The Rationals were the best band from the Detroit/Ann Arbor axis of the 1960s not to become nationally known, although several of their singles were local hits. Like other Detroit and Ann Arbor groups, the Rationals were adept at blending soul, R&B, and blues influences into hard rock guitar arrangements. At their best, they were not just as good as Mitch Ryder at mixing soul and rock. They were as good as any blue-eyed soul-rock band, lead singer Scott Morgan rating as one of the finest blue-eyed soul singers ever. If you weren't growing up in Michigan in the 1960s, you've probably never heard of them, despite several excellent singles that gave them the jump, temporarily, on friends like Iggy Pop and Bob Seger. In the summer of 1999, Scott Morgan, still active in music, reflected on the Rationals' odd career, even for the most part in artistic quality, but unable to launch a trajectory beyond regional success.
When did the Rationals form?
I'd say about '63. The guitar player, Steve Correll and I, started before everyone else. That could have been as early as '62. I'd have to do some detective work and go through a lot of what year it was and what grade I was in. I was in eighth grade in junior high school. That would have been somewhere around '62 or '63, depending on what time of year we started playing together.
The two of us started playing together just as two guitar players, basically, who had similar interests -- the Ventures and Lonnie Mack and stuff like that. This was just slightly before the Beatles. The Beatles were just kind of a rumor at that point. A friend of a friend of mine used to carry a portable turntable around. He had like "the jams" written on it, and he would bring over the latest records. He was in the navy and traveled and stuff, so he knew what was going on outside of the country. He started talking about the Beatles, and he brought over a couple of 45s. I think he might have had the song Del Shannon did, "From Me to You." He was talking about the Beatles like about six months before they happened over here. That's when the Rationals actually started.
When we were in ninth grade, Steve Correll went away to military school for a year. We'd sort of tried two different people, and we were just about forming the Rationals when the final lineup [formed], which was Bill Figg on drums and Terry Trabandt on bass. Terry, I think, was playing guitar, while Steve was at military school. When Steve came back at the end of ninth grade, he went back to being the guitar player, and Terry switched to bass. [That] ended up the definitive version of the Rationals.
What were you playing then, before you were making records and before the British Invasion had started?
We were playing just kind of party music before that, which would be like instrumental tunes, which was really big at that time. If we sang anything, it would be like real basic "High Heel Sneakers," R&B stuff, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed, stuff like that.
So if we started out being basically a garage band and just playing just kind of what garage bands played at that time, which was kind of what I just described, the next big influence would be the British Invasion. Because it was all real fresh. They looked different, they wrote their own songs. People were excited by it. It started with just the Beatles, but then it moved rapidly to the Stones, and the Animals, and the Kinks, and the Who, and the Pretty Things, and everybody else. Tons of great bands. We were Kinks fans, we were Pretty Things fans. We did "Rosalyn," "Big City." [The Pretty Things were] an even more raw version of the Rolling Stones, which at that point was considered pretty raw, pretty stripped-down and crude. And the Pretty Things were even more so. It was kind of fun to find something like that.
A lot of our stuff at that point, a lot of our influences and material we were listening to and trying to cover and stuff, was brought to us by Jeep Holland, who became our manager right around '64, '65. He was a clerk at Discount Records, and he was also a disc jockey at the local YMCA, had dances like on the weekend. Once in a while they'd have somebody come in and lip-synch their latest record. There's a guy here named Deon Jackson, who had some local hits out, and then later on he had a big hit with "Love Makes the World Go Round." But before that, he had some hits just here in town. He was managed and produced by Ollie McLaughlin, who also did Barbara Lewis and the Capitols.
We went down to Discount Records one day and we said hey, would you manage us? And he sounded like he wanted to do it, so it was pretty informal. I think that was the beginning of his management career.
He was quite a few years older than you guys, right?
Possibly like five [years older]. He just died last year. I'd say maybe more like five or six years older. He was still young. He had just dropped out of the University of Michigan, and we were just starting high school, tenth grade at that time. So we would have been like 15, 16 years old. And he would have been like 21 or 22, something like that.
How did the first singles come together?
"Gave My Love" was a ballad. Kind of a moody, slow, and 12-string guitar. And "Look What You're Doing" is just kind of a rock tune, garage rock. "Gave My Love" was #1 on the Ann Arbor AM station for like four weeks in a row or something in the summer of '65.
Steve and I wrote that ["Feelin' Lost"]. And we also wrote "Gave My Love" together. He wrote the music and I wrote the words on both of those. I wrote "Look What You're Doing" myself. "Feelin' Lost," yeah, it was, we're kickin' it up a notch. More production. Steve actually sang "Feelin' Lost." It's a misconception sometimes that I'm the singer on that. We also brought in Bob Seger and his partner, Doug Brown, at the time to help with the production. With Jeep as being still the executive producer or whatever, but they came in and helped us out with the recording. And we brought in Iggy [Pop] to play bass drum on "Feelin' Lost." Also for the first single, Jeep brought in an arranger to help us, some guy from the U of M, or some kind of jazz guy or something like that. On the second one Iggy's playing bass drum on "Feelin' Lost," and Deon Jackson wrote the other side for us. He decided that he wanted to write a song for us, "Little Girls Cry."
"Feelin' Lost" was one of your best songs, but it didn't do that well, even locally. Why?
I think that it didn't go over on Detroit radio. We were trying to get on Detroit radio at that point. Because they said, "too much like the Beatles," or something like that. In retrospect, it does sound like the Beatles, but I think it sounds a little more like the Kinks. There was always some kind of a controversy like that. But obviously they played the Knickerbockers' "Lies," [which] sounded a lot like the Beatles. Maybe we weren't greasing the right wheels, or bank accounts, or something.
