The ailing—though, hopefully, recovering—Motor City rocker gets anthologized on an expansive three-disc box set that covers his entire career, from the sixties onward. Check out our video tribute to Morgan following the text.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The name Scott Morgan may not mean much to the larger scope of the universe, musical or otherwise. But to a certain segment of rock & roll fans, it’s a moniker that immediately invokes reverence. As a member of the ‘60s Detroit rock mafia, peer to better known names like the MC5, the Stooges, Mitch Ryder and Bob Seger, Morgan was as responsible as anyone for the high energy mix of rock and soul that’s come to define an indelible strain of American music ever since. The singer/guitarist has continued to mine that vein for 45 years, starting with the Rationals and moving into Sonic’s Rendezvous Band (his highest profile groups, if only after the fact) and on through the present day, both under his own name and with a trunkful of short-lived bands and side projects. Besides the rock/soul blend in which he’s trafficked since the beginning, the main constant through all his work is his voice, a rich, resonant instrument with which he can croon a R&B ballad with as much conviction as wail a blazing rocker. (Below: The Rationals)
After decades of obscurity, Morgan’s notoriety began rising in the ‘90s, thanks to a revival in the Detroit sound that took root in Scandinavia with the Hellacopters (who made a career out of rewriting the SRB hit “City Slang”), helped along by the continued viability of peer Wayne Kramer and the bands the MC5 guitarist worked with or mentored (the Street Walkin’ Cheetahs, the BellRays). Since the turn of the millennium, Morgan has been busier than ever, recording several albums with a few different names and working steadily.
Which makes his current predicament horribly ironic. Felled by liver disease and the discovery of a malignant tumor in his stomach, Morgan has been out of action for over a year, facing both a long (but so far, steady) recovery and a mountain of medical bills. After the usual round of benefit concerts, Easy Action took the next step: a benefit album. Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust takes on the momentous task of combing through Morgan’s back pages, compiling sides from four decades of music, starting with the Rationals and ending with his 2010 self-titled solo record. Over the course of three disks, Three Chords gives as comprehensive a look at the career of the ultimate journeyman rocker as we could ever want.
Disk one, subtitled Lovin’ and Learnin’, rightfully begins with the Rationals, one of the longest-lasting of the original wave of non-Motown Detroit rockers, though oddly the least successful. The band’s story has been told comprehensively elsewhere, namely in the Big Beat label’s compilation Think Rational! and reissue of the band’s sole, eponymous LP. But the five songs included here at least give a glimpse into the group’s creative arc, as it evolved from blue-eyed soul (covers of Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Chuck Jackson’s “I Need You,” the self-penned “Look What You’re Doing to Me Baby”) to psychedelicized power rock (“Guitar Army”). This disk is also where you’ll find his work with Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, the de facto Detroit supergroup he formed with the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith,” Gary Rasmussen from The Up and Stooges drummer Scott Asheton. Again, SRB has been thoroughly covered elsewhere, particularly on Easy Action’s own six-disk eponymous box set, so the samples here come solely from the Morgan-generated part of the band’s songbook, including the raving single “Electrophonic Tonic” and live takes on “Mystically Yours,” “Power & Glory” and a damn near apocalyptic “Asteroid B-612.” (No “City Slang,” since the SRB version was written and sung by guitarist Smith.)
But Lovin’ and Learnin’ covers more than Morgan’s best-known acts. A handful of tracks come from Guardian Angel, an early ‘70s group with fellow ex-Rational Terry Trabandt. The previously unreleased live and demo cuts, including the original “Cool Breeze” and “Hijackin’ Love” and covers of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” and Eddie Floyd’s “Things Get Better” indicate an artist in transition, still working out the best way to bring soul and hard rock together. Morgan’s late ‘70s/early ‘80s combo Brothers of the Road eases up on the R&B influence (as much as it can, given Morgan’s impossibly soulful voice) for a rootsier, jammier feel, more in line with what AOR radio might have wanted. Unfortunately, new wave and disco had already supplanted this style in the music industry, and solid rockers “Satisfying Love” and “Love & Learn,” fist-raising anthem “Pirate Music” and acid folk rocker “Gypsy Dancer” remained unreleased until now. Disk one rounds out with both sides of Morgan’s 1973 excellent solo single, “Take a Look” b/w “Soul Mover,” and “Come On Baby” and “She’s Wild,” as well as early ‘80s demos from the ever-evolving Scott Morgan Group, which included his SRB bandmates Rasmussen and drummer Asheton, plus singer Kathy Deschaine, who would stick with him over the next decade.
