THREE CHORDS AND A CLOUD OF DUST - Scott Morgan (Easy Action)
Yeah, it's obvious that this has been a long time coming. Compiler and Real O Mind Records chief Geoff Ginsberg toyed with the idea of a Scott Morgan box set and put a version together - as a one-off for friends - many years ago. But now the real deal's here, with the involvement of Ginsberg as compiler and UK label Easy Action honcho Carlton Sandercock as issuer, and you'd be a fool to miss it.
But wait. There's a back story behind the back story and a catalyst for this release to have come about: You probably already know that Scott Morgan is one of American music's best kept secrets with a history stretching back to the British Invasion. He's woven into the heyday of soul and rock in the Motor City. Names like Sonic's Rendezvous Band, the Hydromatics, The Solution, Scots Pirates and Powertrane riddle his curriculum vitae. More recently, the spectre of ill-health (that'd be liver failure) has raised its head. Easy Action had been kicking around the idea of a collection for a while. They heard the news and pledged the proceeds of this box set to help cover Morgan's considerable medical expenses. Proof that good guys don't come last.
Knowing that you're helping someone apart, is this a smart buy? Sixty-two tracks brimful of quality say so. A third are unreleased, a handful more appear here for the first time on CD. Morgan's musical range is as commanding as that of his vocal. The cuts are roughly chronological and span his earliest days as blue eyed soul master for The Rationals through to the dirty soul of his star-studded solo band. In-between, there's a fair sprinkling of unusual gems, hard rock and departures from the expected - including an acoustic version of "City Slang", the greatest single ever recorded. This version won't blow you through a wall into next week like the original or unlock the mystery of Sonic's mumbled lyrics (Scott's always sung his own approximation) but your life will be enriched from hearing it.
Just as no Morgan live set would be complete without "Hijackin' Love", there's a steaming on-stage version presented for your listening pleasure. If you needed reminding what a capable vocalist Morgan is, look no further. Ditto for the quality of his bands with lesser-known outfits like Brothers of The Road and the '90s Scott Morgan Band shining.
The great thing is that Messrs Ginsberg and Sandercock haven't been afraid to search the nooks and crannies to compile this set. The "Cool Breeze" included is a version with muscular keyboard accompaniment that gives it a fresh perspective. There's a storming "Work Together" that's near the best thing in the box and a previously unheard track called "Gypsy Dancer" that would have done any Scots Pirates or Scott Morgan Band release of that vintage proud.
The late Ron Asheton and the (still-kicking) Deniz Tek feature on "1969", a Stooges cover committed live to tape with Morgan's underrated '90s-00s outfit Powertrane. There's some studio and live action from The Solution, the Nick Royale big soul band co-project that broke through commercially in Europe only to inexplicably have the brakes applied when it could have been huge. You even get the impossibly rare cover of Bob Seger and The System's "2+2=?" recorded for a 45 by Powertrane.
The packaging is the usual Easy Action top shelf job (props to Scots graphic artist Les Clark for delivering again.) Early orders come with a fourth disc of unreleased material and you can bundle it with a T-shirt. Both are available separately if you're late or opt that way.
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SCOTT MORGAN – Scott Morgan (Alive Naturalsound)
After the last great records with The Solution, Powertrane and The Hydromatics, Scott Morgan thought it was time to make a solo album. Thus the former singer and guitarist of the legendary Sonic's Rendezvous Band (and even before The Rationals) gathered around him some of the most respected musicians of the Motor City and pulled out an album that oozes black music and emotions out from every note.
Beside him are Matthew Smith (piano, guitar, vocals), Chris Taylor (guitar, vocals), Dave Shettler (drums, vocals) and above all, on bass, former Dirtbombs and producer (The White Stripes, among others) Jim Diamond who recorded the album at his famous Ghetto Recorders.
Scott Morgan, "The White Man With A Black Voice", once again does nothing to hide his roots and in the 11 tracks of this eponymous record makes a profession of faith in soul and R&B with a collection of songs equally divided between covers and originals.
