Today, Oct. 20, 2014, is the official release date for Revolutionary Action, a two-CD compilation that includes re-mastered versions of the first three solo albums by Scott Morgan, the singer, songwriter and guitarist who back in the 1960s led the Ann Arbor-based band the Rationals and then in the 1970s was a member of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. His career as a solo recording artist began in 1988 and continues to this day. He’ll be performing at the Corktown Tavern, 1716 Michigan Ave., Detroit, on Saturday, Nov. 29.
Released by the British rock ’n’ roll label Easy Action, http://www.easyaction.co.uk/, and available through the iTunes store for $9.99, Revolutionary Action includes a song called “Detroit,” which originally appeared on Scott Morgan’s first solo album, Rock Action, and as the B-side to the single taken from it (the A-side was “16 With A Bullet”). In fact, “Detroit” is the first song on the first disc (though it used to be the last song on the album), and it’s the first single taken from the collection as a whole. There’s a “new” promotional video clip for it, which can be viewed on Easy Action’s YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgGM1ouWj8A.
Not only is “Detroit” the perfect song to start with, that is, if you’ve never heard Scott Morgan’s music before, but it is also a great way to understand the social and musical contexts in which that music was produced. Significantly, “Detroit” not only pays tribute to the many rock ’n’ roll musicians who at one time or another have called the city their home, but the many musicians who played jazz, soul, blues and rhythm & blues, as well.
Like all great rock ’n’ roll songs, “Detroit” is deceptively simple. It could easily be described as Scott’s attempt to take the American Dream as it is presented in John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the USA (A Salute to ’60s Rock),” which was a big hit in 1986, and apply it to the Motor City. “Hey, hey, Detroit!” the chorus of Scott’s song calls out. “Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues. Hey, hey, Detroit! Talkin’ ’bout you.”
But “Detroit” is anything but simple, and it certainly isn’t a beatific or naïve vision of what-things-were-like-back-in-the-good-old-Sixties. Nor is it suitable for boosterish propaganda from the Chamber of Commerce, get-rich-quick venture capitalists, real-estate speculators, or the owners of local sports teams and TV stations. “Detroit” is emotionally complex, strangely self-effacing and ultimately vehement in its demand that something happen, that things change, that the many unfulfilled dreams and promises of those years be fulfilled and kept. Too many of those musicians died young, exploited, under-appreciated and/or poor.
In the first verse, the mood is celebratory but sober. “Detroit” may be a tribute, but it is also a history, an oral history, and history is something that Scott Morgan takes very seriously. (His Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/scott.morgan.5811877?fref=ts lists, among the many books he’s read, several nonfiction histories of the United States.) The listener is called upon to remember the name of the blues musician who was born in Mississippi and became famous playing clubs on a long-ago-destroyed street in Detroit’s East Side; the last names of the bassist and drummer who created the Motown Sound; and the name of the Motown band whose hit song from 1962 had become a hit again, in 1988, the very year “Detroit” was released.
John Lee Hooker down on Hastings Street
Jamerson Benjamin the Motown Beat
Contours singing “Do You Love Me?”
Then only a part of the chorus is sung, just the line “Hey, hey, Detroit!” This song is in no rush to tell its story.
In the second verse, the listener is summoned to recall the singer from Mississippi who recorded Motown Record’s very first hit; the band that had hits in Detroit before Motown was founded; and the relatively obscure singer from Alabama who had a Motown hit in 1966.
Barrett Strong “Money, That’s What I Want”
Nolan Strong and the Diablos
Shorty Long singing “Function at the Junction”
Isn’t that neat, the way Barrett Strong and Nolan Strong, though they were unrelated, are mentioned side-by-side? There are many other rhyming pairings in this song. They give us the sense that “Detroit” isn’t just a location; it’s also the last name of One Big Family. But before then, a bit more of the chorus (but still not the whole thing) is sung: “Hey, hey, Detroit! Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues.”
This – and the fact that all of the musicians mentioned so far are Afro-Americans (“blacks”) – is already quite something. The dividing line between rock ’n’ roll and Rhythm & Blues is in fact very subtle and, if it exists at all, has to do with attitudes towards the so-called work-week. In rock ’n’ roll, Saturday Night lasts all week, while in R&B Saturday Night only comes once a week and goes into the wee wee hours. A lot could be said about this distinction: the absence/presence of Church-on-Sunday, for example. But there should be no surprise that a single artist – Little Richard, for instance – can record rock ’n’ roll songs (“Ready Teddy”) and R&B songs (“Rip It Up”).
