Scott Morgan's raw rock
by Stephanie Kadel-Taras
I'm too young to remember the Detroit rock scene of the 1960s and I'm not that young. In fact I had to take a nap in the afternoon to stay up for the headliner of a recent three-band Blind Pig show. So when Scott Morgan who was sixteen when he first rocked southeast Michigan with the Rationals in 1966 took the stage postmidnight and jammed hard for an hour, I was impressed. Age hasn't caught up with this Ann Arbor legend, but forty years of rock 'n' roll have fed a style that is both classic and edgy.
Morgan fronts several bands these days, including a group from Sweden, but his newest CD is with Powertrane, a multigenerational lineup of locals formed in 2001. The veteran rocker on lead guitar is Robert Gillespie, who has been on the Detroit scene since the 1970s, playing with Rob Tyner (of MC5) and Mitch Ryder. With his tall, gaunt frame, black attire, and heeled boots, Gillespie looks like a cross between an English mod and Alice Cooper, and his hot licks complete the image. The rhythm section features a younger set who ensure lasting energy for Morgan's compositions. Chris "Box" Taylor plays a driving bass, and Dave Knepp (new to the band in 2005) attacks the drums with crushing ferocity.
The music is raw, not slick, but it's hardly unrehearsed. Just as Powertrane chooses to use vintage gear (including a pearly white Fender amp), the band is clearly choosing a vintage rock sound born of blues and R&B but informed by the punk, metal, glam, and hard rock that came later in Morgan's career. Blasting out nine songs in thirty-five minutes, the band's new CD, Beyond the Sound, begs to be turned up loud. It opens with a few bars of squealing guitar, just to let you know what you're in for, and never slows down. After the stylized, arty sound of many younger bar bands,
it's a relief to hear this pure retro rock.
Morgan's lyrics make the album a kind of rock 'n' roll retrospective. The opening number, "Chilly Willy Is Missing," honors local Ann Arbor street musicians, while "I Stole Everything" gives a nod to classic rock icons like Hendrix, James Brown, and James Jamerson. He sings about the rough side of band touring in "Nightliner" "Ain't seen a laundry in twenty-one days" and refers to the music as "three chords and a cloud of dust."
Onstage, Morgan looks a little like the elder Van Morrison, with his shortish stature and soft black tam. But when the music starts, he's all rough-and-ready power, still screaming and throwing down like a teenager. He gives you permission to bang your head, let your hair fly, and play air guitar. Scott Morgan hasn't grown too old to put on a heart-pounding, sternum-thrumming late-night show, and you haven't grown too old to enjoy it.
Powertrane headlines a show at the Elbow Room on Friday, January 18.
[Review published January 2008]