The album starts with a reinforced version of Four Tops' "Something About You" that slips into the charming soul of "Fallin' For Ya" and the exuberant "She's Not Just Another Woman", an extraordinary piece of R&B originally released by Detroit's Eight Day in the early '70s. Among the originals it stands the effervescent funky-oriented "Summer Nights", enriched by choirs and vaguely reminiscent of "Purple Haze". While Jerry Butler's cover of "Since I Lost You Baby" shows us all Scott's lyricism. A hypnotic blues-rock riff stands in "Lucy May", while the groove emerges in "Mississippi Delta" (Bobbie Gentry) and "Memphis Time".
But it's not over yet: there are two superbly-made covers still - the charming "Do I Move You" by Nina Simone and the immortal Sam Cooke's number "Bring It On Home To Me" - and especially "Highway " in which, just for a moment, Scott Morgan and his bandmates leave the black music and drag to hi-energy rock'n'roll in the vein of Sonic's Rendezvous Band. A perfect conclusion for an album that seems to be the perfect picture of Scott Morgan's career: honest, passionate, uncompromised. - Roberto Calabrò
The manner of this album is as important as its contents. A bunch of originals that sit comfortably with the mix of well-known and less familiar soul tunes is one thing, but its the way they're delivered - self-assuredly and with a loose-tight feel and genuine warmth - makes what might have been merely a very good record into a great one.
Soul - generically and actually speaking - has always been at the heart of Scott Morgan's music. It's weaved its way through the sporadic successes and dry gullies of a career stretching back to the mid-'60s. Mutual attraction and his not inconsiderable vocal talents won him billing as the original master of blue-eyed soul. If he had to give a transfusion soul would be his blood type.
The band Scott assembled for this record had been backing him as the irRationals, a collection of Michigan like-minds and underground notables whose immediate ambition was to reprise the music of the Rationals, Morgan's original (pre-Sonic's Rendezvous Band) outfit and the subject of the recent "Think Rational!" re-issue. Putting them into the studio and skewing the material more broadly was an inspired idea.
Material aside, it's a different approach from the Hydromatics, Morgan's fire and brimstone European-based band, and his hometown-based Powertrane, whose adept mix of soul and road rock was formidable enough. Drummer Dave Shettler's feels suggest more of a groove and lock in nicely with Jim Diamond's warm bass and there's a stronger reliance on backing vocals. It's also nowhere as heavily arranged as The Solution, Morgan's chart action Swedish big band who inexplicably petered out as wider success beckoned.
This is the sound of a bunch of muso's who understand the material and enjoy playing it. The casual way "Mississippi Delta" builds, breaks down and then picks itself up again shows as much. I heard the early mixes and of all the songs, it was "Bring It On Home To Me" that didn't do much for me. Sequenced and in its final form, however, it's the way it sonically rolls out of bed, awakens and greets the day that is its strength.
If you're tackling well-known covers like "Since I Lost My Baby" you need to bring something fresh to the party and Morgan and Co nail that requirement in all departments.
Aside from the previously mentioned members, longtime Powertrane collaborator Chris Box Taylor moves to guitar and relishes the opportunity with some fantastic playing. Matthew Smith alternates between six strings and keys with ease and Morgan sets aside his trust Telecaster to focus on vocals.
Eddie Baranek's guest guitar on the band-composed "Memphis Time" adds a fresh tonal twist. Lyrically, it's a tribute to soul music - by someone living in it.
It may not matter to many people that Scott Morgan could be the most underrated rocker in America, but the fact remains. Sure, it took decades for the recorded legacies of his two great bands, ‘60s garage kings and blue-eyed soul brothers the Rationals and ‘70s Detroit underground supergroup Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, to see legit release, but Morgan mined the SRB motherlode on ultra-obscure releases like "Rock Action" (released in 1989 on the French Revenge label) and "Revolutionary Means" (released in 1995 on tiny Ann Arbor indie Schoolkids) that combined high energy rock with gritty R&B and heartland songwriting that skirted the fringes of Springsteen-Mellencamp territory.
