Scott Morgan - Blue Eyed Rockin Soul
THE RATIONALS - RESPECT - CAMEO RECORDS 60s GARAGE
"Talking with some friends after dinner a couple years ago, Rob Tyner explained how it had been the ambition of every Motor City rock singer of his generation to come as close as possible to the spirit and passion of the R&B and soul stars who surrounded them. Then he looked across the table to Scott Morgan and laughed, "All except this guy," he said. "He just went out there and did it"." (Dave Marsh, 1988).
Scott Morgan was 16-years-old when his first band played to an audience of 13,000 fans, literally stopping the show as the screaming crowd rushed the stage. Growing up in Ann Arbor, a hip college town 40 miles from Detroit, he fronted the Rationals, an ace garage-punk outfit managed by A-Square Records impresario Jeep Holland. Their early singles featured assistance from local luminaries like Bob Seger and a blues drummer named Jim Osterberg. A couple of years later, Osterberg was wreaking mayhem all across the U.S.A. as Iggy Pop.
The Rationals' soulful cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" pre-dated Aretha Franklin's by a year, and was picked up for national distribution by Cameo-Parkway. A couple of years later, their single "Guitar Army" neatly encapsulated the explosive ethos of the Motor City and provided a title for MC5 mentor John Sinclair's book of street and prison writings. (Three tracks from an early nineties Rationals reunion can be heard on the career-spanning rarities compilation "Medium Rare" on Real O Mind Records, an essential purchase for anyone looking to discover the breadth and depth of Morgan's talents.)
Following the Rationals' demise, Morgan kicked around in bands like Guardian Angel and Lightning before teaming with MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, Stooges drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton, and Up bassist Gary Rasmussen in the legendary Detroit supergroup, Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Swimming against the mid-seventies tide of commercial music, the Rendezvous played their uncompromising rock in backwoods dives as well as hip venues like Detroit's Bookies and Ann Arbor's Second Chance.
Morgan wrote and sang half of the band's material, including their set-opening energy jolt "Electrophonic Tonic." But that perfect balance of Morgan/Sonic proved impossible to sustain and by the time the band stopped performing, sometime in 1980, they had completed only one vinyl artifact -- a two-sided single of Smith's classic song "City Slang." For years, tapes of jaw-dropping live shows passed from hand to hand, fan to fan, until Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts released the live "Sweet Nothing" disc in 1999, a classic recording of the Rendezvous in full flight. (Also in that year, the Rendezvous remnants regrouped with Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek standing in Sonic's spot for a show at the Magic Stick in Detroit. A recording of the set was released on Real O Mind as "Gettin' There is Half the Fun.")
Morgan spent the '80s gigging with various incarnations of the Scott Morgan Band, releasing the classic "Rock Action" album in France in 1988. The disc contained the single "16 With a Bullet," which received some Stateside press for its topical lyrics about teen violence, and another signature Morgan tune, "Detroit," with its litany of Motor City musical greats.
Backing Morgan on "Rock Action" were the Rendezvous rhythm team of Rasmussen and Asheton. The two also formed the core of Scots Pirates, the band Morgan toured and recorded with through the nineties. They released two solid albums on Detroit's Schoolkids label. The first self-titled disc included "16 With a Bullet" and "Detroit" as bonus tracks, finally making the songs available back in the U.S.A. 1996's "Revolutionary Means" was an orgy of Detroit guitar firepower from Morgan and guest axe-slingers Mike Katon and Bobby East. The disc boasted hard-hitting Morgan opuses like "88," "**** the Violence," and "Marijuana Wine" alongside tough covers of R&B classics by the Jimmy Johnson Band and Ike & Tina Turner.
That same year saw Morgan collaborating with MC5 guitar terrorist Brother Wayne Kramer and Ann Arbor expatriate Deniz Tek on a project called Dodge Main. Dodge Main recorded one c.d. for Alive Records and played a series of blistering shows around the Midwest, including one at Cleveland's Euclid Tavern that was recorded and remains tantalizingly unreleased.
The year 1998 brought Morgan's first meeting with Sweden's hard-hitting Hellacopters, a crew of rabid Detroit rock aficionados who knew his work well. His appearances with them, on stage and on record, brought him before a whole new European audience and led to the formation of a Euro-American supergroup, the Hydromatics, with the 'Copters' Nick Royale on drums and veteran Dutch punk-rockers Tony Slug (guitar) and Thumping Theo (bass) from the Nitwitz.
The first Hydromatics album, on Sweden's White Jazz label, included another Morgan classic, "Runaway Slaves," as well as a horn-driven cover of the MC5's "Baby Won't Ya," a staple of his live shows for years. On 2002's "Powerglide," the Hydromatics' stunning sophomore disc, young firebrand Andy Frost took Royale's place behind the thumper throne.
Frost's also a key player in Powertrane, a smokin' unit Morgan formed with ex-Rob Tyner/Mitch Ryder guitar ace Robert Gillespie and another Ann Arborite, Mazinga's Chris "Box" Taylor, on bass. In 2002, the band performed a handful of Midwest and East Coast dates with Deniz Tek, original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, and Cult Heroes singer Hiawatha -- a kind of Detroit rock revue. Real O Mind released "Ann Arbor Revival Meeting," the document of a mind-melting show at the Blind Pig in Scott's hometown. A fresh set of Powertrane studio recordings is ready for release, as is another disc culled from red-hot live recordings of a 2000 European tour with Tek and the Italian band 3 Assassins.
