Tag Archives: Scott Morgan

Happy Birthday, Fred “Sonic” Smith

Fred (Sonic) Smith would have been 61 years young today.

Fred Smith departed far too soon – six years ago this November – but he left behind some seminal rock moments, from founding the MC5 to Sonic’s Rendesvous Band (which until recently only existed in my tactile world through the classic single  “City Slang“).

Sadly, he is only known in some other circles for marrying Patti Smith. I guess when your name is Smith it isn’t a shock when you marry a girl with the same surname; it saves a bunch on monogrammed towels.

Video: “City Slang

The other members of the MC5,  Scott Morgan, The Hellacopters and many other bands are keeping Fred’s legacy alive through their (and his) music, and more and more recordings of the SRB are surfacing as well as a treasure chest of sides from The Rationals and other classic Detroit bands. Man, was that place cooking. Still is!

I met him once; we sat down at the same table at the Bottom Line in NYC. He was saying hello to a friend, who was a friend of my friend (Kevin Bacon explodes about this time) and the four of us enjoyed whomever we had driven in to see that night. Seemed like a really down to earth, regular guy. Wish I got to know him.

Fred Smith Wiki page

Fred Smith at Allmusic.com

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And Happy 25th Birthday to Mario!

Click the picture for the secret message…

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New Album! Scott Morgan

Longtime favorite Scott Morgan has a new one out, a mix of originals and great covers (Sam Cooke, Bobbie Gentry, Holland-Dozier-Holland, among others). Morgan has always paid respect to other’s music alongside his own, and as usual he’s chosen wisely and done them justice. Recorded with a crack band of fellow devotees, this new self-titled album is another rock’n’soul testament from a man who deserves to be far better known. He’s Detroit rock royalty, and his kingdom deserves rezoning.

Guitarist Matthew Smith, drummer Dave Shettler and bassist Jim Diamond all contributed background vocals and shared production duties on the album, recorded at Diamond’s legendary Ghetto Recorders in Detroit. (Powertrane axeman Chris Taylor is the critical fifth piece; Morgan primarily plays organ and piano.) It’s tight but not pristine; indeed it’s five guys jamming for the shared love of the material getting soulful and wonderful results. There’s probably not a radio format eager to play it and I doubt any of them saddled up with that in mind. I’m reminded of a couple of albums Jon Tiven issued several years ago, which similarly flipped the bird to the naysayers and said “this is for the believers”.

Morgan is equally adept at introspective blues as he is with joyous expressions; standouts include “Since I Lost My Baby”. “Memphis Time” and “She’s Not Just Another Woman”. There’s some Stonesey rock, some psychedelic nods, some serious name-checking and most of all an organic and honest feel to the selected songs. I’m not certain how long they spent in the studio but I’ll bet it was relatively quick and dirty, guys looking for the groove and not an Auto-tune in sight. (What a refreshingly ancient concept!)

It’s been wonderful to have so many of Morgan’s projects released in the past couple of years. Some new, some long unavailable, work from Sonic’s Rendesvous, Powertrane, The Solution and even The Rationals is now there for the asking. For anyone who hadn’t followed his career it’s an amazing legacy of work that is obviously still chugging along in full gear. While Scott Morgan doesn’t blister like many of his other albums, it will move you.

Visit Scott’s website.

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Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

The rock music industry is a young person’s game, and when you get older you get relegated to revival tours because the audience you’ll draw wants to relive their youth through you. If you’re not a giant (Dylan, Neil, Springsteen) who can continue to command attention and create new music, you’re either getting by on reputation (Stones) or you’re off the radar. If you’re lucky, you’ve developed a strong core audience that can help sustain your career. But most of the time, fate isn’t that kind. Not all the greats get the accolades they deserve, and although they may continue to create magic, they do so in relative obscurity while far lesser talents get propped up as the cash cows of the moment.

That’s why I’m here today to remind you about Jim McCarty and John Badanjek, two bonafide living legends of rock’n’roll who have been knocking me out for forty years. And I am absolutely geeked that they are playing together once again, lighting Detroit on fire as The Hell Drivers, and hopefully cutting an album. Yes, I know that every generation swears by the music they grew up with, usually at the expense of most of what came before and after. I’m no exception to my own Wonder Years, although I probably have a wider bandwidth of tolerance than most people I know, and I still voraciously seek out new music every day. I’ve learned to go backwards and appreciate the geniuses who predated my birth, and many of the bands kicking my ass today are young pups with their best days ahead of them.

But I did grow up in a dynamic time, when Britpop and Motown and psychedlia and garage and folk and rock’n’roll all burst out of the speakers and raced up the charts together. The greatest musicians and pop songwriting geniuses of the later twentieth century all seemed to be peaking at once and the result was a few years of the most amazing creativity in music history. If you wanted to stand out during the late 60s, you really had to bring it. And for me, the best rock and roll song from that era is “Devil With A Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. That song doesn’t just rock, it explodes –  the drums and guitar solo bursting from the speakers to stand toe-to-toe with Ryder’s supercharged vocal. Forty years later the track still sends chills up my spine and makes me drop whatever I’m doing to split time between air guitar and drumming madly on whatever is within arm’s reach.

The Detroit Wheels were composed of the best Detroit musicians at the time, including drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and a guitar whiz named Jim McCarty. Even more amazing, both were teenagers when the band topped the charts! It would be the first of several professional collaborations over the years, and their friendship remains intact to this day.

