David Fricke calls Scott Morgan one of the great voices in rock & roll and it is no exaggerated boast. Morgan has been singing soulful rock & roll since he was knee-high to a grasshopper in the early sixties. By the time he was 16 years old Morgan formed his own band, The Rationals and he began a long hit-making journey through the mid-sixties and into the seventies. Their manager Jeep Holland was instrumental in helping the young band develop and find their own distinct voice.
Morgan’s soul deep version of the Otis Redding chestnut Respect predated Aretha Franklin’s version by several months. It was rumored that Atlantic Records boss Jerry Wexler was inspired to have Aretha record the song after hearing the Rationals punk garage version on A2 Records, which was bought out by Cameo Parkway in 1967.
From then on in the floodgates were wide open and anything was possible. The Rationals released a stream of blue-eyed soul hits that rivaled anything on the national scene including such spectacular songs as Hold On Baby, Leaving Here, and I Need You. They toured extensively with several notable bands including close alliances with the Yardbirds and the Rascals. They opened up for the Rascals in 1966 at Daniel’s Den and were invited to tour with them in Florida. They were kindred sprits with Al Kooper and the Blues Project who were labeled New York’s Jewish Beatles. A few years later Kooper asked Morgan to join his new band as the lead singer, as well as reaching out to Dick Wagner to become the band’s lead guitarist. Both Wagner and Morgan declined the offer. Kooper eventually named the band Blood Sweat & Tears.
In 1968, The Rationals were re-working several different cover songs including Sugar Babe, 16 Tons, Hit the Road Jack, Good Morning Little School Girl, I Put a Spell on You, Fever and a medley of Moby Grape tunes. In 1970 they released their eponymous LP for Crewe Records. It is a forgotten treasure that revealed the Rational’s growth as mature artists. The LP contained a hodgepodge of R&B, Soul, Jazz and Motown. The song list included Barefootin’, Temptation ‘Bout To Get Me, Guitar Army, Handbags & Gladrags and the closer HA-HA that incorporated jazz, rock and an avant-garde flute solo by Scott Morgan.
By the end of summer the Rationals parted ways and Scott Morgan began a musical journey that was as inspired as it was organically pleasing. He continued gigging with people from the Detroit scene that he knew and trusted. It led from his work with Guardian Angel to a series of events that led to the formation of the legendary Sonic Rendezvous Band. Morgan and former MC5 guitarist Sonic Smith’s partnership was a match made in rock & roll heaven. They complimented each other’s craft in an effortless manner building upon each other’s musical strengths. From there Scott joined forces with ex-Mc5 guitarist Wayne Kramer as Dodge Main, followed by an album and a tour with the Dutch punkers the Hydromatics. In early 2004, Scott released Medium Rare, an incredible LP of music that re-established Morgan as one of our greatest R&B singers in America.
In an Exclusive interview with Review Magazine, Morgan took a look back at his storied career and talks about his collaboration with the Sights, one of Detroit’s great rock & roll bands in the new millennium
Scott How did radio influence the career of the Rationals?
There was a big change in radio because all playlists went from singles to albums and from regional markets to national programming, and at the same time ham radio was dominated by, what’s the word, AM radio was 50,000 watts but it was amplitude and modulation so you could hear it at WKNX or WSAM in Saginaw. You could hear it the entire eastern half of the United States until sunset when the regulations just completely dissolve, and you can broadcast and signal just about any place in the world. At the same time FM radio took over. It has about a 50-mile radius, and it was programmed by a major programmer so that complete radio markets like Taz would have a market that would be the same in Memphis that it would be in Flint or Detroit, so that made a big difference to everybody because that way you’d be making singles.
When did you decide to record the album?
At that point we decided that we really needed to make an album so we could compete in the burgeoning LP market. We went in and we recorded an album at Artie Field’s studio, and we did it ourselves. We hired a producer named Fred Saxon and we worked with our manager at the time. We’d been managed by Jeep Holland. He did our singles recording up until the album. Our new manager was Roy Feldmann who we met at the Grande Ballroom…From the “Swingin’ Time,” the TV Show. That was also syndicated.