And now - the next phase: Scott is teaming with Hellacopters leader Nicke Hellacopter and a bunch of hitshot Swedes to take a trip back to the soul heyday with a new project, The Solution.
Old enough to know better, but too deep in the rock and soul to care, Scott Morgan continues storming stages from Ann Arbor to Europe, playing the good stuff like you thought nobody did anymore. - KEN SHIMAMOTO
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LET'S GET RATIONAL: SCOTT MORGAN'S
GARAGE DAYS REVISITED
By KEN SHIMAMOTO
Whether you're a garage fanatic, an R&B lunatic, or a Motor City maniac (I claim all of the above), Scott Morgan's got the goods to satisfy your particular jones.
When you think about sixties veterans with great R&B-inflected rock voices, the one that stands the tallest, in terms of uncompromising integrity and overall quality of recorded work, has to be the estimable Mr. Morgan. Just look at the competition. Of his Detroit/Ann Arbor contemporaries, Mitch Ryder hasn't had it (IT being the confluence of talent, material, and band) since 1971's Detroit. Bob Seger started out like he might be the best of all (those songwriting chops!), but wound up spinning his pickup truck wheels in the morass of AOR pablum. Steve Marriott (RIP)? Paul Rodgers? Rod Stewart? All of 'em had the pipes, the tunes, the bands; all of 'em enjoyed more commercial success, but somewhere along the line, all of 'em lost the essential spark that made them great to begin with.
Scott is the noble exception. He's been kicking out the righteous jams since 1962, starting out as a junior high school kid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, fronting soulful garage kings the Rationals; moving on in the seventies to hard-rocking Detroit "supergroup" Sonic's Rendezvous Band (with Fred "Sonic" Smith from the MC5, Scott "Rock Action" Asheton from the Stooges, and Gary Rasmussen from the Up); soldiering on into the eighties and nineties, well below the radar of public consciousness, with his own vehicles the Scott Morgan Band and Scots Pirates (often in tandem with the unbeatable rhythm team of Asheton and Rasmussen). And he's still sho 'nuff doin' it (but more about that later).
As garage bands go, the Rationals were almost too good to be true.
In the last few years, we've heard more marginal sixties garage records than anyone ever would have imagined existed when Lenny Kaye compiled the original Nuggets album way back in '72. Who woulda thunk then that by the end of the Millenium, seemingly every slab of garage snot extant, recorded by some 13-year-olds on Romilar in somebody's basement, would have made it onto a multi-volume compilation, mastered from someone's scratchy vinyl in the name of "authenticity?" The beauty of garage comes from hearing the raw blast of kids playing for other kids without worrying about fads, trends, A&R sharpies, MTV, or any of the attendant hoo-wah of "the Biz" -- the sound of young, overstimulated humans kicking up waves of hellacious noise for the sheer joy of it. Which is fine -- but who said it couldn't be MUSICAL as well?
Not the Rationals! In their eight-year existence, they came a long, LONG way from humble beginnings as a surf-tinged instrumental combo, morphing into a matching-suited Beatles/Kinks derivation (with cool originals!), blue-eyed soul brothers supreme, psychedelic ballroom denizens, and high-energy blasters, leaving in their wake a half-dozen killer singles on almost as many labels and an album that's an ignored classic. And if that ain't enough, almost all of this stuff is totally unavailable (except on the odd compilation, such as Total Energy's Motor City's Burnin' or the Rhino Nuggets box) due to an extremely convoluted history and the machinations of music biz types like their former mentor/manager the late Jeep Holland and the dreaded Allen Klein of Beatles/Stones notoriety (owner of the rights to the Cameo/Parkway label, which leased the Rationals' biggest hit).
To start at the beginning, the Rationals originally evolved out of bedroom jams between fledgling guitarists Morgan and Steve Correll. "I met Steve first because he called me up on the telephone and he asked me to play something over the phone...y'know, playing anything I had learned up to that point...some Ventures and Lonnie Mack. He said, 'Let's get together and jam,' so I went over to his mother's house and he had a rec room where we could go and play kind of away from everything, so we went in there. We had small amplifiers and primitive electric guitars and started rehearsing, mostly instrumental stuff."
"There weren't that many guitar players around at that point," Scott continues, "just a handful, so if you knew another guitar player who knew the same people that you knew, traveled in the same crowds and played guitar, too, that was just a big plus. Steve was aggressive enough to do that; I probably would have never done that; I would've waited until we met. I thought it was kind of odd that I played him something over the telephone, and that was good enough for an introduction.
"We played together as a duo and then we started trying to get other people involved. We tried to get a drummer, and there were a couple of kids in our junior high school who only had a snare drum, and so they'd just play a snare drum with us. Then there was a kid in high school named Bob Pretzfelder who had a complete drum set, and we thought, 'Oh this is great. This kid's a couple of years older than us, and now we're hanging out with all these older kids, and he's got a whole drum set and we're playing for parties with HIS peers.' Being two years older than you at that age is like being 10 or 20 years older later on...it's a big leap, being accepted by that age person when you're only 14 or whatever we were at the time."