Morgan emerged to mere semi-obscurity with "Dodge Main" (released in 1996 on the same label that just released this self-titled solo debut), a Detroit energy orgy in collusion with co-conspirators Wayne Kramer and Deniz Tek, and spent the next decade touring and recording with two bands: the Hydromatics (formed by head Hellacopter Nicke Royale and Dutch punk pioneer Tony Slug with the express intention of recording the SRB canon) in Europe and Powertrane (with ex-Rob Tyner’s MC5/Torpedos/Mitch Ryder guitarist Robert Gillespie) in the States. The Hellacopters association culminated in The Solution, a horn-driven R&B outfit that was a big hit in Scandinavia.
Now he’s finally released a “solo” album, surrounded by a crack cadre of younger Detroit/Ann Arbor garage rock guys including White Stripes producer Jim Diamond, who plays bass here as well as sharing production duties with Outrageous Cherry’s Matthew Smith (guitar) and the Sights’ Dave Shettler (drums). Rounding out the studio band is Mazinga guitarist Chris “Box” Taylor, who must have been chafing at the bit to pick up his main axe during all those years he spent playing bass in Powertrane. For the first time since his Rationals daze, Scott puts down his Telecaster to concentrate on vocalizin’.
Morgan thinks this album sounds like Exile on Main St. – funny how rock guys of a certain age still use the Stones as a signifier – but it’s really more like a good blues session with a really relaxed vibe, which actually goes through four distinct “movements.” Things kick off with a rocked-up cover of the Four Tops’ “Something About You” that works off a chunky Chuck Berry groove overlaid with a little Velvets “White Light/White Heat” sycopation. Beefy backup vocals – an element that’s been missing from the mix since Scott’s late-‘90s resurgence -- bolster his raspy lead. Scott’s “Fallin’ For Ya” juxtaposes a slightly modified version of the riff from “Fortune Teller” with jazzy descending chords; the band chugs along nicely.
Jackie Wilson’s “She’s Not Just Another Woman” is wish fulfillment for these feedback-scorched ears. Some of my favorite Morgan music is the vocal harmony-rich Northern soul style of the Rationals’ “Temptation ‘Bout to Get Me” (a Knight Brothers cover) and “I Need You” (the slow one, not the Kinks song), and this is Scott’s first foray onto that turf since the reunited Rationals cut a couple of tracks in the early ‘90s (seek out the worthy odds-and-sods anthology Medium Rare to hear ‘em). On “Summer Nights,” another Morgan original, the wah-wah guitar groove and heavily reverbed backing vocals recall the sound of Norman Whitfield-era Temptations – a good thing. Speaking of the Tempts, next side up is a note-for-note cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Since I Lost My Baby,” which makes me nostalgic for the days when the Rationals’ Steve Correll used to play David Ruffin to Scott’s Eddie Kendricks.
Things take a bluesy turn with Scott’s “Lucy May,” a straight and kinda stiff four-on-the-floor I-IV-V shuffle (which might sound pretty ordinary until one considers the fact that rock musos under 30 seem to have lost any comprehension of this form). Here and on the next couple of tracks, the acid-blooze guitar textures evoke early Funkadelic flashbacks. “Mississippi Delta” might come as a surprise to anyone (like myself) who didn’t realize that Bobbie Gentry wrote any songs besides “Ode to Billie Joe,” but Morgan’s that kind of musical archaeologist. The arrangement of Nina Simone’s sultry, sexy minor-key blues “Do I Move You” owes everything to the Magic Sam classic “All Your Love” on which it’s modeled.
Lyrically, “Memphis Time” evokes the spirit of that city in the same way as Scott’s “Detroit” did for the Motor City, but the backing is all Motown (albeit a lot busier and dirtier than anything the Funk Brothers ever laid down). Sights frontman Eddie Baranek contributes guitar to that track, and second vocals and guitar to a “Bring It On Home To Me” that adds nothing to Sam Cooke’s, the Animals’, or anybody else’s version. The rockin’ “Highway” takes it out firing on all cylinders.