Dubbed Sticking To Your Guns, disk two picks up in the mid-‘80s, as the Group became the Scott Morgan Band (pictured above) Three cuts from the long out of print and extremely rare SMB LP Rock Action (also reissued digitally by Easy Action) smooth out Morgan’s rock ‘n’ soul sound just enough to be presentable to polite company without killing its spirit – cf. the celebratory tribute “Detroit” and the snappy “Heaven and Earth,” on which Morgan acquits himself startlingly well on guitar. After a brief Rationals reunion represented by a cover of Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time,” the Band evolved into Scots Pirates, who released a pair of albums with lead guitarists Brian Delaney and Bobby East. Some of the Pirates rockers suffer a bit from the production, which hits a strange midpoint between low budget and slick. But rocking tunes like “Stick to Your Guns” and “Other End of the City” hold up nicely, especially when supplemented by “Josie’s Well” and “The Road Home,” a pair of acoustic radio sessions that show yet another side to Morgan’s vision.
The rest of Sticking To Your Guns jumps around through various projects. Dodge Main, the Detroit supergroup featuring Morgan, Deniz Tek (leader of Australia’s Radio Birdman, but a Michigan native) and Wayne Kramer, rips through Iggy & the Stooges’ “I Got a Right,” followed by Morgan shouting through a pair of radio session covers of Rationals standards “Respect” and “Leavin’ Here” (the Eddie Holland single made famous by Motorhead’s cover) with Detroit garage rockers Fortune & Maltese. The disk also collects both sides of a powerhouse 7-inch single Morgan recorded with the Hellacopters, sparking the singer’s continuing friendship with head ‘copter Nicke Andersson; both “Downright Blue” (penned by Andersson) and Morgan’s classic “16 With a Bullet” slash and burn. The odd cuts out are “Endless Summer,” a bizarrely smooth and jazzy unreleased tune from Morgan’s solo archives, and (finally) “City Slang,” performed acoustically in 1997 by a pickup group called Motor Jam, both of which prove that Morgan can leave his self-created box any time he chooses. The disk concludes with “Dangerous,” the first single from the Hydromatics, a collaboration between Morgan, Andersson and Tony Slug from Amsterdam punks the Nitwitz that reiterates why his rock & roll jones refuses to die.
Morgan’s collaborations with Scandinavian rockers dominate disk three, also known as The New Millennium and Beyond the Sound. Various permutations of the Hydromatics contribute tracks from their three rare LPs and the vaults, highlighted by the blasting “Getting There is Half the Fun,” “Standing at the Juke” and “R.I.P. Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the horns-kissed “Tumblin’ Down.” The Solution, Morgan’s return to his soul roots with Nicke Andersson (the duo is pictured above) is also well-represented by a half-dozen songs from the band’s two studio LPs, plus some live cuts. The duo’s ability to emulate various ‘60s and ‘70s soul styles shines on “Would You Change Your Mind,” “You Gotta Come Down” and the startlingly lush but wonderful “Top of the Stairs.”
Morgan’s most recent project Powertrane also pops up, but gets oddly short shrift. The band, which features former Mitch Ryder/Rob Tyner guitarist Robert Gillespie as Morgan’s latest six-string foil, acquits itself well on covers of Bob Seger’s “2 + 2 = ?” and the Stooges’ “1969,” the latter recorded live with axemen Deniz Tek and Ron Asheton in attendance, but the only tune from the group’s excellent studio LP Beyond the Sound to appear is the title track, a killer. Holes get filled with “Future/Now,” a MC5 cover from Morgan’s live album with Tek and the Italian trio 3 Assassins, “Satisfier,” a cool, previously unreleased solo rocker, and tunes from his self-titled 2010 solo album. The latter’s “Mississippi Delta” finds Morgan happily dragging Nina Simone through the blues rock mud, but previously unreleased covers of Sam Cooke (a rollicking “Soothe Me”) and Nolan Strong & the Diablos (an a cappella “The Wind”) also generate excitement.
Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust not only gives an overview of Morgan’s long career, but also proves how consistent he’s been over the course of 45 years. A box set seems like a big investment, in time as well as money, but if you’re a fan of blue-eyed rock and soul, you owe it to yourself to sample Scott Morgan.
Mo’ Morgan: http://www.scottmorganmusic.com/
Scott Morgan “Full Of Fire” (audio)
Scott Morgan Plays the Music of the Rationals 2009: “I Need You”
Rationals “Handbags and Gladrags” (audio)
Rationals “Leavin’ Here” (1966 TV appearance)
Powertrane Live in Chicago 2008
Sonic’s Rendezvous Band “City Slang”
Hydromatics Live Amsterdam 2001