There were two services in the area. One was “Swingin’ Time” in Windsor which pretty much covered the same area, the radio station that was syndicated, and then the other one was “Upbeat” in Cleveland. That was very similar. It was also syndicated. The license was from the United States. So we recorded the album, and we tried to do pretty much what we’d been doing with our singles but, you know, in the long form, 12 songs or whatever. So we recorded some originals including guitar lead and a lot of like soul covers. We did a Don Jon song, we had a Howard Parker song. We did a cover of “Handbags and Gladrags,” which was a British song as well as “Ha-Ha” - a song we wrote that was somewhat avant-garde and I actually played flute on that cut.
So, you play several instruments
I took flute lessons. My sister had a flute, and she had used it and played it in high school and then stopped using it. So I took it and started teaching myself and taking lessons and then I put a pickup on it so you could eventually play it through an amplifier, and an Echoplex which is a, it’s a really nice tape-delay unit that uses real tape. So you got a real nice sound. When I played harmonica, I played that through an amplifier like Paul Butterfield and that had a nice sound to it… I played the saxophone for a while. I played a lot of percussion. I played some drums. I played those on stage. I moved on to piano.
Can you tell me a story about the song Guitar Army?
Oh, it was just something that I cooked up. It was during the Viet Nam War. I was only 16, and the MC5 were talking about, you know, revolution and everything, and I was trying to come up with a … It was kind of like an answer song to like “Motor City’s Burnin,” you know, the idea of like burning everything, destroying everything, like how about if we took guitars and made an army out of that, kind of like a musical alternative to war. John Sinclair used the title of my song for his book. For a year or two he had a company called the Rainbow Company. They managed us…that would’ve been about ’71, ’72.
Well, you probably hear this all the time. I really loved your 45’s with the Rationals: “Respect,” Hold On Baby.” Respect predated, you know, what’s her name, Aretha. “Leavin’ Here,” “I Need You.” Can you comment on those, what your thoughts are?
Otis Redding wrote the song for Jackie Wilson and so they decided to put it out themselves with another singer but it was never a hit, though everyone was convinced that it could be a hit. We tried it twice actually, second time was a charm.
“Hold On Baby.”
“Hold On Baby” was after “Respect,” and we were looking for something strong in terms of soul music. “Respect” was written by Otis Redding and then we recorded it and then Aretha Franklin recorded it after us and we had to compete with her, and it was a great arrangement. I think her sister, Carolyn did the arrangement. She was kind of peaking at the time she did recorded it. She was just getting started with Atlantic Records, and so it was perfect for her. “Hold On Baby” was arranged at a different studio, Tera Shirma Studio in Detroit. We had them produce the harmony on it. Bob Seger was a great singer, and at the time he had a really strong voice. You know, he was pretty young when he did that and so his vocal comes out real strong. Oh, let’s see. I was trying to figure out who wrote what. Jeff Berry and Ellen Greenwich wrote it. They were a New York songwriter team. So after “Hold On, Baby” we did “I Need You.” That was originally by Chuck Johnson. “Hold On Baby” was originally by Sam Hawkins.
You sang your ass off. “I Need You” is just terrific. You nailed it.
The Chuck Johnson song wasn’t one of his big hits. We decided to cover that, and it did pretty well in Detroit. Everything was regional back then, so just because it was a hit in Detroit didn’t mean it would be a hit in New York or Los Angeles.
I couldn’t understand that, those were all just wonderful 45s. I don’t understand why they didn’t go farther. Do you think there was a problem with promotion?
Well, something happened around the time that we did “Respect.” All of our records had come out on A-Square Records, which was Jeep Holland’s label, and we had broken records like on KNX and TNC, … and then we would try to break the records in other Midwest markets like Cleveland or Chicago or Lansing. At the time that “Respect” came out, we followed it with “Hold On Baby,” and then our record company, which was Cameo Parkway, dissolved and there were a bunch of us that were on the label. Bob Seger was on the label, Question Mark and the Mysterians were on the label and the Rationals were on Cameo Parkway records, so we were all without labels, so Bob and the Rationals went to Capital where we recorded “I Need You” and the sound that was real famous in Detroit. We released that on Capital and Bob went to Capital too. So we both went from Cameo Parkway to Capital. He stayed with it, and we didn’t. We decided not to stay on Capital. We went to Guitar Army because things, everything was changing so much that we wanted to do something a little more modern and break out of the shadow of soul music, the direction that we’d been going in which was a great direction, but we wanted to do something, you know, a little more rock-oriented.
Do you think it confused your fan base?
Yes, quite a bit. It did things to everybody, the radio stations, the fan base.