But some people – and they seem to control the record companies, concert halls and radio stations – think that the difference between these forms of American popular music is a matter of race, not attitudes towards work/Church: whites play rock ’n’ roll, while blacks play Rhythm & Blues, and Little Richard be damned. Remember Van Morrison’s “Domino”? That’s gotta be a rock ’n’ roll song because he’s Irish (“white”), right? Nope. “Hey, Mister DJ,” it pleads, “I just wanna hear some Rhythm & Blues music on the radio.”
For the third verse of “Detroit,” Scott Morgan and his band continue to bridge (or show the inexistence of) the gap between rock ’n’ roll and R&B, white and black, by adopting one of the musical techniques long associated with the latter: call-and-response, with Scott calling out and the background singers responding. But unlike a “traditional” call-and-response, there’s no repetition (the response is different from the call). And so, unlike the song’s first two verses, the third one is all names, a veritable stream of them.
Wilson Pickett (Bob Seger)
Jackie Wilson (Mitch Ryder)
Aretha Franklin (Edwin Starr)
Deon Jackson (Nathaniel Mayer)
Smokey Robinson (LaVern Baker)
Little Willie John (The Spinners)
The Velvelettes (The Four Tops)
The Marvelettes (Jack Scott)
The Primes (Paul Williams)
The Primettes (Kim Wilson)
The Funk Brothers (Kim Weston)
Grand Funk (Del Shannon)
Funkadelic (Jimmy Ruffin)
And the Stooges
Yes! The Stooges, who among other things are the source of phrase “Rock Action” (a nickname for their drummer, Scott Ashton, who also played with Scott Morgan in Sonic’s Rendezvous). And then the song’s chorus is finally sung in its entirety: “Hey, hey, Detroit! / Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues / Hey, hey, Detroit! / Talkin’ ’bout you!”
At this point, we’re only 1:28 into the recording. You can just hear the record company execs and radio programmers: “Great! Now, why don’t you just repeat that chorus a couple few times, clock in at 2:02 or 2:04, and leave it at that?” Certainly Scott’s reference to the Stooges (there’s literally no “response” to their call-out) could be taken as fitting last words.
But no: the song pushes on. You might even say it pushes past its listeners, forcing them to catch up or be felt far behind. Without any transition whatsoever, the song goes into a kind of bridge. Formerly smooth and airy, placid like a lake, the music is now jagged and dense, choppy like an ocean. And the mood has changed, too. Scott is no longer celebrating. Sober this whole time, he’s been thinking. Not only is there glory in remembering all these people, there is also shame in the fact that they have been forgotten. Singing by himself (the background singers have dropped out), he calls out a new group of names, which, as always, are arranged to highlight their apparent membership in One Big Family.
Florence Ballard, Hank Ballard
Tony Clark, Question Mark
Jeep Holland, Holland-Dozier-Holland (oh yeah!)
But here Scott is no longer summoning Detroit to remember forgotten names; he sounds like he’s summoning these people directly. You will live again, he seems to be saying, not only in the minds of other people, but also in your own minds and bodies. Whether you are dead or alive and left for dead, you will come back to life. Oh yeah!
A relatively long instrumental break, lead by the band’s guitarists, keeps the tension going and then releases it. Space has been cleared. And so, when the listener finally gets to the fourth and final verse, it sounds like the song has begun again.
The Vandellas “Dancin’ in the Street”
Mary Wells “Bye Bye Baby”
Tammi Terrell “Come On and See Me”
And then the chorus is sung, not just once, but twice. “Hey, hey, Detroit! Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues. Hey, hey, Detroit! Talkin’ ’bout you.”
Once again, the song has reached a place where it could end. All you gotta do – these would be the biz execs and radio programmers talking again – is repeat the chorus several more times, really ram it home, and then fade out. But once again, the song pushes on and beyond. The musical bridge – that choppy sea – comes roaring back, bringing with it a veritable torrent of new names. In a brilliant switch, the background singers join Scott for another round of call-and-response, but this time over the bridge, not one the verses.