While this album isn’t exactly pushing back any boundaries, it’s as succinct a statement of Scott’s signature strengths as we’re likely to hear, and on a long-lived label that’s likely to keep it available for more than a couple of seasons – a major beef with much of his catalog. You still can’t live without Big Beat’s double-disc Rationals retrospective and at the very least, Alive’s Masonic Auditorium for SRB archivismo, but going forward, when I want to pull somebody’s coat to Scott Morgan and time is tight, this is the disc I’ll reach for. - Ken Shimamoto
MEDIUM RARE - Scott Morgan (Real O Mind)
Geoff Ginsberg and Real O Mind Records had begun the process of better acquainting the world with the recorded works of the often underrated and under-appreciated former Rationals/Sonics Rendezvous and now Hydromatics guitarist / vocalist (and Detroit rock-n-roll elder statesman) Scott Morgan, with the "Take a Look" 7" single. This is continued to some degree in on the 14 tracks which make up "Medium Rare, 1970-2000" but also provides a wider view of this white/black soul rock-n-roller.
Opening the CD is the down and funky Al Green penned "Full of Fire" and some could easily mistake this for that stockstandard modern blues/funk by the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, etc., but this track is saved with the rock-n-soul vocals from Morgan and the impressive lead guitar work, which crashes headlong into an abrupt end.
Another impressive track is "Rhythm Communication", which according to the meticulously prepared liner notes was recorded back in the early 80s and features an intro riff reminiscent of The Stooges 'We will Fall', followed by a "We gotta get outta this place" inspired bass guitar line and then combined with a funky backbeat, stylish female backing vocals and then breaks into some blues/funk boogie all with a very mainstream 80s-styled production sound.
Tracks four to six and track 10 are performed by The Rationals featuring Scott Morgan on vocals and lead guitar and provide some of the highlights of the CD.
"Hold on Baby" recalls the likes of Sam & Dave and Otis Redding, with fine lead vocals from Morgan, backing vocals from Steve Correll and Terry Trabandt (whom also contributes some solid but funky bass guitar), clever brass section arrangements and proves white guys can play soul/funk like the aforementioned legends of the genre.
"The Monkey Time" also features some top notch musicianship and another fine lead vocal on this amazing Curtis Mayfield-penned tune. Two marked departures follow with "Free Rock" (which features some heavy duty rhythm section work and scorching, seering lead guitar work) and "Pop Poppies" (which brings down the mood, volume and tempo with rhythm guitar work almost reminiscent of Radio Birdman's 'Man with Golden Helmet' and some spooky, garage/pyschedelia inspired lead guitar noodling).
Track 11 is "Cool Breeze" and might be known to fans of Sonics Rendezvous. This version wisely does not attempt to match the original's monstrous power, but still has appeal with some interesting use of harmonica. The final listed track "Satisfyin' Love" is probably the major surprise to fans of Scott Morgan through his time in Sonics Rendezvous - it's a Neil Young/Flying Burrito Brothers/Gram Parsons/Eagles- inspired easy-going country rock tune, complete with slick Fender Telecaster lead guitar work and Rolling Stones styled keyboards but still surprises with an almost folk rock inspired middle.
The final (unlisted) track 'Josie's Well' is a further excursion into acoustic music for Scott Morgan. As the song explores the topics of Scotland, whiskey and poetry and is performed with acoustic guitars
Three of the tracks are recorded in the 1970s, two are recorded in the 1980s and the rest are recorded since the 90s, with "Satisfier" recorded in 2000. Eight of the 14 tracks are penned by Scott Morgan and demonstrate his abilities in writing an impressive variety of songs. The CD also features guest appearances from the likes of Robert Gillespie, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Asheton.
"Medium Rare, 1970-2000" provides an unique insight into the recorded music and songwriting of Scott Morgan and continually surprises with diversions into soul, funk, R 'n' B, heavy rock, country rock and folk.