They socked it to me, baby.

They socked it to me, baby.

Jim McCarty is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock’n’roll history and has the lineage to back that up. At the beginning of his career he was good enough to hang out at Electric Ladyland in NYC trading licks with Jimi Hendrix. He smoked the strings with Buddy Miles, ripped it up with Bob Seger on his Seven album, but really busted out with Cactus. McCarty made the guitar wail, weep and blister for three albums, but when Rusty Day was booted Jim left also, surfacing a few years later in The Rockets along with Johnny Bee. After their nice run, very little was heard from Jim; he started playing in blues bands like Mystery Train in clubs around Detroit. Then, amazingly, Cactus reformed for some gigs and a new album in 2005, and he proved that thirty-plus years later, that brilliant signature tone hadn’t lost a thing.

Stone Cold Classic

Stone Cold Classic

Johnny Bee moved along with Ryder to form Detroit – talk about your legendary killer rock albums – then later saddled up with The Rockets, where his songwriting skills also got a chance to shine; the band had several hits across five albums. But Bee’s calendar has always been jampacked; the legendary drummer has also played with Alice Cooper, Edgar WinterNils Lofgren, Ronnie Montrose and many others. He reuinted with Mitch on a few of the latter’s more recent solo albums and lately has been working most often with The Howling Diablos. He still plays drums like his pants are on fire and propels any band he plays with to greater heights.

Now it looks like Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee are joining forces once again in The Hell Drivers, covering their own past hits from Mitch Ryder, The Rockets and Cactus along with other Detroit legends like Scott Morgan, The Rationals, Iggy and the Stooges, The Romantics. With Marvin Conrad on bass and Jim Edwards on vocals, it’s true Detroit rock royalty.

The Hell Drivers with the Detroit arrangement of Lou’s “Rock’N’Roll“.

The Hell Drivers breathing new life into “Desire” by The Rockets.

The Hell Drivers tackle The Torpedoes “No Pills” – take that, Sex Pistols!

mccarty-bee-2009-02-28_flyer

And Mitch Ryder? He’s been making great records in Germany for the last thirty years. He can still rock it and he can still sing sweet soul music. I cannot wait to hear The Promise – the record he’s making with Don Was – but ‘ll be writing a full piece on the man and his career another day.

Live cut of Mitch performing “Devil With A Blue Dress” from a while back featuring that classic Johnny Bee drum break.

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2008: Bridesmaids, Part 1

Bridesmaids?

Much like the Close But No Cigar list contains my quick takes on albums that didn’t make it to my “best of” list this year (that will probably slot somewhere south of #40 on the list when all is said and done), the Bridesmaids didn’t make it either. But they were a lot closer, and most probably were on the Top 25 in pencil at one point.  Music is subjective, and my lists morph over time as some albums grow and some fade, so this is really a snapshot.

But enough with the caveats – these are worthy records, and the names may put a knowing smile on your face or send you Googling for sound clips. I’m hoping that you find an artist or three that knocks your socks off and/or rediscover something that you passed on earlier.

Here are five for today, in no particular order. More will be posted in the near future…

Foam at the mouth

Foam at the mouth

 

Frank Bango:  The Sweet Songs Of Decay

Bango’s fourth album is just what I hoped for and expected; a wonderfully vibrant platter of thought provoking pop songs sung with earnest conviction. His voice is eerily similar to Elvis Costello on the upbeat/up-tempo songs (“International Sign For Sorry” could fool a Costello fan), but when singing more somber, pensive material (“Don’t Be A Shy Nurse”) it’s almost a calming stage whisper. It works both ways; the buoyant “Napoleon Again” and “Summerdress” will hook you immediately, where a piano ballad like “When A Plane Goes Down” will cause you to stop what you are doing and pay attention.

Credit must also go to the wonderful lyrics of Richy Vesecky. As appealing and exuberant as “Summerdress” is, it’s only heightened by turns of phrase like “and then came the winter coats / like a symphony of sour notes” (followed, of course, by strings playing out of tune!) And with Ed Stasium helping with the mix, the clarity and breadth of the instrumentation surrounds you like a warm blanket. After twelve songs that find hope in loneliness, love within loss, life in death and child-like innocence in our adult trappings, the album ends with three minutes of chirping birds, as if to cleanse your mental palette before returning you to your life, already in progress…

 

The Reducers:  Guitars, Bass and Drums

No one will ever accuse The Reducers of staying up all night writing the lyrics of “Yeah Yeah”, but in less than two minutes it will tell you everything you need to know about why they’re a timeless rock’n’roll band. And if that simple call to arms doesn’t do it, track two asks you flat out, “don’t you want to rock”? And if that doesn’t do it for you…well, don’t even waste your time with the nine other tunes on this terrific album. Take it out of the player, give it to someone who has a pulse, and go lie down and die. Stop sucking our oxygen. You don’t deserve to make it all the way to “My Problem”, among the best songs they’ve ever recorded – and that is a huge compliment.

Yeah, they’re slipping a little Who into “Meltdown”, and yeah, you’ll conjure up the grittier pub bands like Dr. Feelgood on “Stop It Baby”, but that’s only natural osmosis after rocking bars for thirty years. Still together, still touring, still kicking ass, and thankfully still making albums so people like me can rock vicariously through them.

click here to continue reading the full article…

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