Steve Correll's brother Richard named the band. "We started looking for a name after about a year, when we started having to come up with a name to go out and play. We didn't come up with a name immediately. The first year or so, we kicked around some ideas, and then finally, we hit on a name that Steve's brother Richard chose, which was the Rationals...based on the rational numbers in mathematics. I thought it was a rather odd name at that time. Names are really hard. It's one of the hardest things that you can come up with, 'cos it's something you're gonna be stuck with for a long time, and you need something that's unique, but not too far out. You want something that's common enough that people are gonna remember it...know how to spell it, hopefully, and that sort of thing."
When Correll's parents packed him off to military school, Scott started playing with another guitarist, the slightly younger Terry Trabandt, and Pioneer High School upperclassman Bill Figg on drums. "We went through this one-year period of using the snare drummers and Bob Pretzfelder...at one point, we jammed a little bit with another friend of ours, Dave Pace, who also played guitar, but nothing really stuck, so it was just Steve and I. At the end of eighth grade, Steve was sent away to military school for a year by his parents, who thought he was too wild and undisciplined. At that point, I had to try to find some other people, because I was playing with Steve for a year, and I'd been playing guitar for a couple of years before that, so I was ready for a band. While Steve was at military school, I assumed that he was gonna come back after one year, that we'd get back together, and I just had to find a couple of other guys while he was gone.
"I'd seen a picture of Terry Trabandt in the newspaper, playing acoustic guitar at his junior high school with another guy who my guitar teacher had mentioned as somebody I should play with -- not Terry, but the other guy in the picture. That was the first time I was aware of Terry at all. So I met Terry and we started jamming, and he was playing guitar at that point.
"Then I met Bill Figg, and he was playing drums, and the three of us started jamming -- nothing too serious during that year; I don't really recall playing around too much. We might have played at a couple of parties or something like that; it wasn't a whole lot. Bill Figg was a year ahead of me in school, and I knew him the same way, just by reputation and seeing him around town. He always had nice cars and his hair was impeccable and his clothing and everything. At that time, junior high school and high school were kinda like the place to show up with the latest fad in terms of clothing and stuff like that.
"Then when Steve came back from military school, we switched Terry to bass. He realized that somebody had to play bass, and Steve and I were probably the better guitar players. He wanted to stay in the band, and he kind of knew that we didn't really need three guitar players, and that was probably the best thing to do for everybody."
Around that time, the Rationals made their first attempts at writing original material. "For awhile it was just instrumentals, just blues based, three-chord songs with some guitar solos in 'em." Early demos show them cutting their teeth on simple blues jams like, uh, "Blues Jam," and a cool rockin', surf-tinged instrumental version of the folkie standard "Wayfaring Stranger." "When [the Rationals] started playing, we were an instrumental band, doing the usual instrumental stuff -- you know, Ventures and Lonnie Mack and Link Wray and that kind of stuff. There were other instrumental groups around town who were older than us and had complete bands and several guitar players. One band called the Renegades had a steel player named Eugene Bacungan, and they had a great drummer, Tom Ralston. If they had a good idea, we'd try and copy it. We may have got 'Wayfaring Stranger' from them, actually.
"We met this disc jockey named Don Zemanski, 'Don Z' on WXYZ in Detroit, and he had this dance at a roller rink in Ypsilanti, so we went over and played that, and then he invited us to come to his house and record. He had a little 2-track stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder, and we took the whole band over there and recorded on that. So that was one of the earlier recordings. Before that, Steve and I recorded at a local radio station here in Ann Arbor, a guy named Ted Heisel at WHRV, which was the local AM station in Ann Arbor, and did the same material again at Don Z's house...that same material, plus I think at that point, we added some British-sounding stuff like 'I Want To Walk With You'...complete with phony British accents."
As Scott recalls, "Around '64, we were ready to go out and start playing as a band and sing a little bit. We were playing mostly instrumentals, and then I think I finally go up the nerve to sing one song at a teen dance at kind of a community center place -- the Saline Farm Council building, where they had dances every weekend during the summer. I decided that I was gonna sing [Barrett Strong's original Motown hit] 'Money,' which was a hit in Detroit by the Beatles, because they covered it. And that was the first time I ever sang in public, in front of a hundred or two hundred kids, my peers from junior high, people I was gonna be in high school with. It was probably right after I started high school, which at that time was tenth grade. Sometime in the summer or fall of '64.
"Shortly after that, we met our manager [Jeep Holland], so he expanded our repertoire quite a bit from just garage R&B blues classics to some covers of stuff that were contemporary radio material. Then we started doing covers of things that were on the radio at that point, which was just about EVERYTHING in Detroit. Chuck Berry, stuff like Tommy Tucker's 'Hi-Heel Sneakers,' which was a big radio hit, Sir Douglas Quintet, the Beatles, the Zombies. We started singing a lot more and writing our own songs. Of course, at first it was very derivative. If you take away the phony British accents, they were pretty good, sappy teenage love songs."
Typically, the self-effacing Mr. Morgan is being too modest here. Truth be known, the originals he and Steve Correll were cooking up at this point combined all the best aspects of the early Beatles, Zombies, and (especially) Kinks - great, hook-laden melodies, killer vocal harmonies, and crunchy guitar riffs; definitely head and shoulders above the general run of nascent garage songwriting.