Marvin Gaye (Freda Payne)
The Hurricanes (Punch & James)
Stevie Gaines (Gladys Knight)
Tommy James (Della Reese)
Glenn Frey (Dorothy Ashby)
Eddie Floyd (Yusef Lateef)
Al Green (Bob Hodge)
Grant Green (Son House)
MC5 (Elvin Jones)
Bill Hodgeson (Thad Jones)
Johnny Angelos (Alice Cooper)
Junior Walker (Alice Coltrane)
Stevie Wonder (Sippie Wallace)
Gina Washington (Barbara Lewis)
Brownsville Station (Doctor Ross)
Marshall Crenshaw (Bossmen)
The Originals (The Romantics)
The Capitols (Johnny Thunders)
Kenny Burrell (Coachmen)
Patti Smith (Eddie Kirkland)
Norman Whitfield (Detroit Emeralds)
Eddie Burns (Detroit Count)
Amboy Dukes (and Madonna)
Whew! After their reference to Madonna (then at the height of her popularity), the background singers start calling out, “Detroit! Detroit!” They sound urgent; something has changed; something is happening. But Scott, totally locked in and ignoring their cue to bring “Detroit” to a close, continues to reel off names.
Jake the Shake (Detroit!)
Calvin Frazier (Detroit!)
Baby Boy (Detroit!)
Sonny Boy (Detroit)
Brother Will (Detroit!)
And then, finally, Scott breaks off. The song fades out with him calling out, “Whoa, yeah! Whoa, yeah!” The chorus never returns; Detroit never answers the call; there is no sense of “coming full circle.” We definitely get somewhere, but we’re not exactly sure where.
I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times over the course of a quarter-century, and I’m still wrestling with what it means, with what it makes me feel and want to do. Yes, a veritable army of unjustly forgotten men and women is summoned, first to the minds of the listeners, and then (back) to their own lives. There they go, off to live again, sing again, love again.
But where is Scott Morgan, the author of this song? Where are the bands he played in (the Rationals and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band)? And where are all of Scott’s friends and fellow musicians? Where are the Cult Heroes, Destroy All Monsters, and the Up? Aren’t they part of this big Detroit Family, too? Of course they are, everyone knows that, but the mystery of “Detroit” – its enduring appeal – lies in why Scott left them out. They are, as one says, conspicuous in their absence. Two of his other great rallying cries, “Guitar Army,” recorded with the Rationals in 1969, and “Pirate Music,” which appears on the same album as “Detroit,” use a conventional narrator (the words “I,” “us,” and “we”). But not “Detroit,” which is all you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you. For this one song, it seems, Scott Morgan needed to disappear into the very crowd that he summoned up.
Amboy Dukes, the. Detroit rock band 1964-1975, featuring Ted Nugent, born Detroit 1948.
Angelos, Johnny. Rock singer. Born Dearborn Heights 1948; died 1984.
Ashby, Dorothy. Jazz harpist. Born Detroit, 1930; died 1986.
Baby Boy. (Baby Boy Warren.) Blues singer. Born Detroit 1919; died 1977.
Baker, LaVern. R & B Singer. Born Chicago, 1929; died 1997.
Ballard, Florence. Singer. Member of the Supremes. Born Detroit, 1943; died 1976.
Ballard, Hank. R & B singer. Born Detroit, 1927; died 2003.
Benjamin. (William “Benny” Benjamin.) Drummer. Born Mobile, Alabama, 1925; died 1969.
Bobo. (Bobo Jenkins.) Blues guitarist. Born Forkland, Alabama, 1916; died 1984.
Bossmen, the. Detroit rock band circa mid-1960s, featuring Dick Wagner, born Oelwein Iowa, 1942; died 2014.
Brother Will. (Brother Bill Hairston.) Gospel singer. Born Brookfield, Missouri, 1919; died 1988.
Brownsville Station. Rock band based in Ann Arbor 1969-1979.
Burns, Eddie. (Eddie “Guitar” Burns.) Blues. Born Belzoni, Mississippi, 1928; died 2012.
Burrell, Kenny. Jazz guitarist. Born Detroit, 1931.
Capitols, the. Soul vocal trio. Detroit 1962-1969.
Clarke, Tony. Soul singer. Born New York City, 1940; died 1971.
Coachman, the. (Famous Coachman.) Blues radio DJ. Born Detroit 1925; died 2001.
Coltrane, Alice. Jazz harpist. Born Detroit 1937; died 2007.
