habits, or place a microscope on one aspect of a musician's artistry and build an orchestral fantasia around it."
With Wayne Horvitz
With Frank Lowe
With David Murray