By 1965, the Rationals were ready to make their first records. Discount Records manager/part-time deejay Hugh "Jeep" Holland had his own label, A2 (A-Square) Records, and became the Rationals manager/producer - shades of Andrew "Loog" Oldham! - releasing "Gave My Love" (written by Scott in tandem with Steve) backed with the Kinks-like thumper "Look What You're Doing To Me Baby" (a Scott original). "We met Jeep Holland in the winter of '64-'65, and he took us into the WCBN radio studios, where we'd never been before on [the University of Michigan] campus, and made some tapes there. Then eventually, during that school year, he took us into a real recording studio in Detroit and we recorded 'Gave My Love' and 'Look What You're Doing To Me Baby' and I think maybe something else too [possibly 'Irrational,' later released on the flipside of a '66 promotional 45 for Danby's Men's Store, about which more later]. That came out in the summer of '65 and by the time we got back to school, it was big on the radio in Ann Arbor. 'Gave My Love' was #1 on WHRV for four weeks that summer."
A tour of shopping malls in the Detroit area (after scheduled headliners Paul Revere & the Raiders cancelled) locked in the band's local following. "We started doing stuff like that, and deejay hops for local Detroit deejays. We'd usually go out and play for gas money and get in tight with the deejays so that when there was a real cool gig to play, you could get on that gig, and when you DID put a record out, you could get...favorable consideration."
The Detroit/Ann Arbor area was a hothouse musical environment in the early sixties, and Pioneer High School was no exception. "We all grew up together," Scott remembers. "Deon Jackson, a soul guy who had a big hit with 'Love Makes the World Go 'Round,' Bob Seger and [future Stooges] Iggy Pop, Scott and Ron Asheton." Some of those connections came into play on the Rationals' second A2 release, "Feelin' Lost"/"Little Girls Cry," produced at Detroit's famous United Sound studios by Jeep with uncredited assistance from Seger (then playing organ with Doug Brown & the Omens). "Feelin' Lost" featured introspective lyrics by Scott (sung by Steve!), some moody vocal harmonies, and percussion assistance from one James Jewel Osterberg, then drummer for an Ann Arbor blues band called the Prime Movers, later to gain global notoriety as the seemingly-indestructible Iggy Pop. Says Scott, "It sounded a lot like the Beatles or the Kinks...Actually, Iggy just played bass drum. We wanted a real syncopated bass drum part on that and it just wasn't workin' out, so we had him come in and play bass drum on that." "Little Girls Cry" was another Kinks-size pounder, written especially for the Rationals by Atlantic recording artist Deon Jackson. This two-sided gem made nary a dent in the charts whatsoever, possibly accounting for the change in musical direction that followed.
"Because we had such a hard time getting on the radio in Detroit, we started trying to break our second record on A-Square, 'Feelin' Lost,' in markets around Detroit to try and get a regional breakout -- Cleveland, Flint, possibly as far as Chicago, upstate Michigan, into Canada, going up to 200 miles away. It didn't work with 'Feelin' Lost' in Detroit, but by the time we got to our third release, 'Respect,' in the summer of '66, we developed our sound and our recording technique enough and our contacts enough to get it on Detroit radio. We actually did use the same technique there again. We went to WTAC in Flint and a station in Bay City, Michigan, and Lansing, Michigan, and Cleveland, and as far as Chicago, and tried to get a regional hit going...maybe Toledo, Ohio, that sort of thing, so we could say, 'Hey, we're getting played all over the midwest; play our record!'"
"Goin' deeper, deeper...dancin' to the Heavy Music," sang Bob Seger in 1966 - the year the Rationals' exposure to Britbeat was leading them inexorably deeper and deeper into the realm of "heavy music," specifically R&B. Scott continues, "After awhile, we discovered more obscure stuff like the Pretty Things and Them and started realizing that there was more to it, that it was all coming from this R&B thing anyway." (There's a scorching take of Van Morrison's "Gloria" from around this time that cuts both Them's original and the Shadows of Knight's cover, in this writer's opinion.) "Jeep Holland had this great R&B collection, so he turned us on to it. He taught us the song 'Respect' and we cut it." As the Rationals absorbed more of this influence, Scott's vocal style was developing, combining the ache and rasp of the best soul singers, although his work betrays no influences as obvious as Stevie Winwood and Joe Cocker's Ray Charles, or Rod Stewart's Sam Cooke (and he claims none). Scott also stopped playing guitar to concentrate on fronting the band for the next couple of years, leaving Steve Correll to fill out the sound alone a la Pete Townshend or Mick Green. "It was easier to be more visual without the guitar. I could do a lot more movin' around." The next release, again produced by Jeep at United Sound, coupled the Otis Redding classic "Respect" with Eddie Holland's "Leaving Here," a favorite of British Mod R&B bands like the Who, the Birds, and the Creation. (Deon Jackson provided organ and bongos.)
The Rationals' cover of "Respect" came a full year before Aretha Franklin's classic version and another by Long Island's Vagrants (including Who fan Leslie Weinstein on guitar, better known to the lumpen in his later incarnation as Leslie West of Mountain). One story has it that Atlantic honcho Jerry Wexler was inspired to have Aretha cut the tune after hearing the Rationals' "punk garage" cut. According to Scott, "Jerry Wexler and Aretha Franklin and the Franklin Sisters were all aware of that song, 'cause it was real big in Detroit. I'm sure they had already heard Otis Redding's version, but they picked up on the idea of having background vocals do horn parts -- their parts were much funkier and cooler than ours." The Rationals' "Respect" also featured gutsy harp from Scott and some ethereal chords on the bridge that set this version apart from all others. With the support of Swingin' Time TV show host Robin Seymour, the record was picked up for national distribution by New York label Cameo-Parkway, climbing to the lower regions of the Billboard Hot 100.