Contours, the. Singers of “Do You Love Me?” (1962). Active 1959-1968.
Cooper, Alice. (Vincent Furnier.) Rock singer. Born Detroit 1948.
Crenshaw, Marshall. Rock singer. Born Detroit 1953.
Detroit Counts. (The Fabulous Counts.) Detroit soul/funk band 1969-1975.
Detroit Emeralds. Soul vocal group. Formed Little Rock, Arkansas, moved to Detroit circa 1967.
Doctor Ross. (Charles Ross.) Boss of the blues harmonica. Born Tunica, Mississippi, 1925; died 1993.
Floyd, Eddie. R & B singer. Born Montgomery, Alabama, 1937.
Four Tops, the. Vocal quartet. Detroit 1953-present.
Franklin, Aretha. Singer. Born Memphis, Tennessee, 1942.
Frazier, Calvin. Blues guitarist. Born Osceola, Arkansa, 1915; died 1972.
Frey, Glenn. Rock musician. Born Detroit 1948.
Funk Brothers, the. Group name for Motown’s team of session musicians, 1959-1972.
Funkadelic. Funk group (1968-1981) featuring George Clinton, born Plainfield, New Jersey, 1941.
Gaines, Stevie. (Steven Gaines.) Rock guitarist born Seneca, Missouri, 1949; died 1977. Played with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Detroit Wheels.
Gaye, Marvin. Soul singer. Born Washington, D.C., 1939; died 1984.
Grand Funk. (Grand Funk Railroad.) Rock band, Flint, Michigan, 1969-1976.
Green, Al. Singer. Born Forrest City, Arkansas, 1946.
Green, Grant. Jazz guitarist. Born St. Louis, Missouri, 1935; died 1979.
Hodge, Bob. (Bob “Catfish” Hodge.) Blues guitarist. Born Detroit 1944.
Hodgson, Bill. Rock singer. Born Detroit 1940; died 1982.
Holland, Jeep. (Hugh Holland.) Founded A2 Records. Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1943; died 1998.
Holland-Dozier-Holland. Songwriting team 1962-1974. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, and Lamont Dozier.
Hooker, John Lee. Blues singer and guitarist. Born Coahoma County, Mississippi, 1917; died 2001.
House, Son. (Eddie “Son” House, Jr.) Blues singer and guitarist. Born Lyon, Mississippi, 1902; died 1988.
Hurricanes, the. (Johnny and the Hurricanes.) Instrumental rock band from Toledo, Ohio, 1959-1961.
Jackson, Deon. Soul singer. Born Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1946; died 2014.
Jake the Shake. (AKA Shaky Jake; Jake Woods.) Street musician and storyteller. Born Little Rock, Arkansas, 1925; died 2007.
Jamerson. (James Jamerson.) Bass player. Born Edisto, South Carolina, 1936; died 1983.
James, Tommy. (Thomas Gregory Jackson.) Rock singer. Born Dayton, Ohio, 1947.
Jones, Elvin. Jazz drummer. Born Pontiac, Michigan, 1927; died 2004.
Jones, Thad. (Thaddeus Jones.) Jazz trumpeter. Born Pontiac, Michigan, 1923; died 1986.
Kirkland, Eddie. Blues guitarist. Born Jamaica, 1923; died 2011.
Knight, Gladys. Soul singer. Leader of Gladys Knight & the Pips. Born Atlanta, Georgia, 1944.
Lateef, Yusef. (William Huddleston.) Jazz saxophonist. Born Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1920; died 2013.
Lewis, Barbara. R & B singer. Born Salem, Michigan, 1943.
Little Willie John. (William John.) R & B singer. Born Cullendale, Arkansas, 1937; died 1968.
Long, Shorty. (Frederick “Shorty” Long.) Soul singer. Born Birmingham, Alabama, 1940; died 1969.
Maceo. (Maceo Parker.) Funk saxophonist. Born Kinston, North Carolina, 1943.
Marvelettes, the. All-female singing group. Inskter, Michigan, 1960-1970.
Madonna. (Madonna Ciccone.) Rock singer. Born Bay City, Michigan, 1958.
Mayer, Nathaniel. R & B singer. Place of birth unknown, 1944; died 2008.
MC5, the. (The Motor City 5.) Rock band from Lincoln Park, Michigan, 1964-1972.