- Simon Li
The last non-sellout in a line of powerful, soulful, R&B-influenced rock singers from the '60s, Scott Morgan's had a lot of notoriety the last few years, since the world of Rockdom at large belatedly discovered the joys of Sonic's Rendezvous Band, the late-seventies Dee-troit "supergroup" that he fronted in tandem with (and later in opposition to) ex-MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith.
Had the recording of their April 1978 stand at the Second Chance in Ann Arbor (released 20 years later on Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts as "Sweet Nothing") appeared when the band was still happenin', the whole history of Rawwwk as we know it might well have been changed. A dynamo of a band with great songs, two distinctive lead singers in Morgan and Smith, mighty guitar damage from Sonic (who had evolved so far as a player, singer, and writer since the Five's heyday that he almost seemed like a different musician), and the powerhouse engine room of Gary Rasmussen (ex-Up) on bass and Scott "Rock Action" Asheton (ex-Stooges) on drums, the Rendezvous seemed unstoppable on paper but had the great misfortune to be treading the boards at a time when disco and cover bands had usurped the place of passionate, fiery original rock'n'roll on the evening stage, and recognition outside their native Michigan eluded them (although their legend loomed large).
Much of Scott's recent, uh, high visibility has come as a result of his association (instigated by his ex-manager, Philadelphian Geoff Ginsberg) with Swedish rockarama juggernaut the Hellacopters. The 'copters wore their reverence for SRB on their sleeves, even covering the Rendezvous' one released recording "City Slang" on their "Payin' the Dues" album and Scott's "Heaven" on a six-song EP. Eventually, Scott journeyed from his home in Ann Arbor to Noo Yawk City to meet his Swedish acolytes, share a chunk of their stage, and record a couple of singles ("Downright Blue" b/w "Thanks for Nuthin'" and "Slow Down, Take A Look" b/w "16 With a Bullet") for Sub Pop. That meeting led to the release of an album on the 'copters' then-current label, White Jazz, by the Hydromatics, an aggregation consisting of Scott, Hellacopter guitarist Nick Royale on drums (his original instrument from early Entombed days), and Dutch SRB fans Tony Slug (ex-Nitwitz, Loveslug) on guitar and Theo Brouwer (ex-Nitwitz) on bass. That album, "Parts Unknown," was a solid slab of Detroit Rock Action, including covers of four SRB toons as well as Scott's dynamite rendition of Sonic's opus "Baby Won't Ya" from the MC5's best/last album, "High Time." A new Hydromatics album was recorded in April and awaits release.
In mid-1999, Scott regrouped with the SRB riddim boyzzz (both of whom had worked with him off and on through the years as the Scott Morgan Band and Scots Pirates) with ex-Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek (who had previously played with Scott and Brother Wayne Kramer on the 1995 Detroit roots-tribute "Dodge Main" for Alive) in the lead guitar slot to play a one-off gig at the Magic Stick in Detroit as the Rendezvous Band. The resultant recording was the premiere release on Ginsberg and Dave Champion's Real O Mind label and proof positive that the SRB vibe was still strong.
With all the attention on SRB, it's easy to forget that before that band's wayward trajectory, Scott had already experienced teenaged stardom as leader of the Rationals, Ann Arbor garage kings transformed (under the tutelage of their manager and A-Square Records honcho Jeep Holland) into blue-eyed soul brothers supreme, covering Otis Redding's "Respect" a full year before Aretha made it her own, cutting a string of strong singles for labels including A-Square, Cameo-Parkway, and Capitol, and a classic but damn-near-unobtainable album on Crewe. Their late-period signature tune "Guitar Army" provided the title for a book of Detroit poet/music critic/revolutionary shill/dope martyr John Sinclair's "street and prison writings," and became a Motor City anthem on a par with Bob Seger's "Heavy Music" and the Five's "Kick Out the Jams" its own self. And it's as a tonsil-tearing R&B belter and versatile songwriter that Scott, in this writer's opinion, really excels, but it's been hard to hear those sides of his work (his solo albums on Revenge and Schoolkids being rarer than hen's teeth these days). Until now.