"We had better distribution by that time. It wasn't regional anymore; we had national distribution. But because we broke the record so big in Detroit first, it didn't break everywhere all at once. Instead of breaking in New York and Los Angeles and Miami and Detroit in the same week, it took months for this to happen. We broke it real big in Detroit in the fall of '66; it went Top 5 here. That was the time that Cameo-Parkway jumped on the wagon, either shortly before or right around that time. It took them a little while to gear up and get it out around the country, and by the time they got it out to the West Coast and East Coast and everything, it'd already broken in Detroit, so that it didn't go up on the charts. If the record is released everywhere in the same week and sells big everywhere in the same week, you can go straight to #1. But it's impossible if you're doing it one region at a time. So it went up to #70 or something like that, and it took probably over a six month period of time, which for a single isn't conducive to making it a big hit. At that time, we were playing everyplace. We were playing bigger shows, opening for other people; traveling -- we went to Florida, the East Coast, all around the midwest and Canada, playing our own gigs. Anyplace from like a hundred people at a dance somewhere in Ohio or Michigan to thousands of people at a concert."
Among the acts the Rationals opened for during this period were kindred spirits the Young Rascals. "In Michigan, they used to play at a place called Daniel's Den, and we opened for them several times...in Saginaw, probably with one of the local stations, WTAC or a station in Bay City that we worked with quite a bit. We met them before 'Respect' was a hit, and when that became a hit, they invited us to tour with them in Florida, and we did Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando and Daytona with them. Bigger shows in theaters. We were all Rascals fans. Bill was probably the biggest one. We didn't wear the little knicker suits or anything, [but] we had our own little uniforms. First we were wearing these barn coats, these canvas jackets with corduroy collars, which have come back in the last couple of years. We had a matching set of those because my mother's cousin had a Western store. Then Jeep got us these matching suede vests...that's what we wore during the 'Respect' period."
The Rationals also did shows with a very young Al Green and the Yardbirds. "We were playing a place in Detroit, a popular club called the Rooster Tail, which is actually still in existence, I think. Downstairs they had a supper club where they'd have Vegas-style acts like Sandler & Young and stuff like that, and upstairs they had more of a nightclub, where they'd have like The Temptations Recorded Live At the Rooster Tail; I think some of the other Motown groups played there. [Al Green] had his first single out at the time, which was called 'Backup Train,' on a small, independent label. We were playing, and he showed up and asked if we would back him on some tunes. We were familiar with his song and HUGE fans, and we were just kind of taken aback that Al Green would just come up and say, 'Hey, can I sing a little bit?' So we said, 'Sure,' y'know, and we just figure out a handful of songs, just R&B standards that we could do, and we did that and backed him up.
"We played with the Yardbirds pretty early on. We did a show with the Yardbirds out west of Ann Arbor, way out in the Irish Hills, at a club out there - a real big room called Green's Pavilion. The guy that ran the place was a real jerk. He had our manager evicted for not tucking his shirt in -- literally, physically evicted by security guards! But we shared a dressing room with the Yardbirds. At that point, it was kind of a peak period - Jimmy Page was playing bass; he had just joined the band. Chris Dreja was still playing rhythm guitar, Jeff Beck was playing lead through a Super Beatle and using banjo strings for the unwound G, 'cos they didn't make sets with an unwound G at that point. So he used banjo strings to complete his set. When he was in the dressing room, our guitar player went into his guitar case trying to find out his secrets and found a banjo string -- I think he actually took one!"
They also pulled tight with New York's "Jewish Beatles," the Blues Project, including former "Short Shorts" Royal Teen and Highway 61 Revisited Dylan sideman Al Kooper. "We met them in Cleveland. Everybody stayed at a place called the Versailles Hotel on Euclid Avenue, which was just down the street from the Upbeat television show, which was what everybody was there to do, 'cos it was syndicated all across the eastern half of the United States, so it was a pretty big show...it probably reached some markets that the Robin Seymour show out of Windsor didn't reach. They had national acts on their all the time.
"So, we were staying at this hotel, and the Blues Project were in town, and they were staying at the same hotel, so Al Kooper came down to our room and hung out with us for the afternoon. Then we went and saw them play at a club in Cleveland...we were pretty impressed with the Blues Project. Afterwards, we went back down to his room and he had this little portable record player that he took on the road with him, and he would play songs, like I remember him playing us Brute Force, a guy named Brute Force who was kind of a producer, doing kinda strange music, but it was pretty cool stuff. He had the Cream record and he put on 'I Feel Free.' We had sung that for him somewhere, in the hotel or something, so he had us sing 'I Feel Free' and then he put the record on, and it dovetailed us into the record...sounded pretty cool."