Originals, the. R & B singing group. Detroit, Michigan, 1966-1982.
Payne, Freda. Singer and actress. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1942.
Pickett, Wilson. R & B singer. Born Pratville, Alabama, 1941; died 2006.
Primes, the. (AKA the Cavaliers.) Vocal group that eventually became part of the Temptations. Singing group, Detroit, Michigan, 1960-present.
Primettes, the. Vocal group later known as the Supremes. Singing group, Detroit, Michigan, 1959-1977.
Punch & James. Unknown.
Question Mark. (? and the Mysterians.) Rock band led by Rudy Martinez. Bay City, Michigan, 1962-1969.
Reese, Della. (Delloreese Early.) Gospel singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1931.
Robinson, Smokey. (William Robinson.) Born Detroit, Michigan, 1940. Leader of the Miracles 1957-1972.
Romantics, the. Rock band. Detroit, Michigan, 1977-2003.
Ruffin, Jimmy. Soul singer. Born Collinsville, Mississippi, 1939.
Ryder, Mitch. (William S. Levise, Jr.) Rock singer. Born Hamtramck, Michigan, 1945.
Scott, Jack. (Giovanni Scafone, Jr.) Rock singer. Born Windsor, Ontario, 1936.
Seger, Bob. (Robert Seger.) Rock singer. Born Lincoln Park, Michigan, 1945.
Shannon, Del. (Charles Weedon Westover.) Rock singer. Born Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1934; died 1990.
Smith, Patti. (Patricia Smith.) Rock singer. Born Chicago, Illinois, 1946.
Sonny Boy. (John Lee Curtis “Sonny Boy” Williamson.) Blues singer. Born Jackson, Tennessee, 1914; died 1948 or Aaron Willis (“Little Sonny”). Harmonica player. Born Greensboro, Alabama, 1932.
Spinners, the. Vocal group, Detroit, Michigan, 1954-1971.
Stooges, the. Rock band, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1967-1974 and 2003 -2013.
Starr, Edwin. (Charles Edwin Hatcher.) Soul singer. Born Nashville, Tenneesse, 1942; died 2003.
Strong, Barrett. Singer and songwriter. Born West Point, Mississippi, 1941.
Strong, Nolan. Singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1934; died 1977.
Terrell, Tammi. (Thomasina Montgomery.) Soul singer. Born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1945.
Thunders, Johnny. (John Anthony Genzale, Jr.) Rock guitarist; lived in Detroit 1979. Born Queens, New York, 1952; died 1991.
Vandellas, the. (Martha & the Vandellas.) All female vocal group. Detroit, Michigan, 1957-1972.
Velvelettes, the. All female vocal group. Detroit, Michigan, 1961-1970.
Walker, Junior. (Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr.) Saxophonist. Born Blytheville, Arkansas, 1931; died 1995.
Wallace, Sippie. (Beulah Thomas.) Singer. Born Plum Bayou, Arkansas, 1898; died 1986.
Washboard. (AKA “Washboard Willie,” William Paden Hensley.) Blues musician. Born Columbus, Georgia, 1909; died 1991.
Washington, Gino. (George Washington.) Rock singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1946 (?).
Wells, Mary. Soul singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1943; died 1992.
Weston, Kim. (Agatha Weston.) Soul singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1939.
Whitfield, Norman. Songwriter and producer. Born New York, New York, 1940; died 2008.
Williams, Paul. Singer. Member of the Temptations. Born Ensley, Alabama, 1939; died 1973.
Wilson, Kim. Blues singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1951.
Wilson, Jackie. (Jack Leroy Wilson.) Singer. Born Detroit, Michigan, 1934; died 1984.
Wonder, Stevie. (Stevland Hardaway Morris.) Singer and songwriter. Born Saginaw, Michigan, 1950.
Bill Brown lived in Ann Arbor between 1980 and 1984. He moved there to go to U-M, but instead of returning home (the New York City area) or going somewhere else, as so many students do upon graduation, he stayed on. In addition to working at a variety of restaurants, including the iconic Fleetwood Diner, he wrote about music for
The Michigan Daily,
The Ann Arbor News,
The Michigan Voice and
The Detroit Metro Times. Most of these articles were reprinted in an anthology titled
You Should’ve Heard Just What I Seen. It makes for a great guide to the local music of the time.