In "Medium Rare," Geoff Ginsberg has assembled a tasty smorgasbord of Morgan rarities drawn from three full decades of magnificent obscurity. Chronologically, the train starts rolling in 1970, with the original Rationals' very last studio outing, a remarkably soulful take of the Walt Disney "Song of the South" chestnut "Zip-a-Dee-Doodah," with guitarist Steve Correll proving that there was more than one great singer in the band. Also included are three of the four studio tracks cut during a brief reformation in 1992 (with Scott handling lead guitar chores): a remake of their 1967 hit, Sam "The Man" Taylor's "Baby Hold On," a poppy, horn-driven cover of Major Lance's great dance smash "Monkey Time," and "Open the Door," which actually sounds like it could've been recorded by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes or one of those late seventies R&B-based outfits that were so popular in the wake of Broooce (and believe you me, pilgrim, it's only a manifestation of the vagaries of fate that Scott never achieved the success of Broooce Springstone, John Cougar Melonhead, et. al. - proof positive, if any more were needed, that there's "No Justice In Rock 'n' Roll"). There's so much joy in these grooves that I defy anyone with a heartbeat and a pulse who digs music to hear 'em without at least smiling or, more to the point, dancing.
Also well-represented are the '98-'99 studio efforts of Scott's "L.A. band," the Jones Bros. - Detroit natives John Burke (drums) and Jubei Hughes (bass), and Hendrixoid guitarist Manny Alvarez (former guitar tech for Beach Boy Carl Wilson!). The jewels in that particular crown as represented here are a spirited cover of Al Green's "Full of Fire," with Morgan at his fire-eating best, and the moody, Near Eastern-sounding "Pop Poppies," an ode to MTV which boasts a soaring, arcing solo from Alvarez. Also noteworthy are the funky rock workouts "Radio Hollywood" and "Free Rock," which wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of Wayne Kramer's Epitaph albums.
The remainder of "Medium Rare" is devoted to demo and "basement" sessions, but that's no reflection on the music's quality. "Cool Breeze" (in a more straight-ahead rockin' version - laced with blazing dual guitars - than the one that appeared on Scott's 1996 "Revolutionary Means" album) and the countryish "Satisfying Love" were cut in April 1978 (while the rest of Sonic's Rendezvous Band were touring Europe as Iggy Pop's backing band) with the "Brothers of the Road" band, including former SRB bassist Ron Cooke, keyboardist Harry Phillips (ex-Mitch Ryder's Detroit), and guitarist Steve Dansby.
From late '83, "Rhythm Communication" features the first edition of the Scott Morgan Band, with Scott Asheton providing "extra drums" while Scott's brother Johnny Morgan lays down the solid four-on-the floor, Ron Cooke again on bass, and Gary Rasmussen's sometime employer Mike Katon on guitar. The track starts out funky, then breaks down into an Allman Bros.-like jam (with Morgan and Katon both providing the sting on guitar) over a shuffle beat. From 1984, "She's Wild" has Scott backed by a stripped-down unit of his brother Johnny, Gary Rasmussen, and Katon. The album ends on a pensive note, with an acoustic bonus-track version of "Josie's Well" (originally heard on the "Rock Action" album) that features Gary Rasmussen on cello.
For new initiates, "Medium Rare" provides a worthy introduction to the depth and breadth of Scott Morgan's substantial talent. For long-time fans, it's absolutely essential. Hell, it's THE BEST MORGAN COLLECTION CURRENTLY AVAILABLE and the most joyously rocking - maybe even just the BEST - record I've heard so far this year. Now if I can just live long enough to experience a Scott Morgan LIVE set that incorporates some of these great jams (not to mention the Rationals' hits and some hotsoes off his early solo recs) in addition to the Rendezvous stuff... - Ken Shimamoto
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