The Rationals finished out 1966 by being named the most popular group in Detroit by radio station WKNR. To celebrate, Jeep had the idea of putting together an album especially for the group's fan club. Besides a few test pressings, the "Fan Club" album was never produced and remains a great idea that never came to pass. Pity, as it WOULD have included the aforementioned "Irrational," "Wayfaring Stranger," "Blues Jam," and "Gloria," as well as several other items worthy of release: a trio of Britbeat-influenced originals ("Someday," the Zombies-Kinda Kinks redolent "I Want To Walk With You," and the more kinetic "Be My Girl"), a murderous early cover of the Kinks' "I Need You" (not to be confused with the Goffin-King penned Chuck Jackson soul hit they'd record later), and a medley of the Yardbirds' "Smokestack Lightning" and the Animals' "Inside Looking Out" that shows the Rationals were aware of the evolution from rave-up to freak-out that was taking place in London and on the West Coast -- Steve Correll in particular seems to have been listening to Mike Bloomfield in his East-West raga period with the Butterfield Blues Band.
In January 1967, Cameo-Parkway released the follow-up to "Respect," coupling Sam "The Man" Taylor's "Hold On Baby" with the Rationals original "Sing." "Hold On Baby" was recorded in Detroit with Bob Seger singing background vocals and Prime Mover Robert Scheff on organ (he'd later contribute to some early seventies Iggy & the Stooges studio action and achieve notoriety among the avant garde jazz intelligentsia as "Blue" Gene Tyranny). "Sing" was recorded in Cleveland and later re-released on the flip of "I Need You," minus lead vocals, as "Out In the Street" (not to be confused with the song from the Who's first LP, although the falsetto background harmonies are somewhat reminiscent of the early Who), allegedly because Jeep Holland didn't like the original lyrics.
The Summer of Love brought the Rationals' final Cameo-Parkway release, "Leaving Here"/"Not Like It Is." The re-recorded "Leaving Here" featured former Fugitives/then-current SRC stalwart Glenn Quackenbush on organ, an incendiary guitar break from Steve Correll, and a few bars of Marvin Gaye's "Baby Don't Do It" thrown in as an added bonus. Unfortunately, the demise of the Cameo-Parkway label squashed any chances of chart success for this great slice of rockin' R&B.
Also around this time, the Rationals recorded "Turn On" as a promo for Danby's Men's Shop. The cut has the same incongruous appeal as some of the "Great Shakes" ads by Brit luminaries from the same period, as Scott tears his tonsils and the Rationals apply their blistering R&B attack to the lyrics, "Shop at Danby's/Clothes that really turn you on (and on and on and on)..." As Scott told the Michigan fanzine 12 O'Clock July, "A couple years after that we opened a show at the Grande Ballroom [the Motor City's psychedelic/political rock mecca] just as a joke and it went over great!"
The ascendancy of the Grande, opened by Dearborn schoolteacher/deejay turned impresario "Uncle" Russ Gibb in October '66, heralded a new era in Detroit rock, a step up and out from the sock hop/teen club ethos of the early-to-mid-sixties. Up-and-coming bands like Lincoln Park's MC5 (then evolving from their greaser/hood beginnings into psychedelic revolutionaries) and fellow Ann Arborites the primitive Psychedelic Stooges (built around former Prime Mover Iggy and ex-Chosen Few bassist Ron Asheton) shared the Grande stage with the Rationals and other established bands like the Amboy Dukes and SRC. Audiences were changing, too, becoming more drug-oriented (with lysergically-heightened attention spans that preferred 30-minute jams to 3-minute singles) and politically conscious (as more and more area kids were drafted and sucked up into the vortex of Vietnam).
For the time being, the Rationals' released music didn't really respond to this change. Their final Jeep Holland-produced single, the aforementioned Chuck Jackson cover "I Need You," is classic whiteboy soul, with an aching Morgan vocal, soaring background harmonies, a splendid rhythm section performance with beautiful Curtis Mayfield-ish comping from Correll, and a sound near the beginning that sounds like nothing so much as someone toking on a joint (a la John Lennon on "Girl").
The choice of the inferior "Out In the Street" for the flip of "I Need You" is curious, considering some of the other items the Rationals had committed to wax prior to the single's release. In the fall of '67, they recorded a brilliant, brooding version of the minor-key blues "Part Time Love," showing them to be every bit the equals of the Butterfield band or their Brit contemporaries in the blueswailing stakes. Other unreleased studio recordings from the period include an energized, funky cover of Little Richard's "Poor Dog" and two sublime slices of whiteboy R&B vocal harmony that rank among this writer's favorite Rationals tracks: the Esquires' fingerpoppin' dance tune "Listen To Me" and the Knight Bros. soulful ballad "Temptation 'Bout to Get Me" (a different version of which would later grace the Rationals' LP).
The Rationals were caught up in the net when Capitol Records swooped down on Detroit/Ann Arbor and signed the Bob Seger System and SRC. "We signed to Capitol for one record," Scott remembers. "We were on Cameo-Parkway and the company went out of business. So we did 'I Need You' and that was released on Capitol. But then we left our manager [Jeep Holland] who had made the deal, and so we lost the Capitol deal and had to start all over again. By that time, apparently, we were out of the loop, and so we had a hard time getting signed to anybody." In the short term, Holland retaliated against his former charges by releasing a split single on A-Square, coupling the Rationals' '65 cover of the Kinks' "I Need You" with a version of the Pretty Things' "Get the Picture" by SRC (whom Holland dissed on the label, crediting their side to "The Old Exciting Scot Richard Case").