What were they saying?
Well, the radio would just say, “Well, we don’t know what to do with it because your last record was Cameo Parkway and your next record is Guitar Army, and we’re trying to figure out, we don’t know what to do.” We didn’t really have a label when we put that out. We did it on a local label in Detroit, so it wasn’t really released nationally until we signed an album deal with Crewe Records to release the album.
Now were you were close enough with the MC5 and some of the others so that you would be on each other’s recordings?
Sure. We were on the “High Time” record and the very last songs, kind of a percussion intervention. And it’s me and Terry Trabandt from the Rationals, my brother, David, Bob Seger, and a few other people. We just all grabbed percussion instruments and played right at the beginning of the song. So you know, all the bands, the tour bands at the time, were very close…at first he played on the second version of “I Need You” that we recorded…our manager was thinking that was going to be a hit, so he recorded it a second time. It still wasn’t a hit.
You have this incredible voice. How did you find your voice, your true Scott Morgan voice?
Well first we didn’t sing at all. We played our own instrumentals. Like we would cover the Ventures version of “Walk Don’t Run,” obviously the Chuck Berry song, “Walk Don’t Run,” a jazz song by Johnny Smith… We didn’t really sing, and then by the time the Beatles showed up, we figured that we could, you know, add that to our show, to sing, and so we started singing. The first song I sang in public was “Money” by Barrett Strong. Then we started, you know, covering other songs, the Kinks and Zombies and all that great stuff. We really liked all that stuff.
Eventually we got into rhythm and blues and singing, you know. We liked more blues stuff. Originally we probably would be singing like “High-Heel Sneakers” or something like that, and then we started writing after that. I kind of ended up being the lead singer and Steve Carell and Terry Trabandt sang the harmonies, and they were really good at it. We worked with Bob Dell quite a bit at Mt. Holly. He played our records, and we played one of the main places to play in the area, Fenton Armory. Those would have been the main places, you know.
I heard that the camaraderie was really striking, that you guys did hang out together, did play some touch football.
Yeah, everybody got along back then. As a matter of fact, we would sit in one of those bands, you know, when we were kids coming out into the market. They’d be willing to hang out with you, you know, especially with the local bands. There was a lot of interaction going on between the bands.
I want to talk about Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. Did any of these record companies, agents, whatever, did they ever do right by you, any of these companies?
I could say both because, you know, you had Cameo Parkway and A-Square Records. You know we didn’t really have a lot of business success. We didn’t have somebody like Punch Andrews who was willing to invest all of his family fortune in Bob Seger. Bob did work really hard. He toured incessantly, and so he deserves all the success that he’s gotten. Question Mark I think kind of got thrown by the loop when Cameo Parkway broke up because he made like three albums for Cameo Parkway?
Two and a third one that was unreleased.
Okay, and then the Rationals did move on but we broke up in 1970. I was the only one who kind of kept going. Terry Trabandt and I formed Guardian Angel, which was the band with Pete Andrews, no relation to Punch Andrews. He was the SRC’s manager. He took over our management, and then when John Sinclair got out of jail, John joined them on a tour… so they did a pretty good job. Then after that I was ready for another change. That’s when I formed Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. Fred Smith and MC5 had broken up, and we’d been acquainted and I went down and I did the final Grande Ballroom show with the MC5 and Bob Seger. It was their last show ever. He was like a guest and I was a guest. I did “Part-Time Love.”
t was somewhere like around ’70, ’71, something like that. I think I had just left the Rationals. I had just started Guardian Angel, and then I met Fred. We weren’t really close and then we started hanging out together and eventually it led to Sonic’s Rendezvous Band and it led up to, you know, a lineup of playing through the rest of the ‘70s with Scott and Fred and myself and we ended up playing until 1980.
We only recorded one single. That was “City-Slang” and “Electrophonic Tonic.” Everything else was live or demos.
You’re with the Sights now. When did you get together? I love them. How did you join forces?
I was laid up for about two years, and I couldn’t really do anything. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t work. I had a lot of bills. Some people did some benefits for me, you know, to keep me afloat. When that was over, I started thinking, “Well, I’m going to have to go back to work, so… you know, I had lost my voice just from like chronic abuse and my body was going through a whole bunch of changes, but I came out fine without having to have any major surgery like I thought I was going to have.
The Sights came up with an incredible amount of energy and creativity. It was a good fit.
16th November, 2023