The Rationals now undertook some adjustments to their sound and style. Scott Morgan resumed playing guitar, providing a fuller attack as the band tackled a mixed bag of material in live performance. "About the time that we left our manager, we started doing more original stuff. When we changed musical styles around '67 or '68, we still were just using different covers -- we would take a song and turn it inside out until it might as well have been an original song. We started covering West Coast bands, pop material like '16 Tons' -- we got into Tennessee Ernie Ford! We did 'Sugar Babe' by the Youngbloods; a medley of three songs from the first Moby Grape album; 'You're My Girl,' which is a cover of a song by Little Richard; 'Get Out of My Life Woman,' Lee Dorsey, 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,' which we got from Junior Wells; 'Not Like It Is,' which was Albert King; 'Hit the Road Jack,' Ray Charles; a medley based on 'The Entertainer' by Tony Clark; 'Hey Woman,' which was a Freddie Scott song, basically 'Hey Joe' with different words. At that time, you could hear anything on the radio; it was a huge melting pot with a lot of new ingredients in it, so we kinda bounced around and tried a lot of different stuff like that."
A soundboard tape recorded at the Grande in late October '68 (where the Rationals were opening for the MC5, a reversal of fortune for both bands, a couple of nights before the recording of the Five's epochal Kick Out the Jams live album) and released by Total Energy in 1995 as Temptation 'Bout to Get Me shows the Rationals eschewing their hits for fiery workouts on R&B-based fare like Little Willie John's "Fever," Tampa Red's "Don't Lie to Me," Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You" (also covered by the Five) and Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle," along with some extended improvisations featuring Scott on congas and flute. The first release to reflect this shift was their next single, "Guitar Army"/"Sunset," released in late '68 on the local Genesis label.
Today Scott admits, "We took a little flack [when] we put out 'I Need You' in early '68 and then the end of '68 we put out 'Guitar Army.' It was such a departure from 'I Need You' to 'Guitar Army' that I think we kinda took people by surprise and they didn't really understand what was going on. It's not that we had made a conscious decision to move out of soul music and into some kind of psychedelic metal thing or something. It wasn't really like that; we were just trying to experiment and do different things."
Listening to "Guitar Army" today, it's hard to understand such a response (or lack of same) to this high-energy anthem, with its topical lyrics ("Some folks talking 'bout burning down/I'm not talking 'bout burning down/I'm just talking 'bout gittin' down"), a tinge of San Francisco spice in the guitar, and a BLINDING rhythm section break just before the tag that's simply not to be believed. As for the flipside, "Sunset" sports a Spanish-sounding intro, "Eight Miles High" chords, and more sparring guitars in the extended middle section. "Sunset" is psychedelia, but it's Detroit psychedelia (like some of the jams on the MC5's High Time), with a rhythmic drive and punch the wimpy West Coast cousins couldn't muster.
It was during this period that the Rationals played a residency at Steve Paul's famous Scene club in New York. "We went to New York for an entire week. We were one of the house bands...not THE house band; there were several bands that were there for kind of the same period. We played for a whole week, and during the week, Slim Harpo came in for four days, five days or something. NRBQ came in for one night, Fleetwood Mac came in for one night, a band called the Flock [former Chicago garage punkers turned hippie art-rockers] played one night. Johnny Winter was there several nights, because Steve Paul was his manager. Jimi Hendrix would come in on a regular basis and bring in various people to play, whoever happened to be in town. He'd get 'em in there as his backup band. The last night he was there, he had Stephen Stills on bass, Mick Fleetwood on drums, Jon Lord from Deep Purple on keyboards, and him and Johnny Winter both playing guitars. It was a pretty cool band; that was a nice experience.
"The MC5 came in one night, just hangin' out. They were being rude that night...I think Fred ["Sonic" Smith] was being rude that night...I think he'd had 'enough.' Slim Harpo was playing, and he kept saying 'One more time!' and Fred would yell, 'Let's not!' and we're going, 'Fred, Fred, it's SLIM HARPO!'"
It was also around this time that Rationals pal Al Kooper was slung out of his post-Blues Project band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Morgan received an offer from BS&T manager Bennett Glotzer to audition as a replacement, "which I turned down because I was in a band that was an organic thing, I'd been in since I was in junior high school, and figured this was the time to get paid off for all that. It was people I knew and we were in control of our own thing and I just felt if I joined Blood, Sweat & Tears, I was gonna be stepping into Al Kooper's shoes, who was kind of a friend/acquaintance of ours, and we felt that it was his band, and without him, we didn't see the point of the whole thing." In the event, BS&T wound up tapping Canadian David Clayton-Thomas and the rest is, uh, history.
It's clear, however, that things in the Rationals camp weren't altogether as solid as Scott indicates today. Scott dismisses suggestions that at one point, Iggy Pop and Scott Asheton were both considered as replacements for Bill Figg, but allows, "It's possible that the other guys approached somebody without telling me, because I was not in favor...I wanted to keep the band together. I was not in favor of auditioning other drummers. I think that once we did 'Respect,' I felt like this was the band, y'know -- let's see what we can do with it."
Another intriguing rumor has it that Terry Trabandt was supposedly involved in some discussions of his leaving the Rationals to form a band with James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh that would be produced by Walsh fan Pete Townshend! On that score, Scott will only say this: "We jammed with Joe Walsh, and he recorded the jam session. We knew people that knew Joe Walsh. [Pete Townshend's art school roommate, former Grande Ballroom manager and photographer] Tom Wright - he took our album cover photo - knew Joe, and Tom had a house out in Ypsilanti. Joe came to visit, and Terry and I jammed with him. Joe taped the jam session and he used a riff that Terry had come up with in that song 'Turn To Stone,' and sent him a copyright form with his name on it. Then later on, his manager Irving Azoff decided that Joe didn't really need to pay Terry for that riff; they took his name off the record! Well, he'd already sent him a Library of Congress copyright form with his name on it, so it was a really stupid move. Terry called him on it, and got a really good lawyer, and won, but it was kind of really embarrassing, because Joe had to put Terry's name on songs Terry didn't have anything to do with as a settlement, AND pay him a bunch of money. Joe was from Cleveland, so we were friends, and we'd go and see him play and stuff like that."
In early '69, the Rationals began sessions for their first LP at Artie Fields Studios in Detroit. As Scott recalls, "We didn't have a record label anymore. Our new manager Larry Feldmann hooked up with Robin Seymour to get the financial backing to pay for the recording. We shopped it around and they came up with Crewe Records, which was okay but they weren't a really high-powered label. They did have the Four Seasons, and then Oliver more recently. I think they were capable of doing national things, but they probably didn't know what to do with a rock act. So, after the record came out the beginning of 1970, our manager left the band, and we were left with no management. No infrastructure at all, and the band was not getting along very well."
Despite the circumstances surrounding its recording and release, the Rationals' self-titled LP is a forgotten classic. The first side opens with an assault on Robert Parker's R&B shouter "Barefootin'," spearheaded by Terry Trabandt's pummeling bass, featuring the dual slashing-and-chopping guitars of Morgan and Correll. A jazzy instrumental segue leads into an album highlight, a rerecorded cover of the Knight Bros. "Temptation's 'Bout to Get Me," with vocals that make the Righteous Brothers sound like the Hardy Boys. It's both unusual and gratifying to hear a sixties white group whose consciousness of R&B audibly includes the Impressions, the Dells, and the Delfonics as well as Motown, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals. Next up is "Guitar Army," then into a funkafide cover of Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me" ("Ohh, it must be love!") with Correll tearing his tonsils out on lead vocal and the rest of the boys making like the Temptations. The album's low points (in mood, not quality) follow: the odd acoustic "Deep Red," with its impressionistic chords, impenetrable lyrics, and wounded Correll vocal to close the first side, and "Sunset" to open the second.
In a just world, the next two tracks would have been chart-topping hits on at least three continents. The first is a cover of Dr. John's "Glowin'" as Curtis Mayfield might have imagined it -- all lush vocal harmonies and positive messages ("Don't commit suicide -- you gotta keep on growin'"). Then comes the album's gem (along with "Temptation"), Mike d'Abo's "Handbags and Gladrags" (which Rod Stewart also covered on his first solo LP -- he actually encountered the Rationals in a Detroit radio studio around that time and the deejay spun both versions back to back!) - a slice of pop R&B at its very finest. The album winds up with six minutes and 38 seconds of "Ha-Ha" (segues from which link all the songs on the album) -- a bittersweet, ruminative urban take on the same impulse that produced Otis' "Dock of the Bay," with lead vocals by both Correll (on the verses) and Morgan (the "Under the streetlight..." middle eight).
In the event, the album was released in early 1970, and the Rationals were no more by the end of the summer. For some inscrutable reason, former Grande Ballroom manager Feldmann had resorted to booking the Rationals to play inside stores at shopping malls. "We were playing in the middle of coat racks in big stores, like Sears-type stores in malls and it seemed like totally the wrong place for us to be. He didn't seem to have a clue as to exactly where we should be playing or what we should be doing. He was just trying to get the bucks, and we got kind of upset...saying, 'Hey, we're supposed to be playing ballrooms, shows, outdoor concerts, festivals, clubs, whatever, but not in the middle of clothing stores.'
"When [Feldmann] left in the spring of 1970, we were kinda cut adrift. They sent a manager out from New York, from Crewe Records, someone we never met before, and we didn't know what he was gonna do with us, and there was no organic connection there. Robin Seymour was busy doing other things, so he wasn't around a lot. All the old problems with the band started being exacerbated by all this uncertainty about what was going on with our business."
The bitter end came following an August 1970 gig at the Embassy Hotel Lounge in Windsor, Ontario. "One night, we just...everybody started arguing, and I said, 'Hey, let's break it up.' We were playing in some lounge in Windsor, Ontario, for two nights, and we just HATED it. We were in the dressing room downstairs and everybody was bickering and I just said, 'Hey, this ain't worth it, man; let's just hang it up.' That was it. And then Robin Seymour took me to this restaurant with this guy from Mainstream Records and they were talking about what they were going to do, and they started talking to each other, and I was just sitting there going, 'What's going on? They're talking about me like I'm not even here.' They weren't asking me what I wanted to do; they were just planning what they were going to do with me. It may have been really cool, because I think they would have taken me down to Criteria [Studios] in Miami and set me up with Duane Allman or something, and it probably would have worked out pretty good. But at that time, I didn't really know what my future