So nothing really happened, although our popularity was starting to get bigger in Detroit. We were starting to make connections down there. There's a television show, the Robin Seymour television show. But it was all the same thing. It was on CKLW TV, which was part of CKLW radio. CKLW radio was 50,000 watts. There was probably a lot of competition to get on that station. And we didn't make it with "Feelin' Lost." But I was very proud of that record. I thought we did a good job on it.
What were Jeep Holland's main contributions to the band's development?
He was thinking pretty good at that point. He was a real smart guy. He had been like studying Latin in school, and he just wanted to be a bohemian, I think. He just wanted to drop out. But he was very intelligent. So he applied some pretty smart tactics to his projects. He also was kind of a megalomaniac, so he wanted to do everything. He wanted to be the manager, producer, booking agent, take us to all the gigs and write the sets and do it all. He had a little trouble giving any of that up to anybody else. He was good at it all, it just kind of like became too much.
He started taking on other bands afterwards after he got us off the ground, too. He developed a little stable of artists. The Time was one of them, the Apostles, my brother's band the Children, he took on the SRC. He put out a single that the MC5 had recorded themselves with John Sinclair, but he put it out on A2 [pronounced "A squared"] Records. So he was pretty ambitious. I think part of his problem was that failure to be able to delegate authority to anyone else. He wanted to control everything. And after a while, it's too much. You can't do it.
He sold [the Time's] stuff to Bang eventually. He also put out records by the Apostles and SRC. They eventually, they were co-managed by Pete Andrews. Pete was like his partner, one of his early partners. And Pete took the band and went off and split off with Jeep after about a year or two.
Why did you get more into soul music, after the garage rock of your first couple of singles?
I think that was kind of a conscious decision. I don't know if Jeep came up with it first or we did. We just kind of decided that we were gonna do more R&B music. And obviously, to go back to our earlier influences. We grew up in the Detroit area, so we had heard lots of Motown and non-Motown local rhythm and blues stuff, as well as all the national stuff we loved. But we had never heard "Respect" before. We'd heard "Leavin' Here" because Eddie Holland, of the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team, was like the Jackie Wilson demo singer, 'cause he had a voice like Jackie Wilson. So they tried to put together a record that sounded like a Jackie Wilson record to sell to Jackie Wilson. Well, they eventually ended up putting it out on Motown. It was kind of minor hit in Detroit, so we were familiar with that song.
But we really hadn't heard "Respect." Jeep played that for us, and I think he had maybe "Fa-Fa-Fa," you know that song? That was on the radio, but "Respect" had not been played here. And Jeep was aware of it and played it for us, and we're going like, yeah, we want to do that song! At that point, we were doing a lot of -- we had gone strictly to rhythm and blues, and we weren't doing any originals, we were doing like covers of R&B stuff. A lot of Memphis stuff, a lot of Stax stuff -- Eddie Floyd and "Knock On Wood" and that sort of stuff. But "Respect" was the B-side, "Leavin' Here" was the A-side. Jeep was convinced that "Leavin' Here" was gonna be the hit. And the radio stations in Detroit turned it over and started playing "Respect," and that became the hit.
Our proximity to Detroit, it's so close that there was a lot of influence going back and forth between Ann Arbor and Detroit. It's kind of a little bit of a symbiotic relationship, like we're this little moon circling Detroit, but it seems to be very influential. Any time that we hear anything that's like rock music that doesn't have a black music influence in it, we're usually not as enthusiastic about it as if it's got more soul to it. There was not a whole lot of interaction between white and black musicians. But there was interaction. It wasn't like we were all at the same party all at the time. But it was very friendly. Obviously we had different circles that we lived in, but we never felt any compunction about going to the Motown Revue, or going to a blues bar in the black part of town or something. We loved doing that kind of stuff.
How would you say the Rationals were distinctive within the Michigan rock scene?
For one thing, we were like the first one of our age. There was Mitch Ryder was probably the first rocker that was closer to our age. And before that, of course, Del Shannon. But he was like in a whole 'nother world. He was older, and he started like several years before we were making records. His keyboard player lived down the street from us, but I never met the guy. He played the Max-o-tron or something, it was the keyboard on "Runaway." He had to build one or something, I don't know exactly what.
But yeah, Mitch Ryder probably would have been the first. Bob Seger, obviously, was older than us. He got started earlier, but his recording career didn't really take off until about the same time that we started making records. But we were among the first bands to get some local success. I think maybe the other bands looked at us and said, oh, we can do that too.
What's the stuff on your Fan Club album from? That's a really rare record.
That stuff was recorded before Jeep, and a little bit was recorded, I believe, at a disc jockey named Don Z, who had invited us to his house and recorded us on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Some of it was recorded after Jeep took over and was producing stuff. None of it was ever released, except on the fan club [LP], and the fan club album was his little reward to our Fan Club, which was highly organized. We had like, I don't know, 500 or a thousand kids in our fan club or something. It really helped out a lot. They would call radio stations and say, hey, Rationals got a new record out. We want to hear it. And they would go to our shows and that sort of thing. So instead of just getting a button and whatever postcard or something, he thought making an album would be a cool thing to do. So he had it pressed up, and he had the acetate. I think there was like two or three acetates made up, and then he just never made the record. So that's all there was. I'm sure [there's] master tapes somewhere. We're trying to track 'em down now.
It's unfortunate that you never did an album until 1970. Do you regret not having one out?
I think we should have. It's easy to say now. But at the time, singles were the thing. Singles were driving everything, in our world, anyway. Albums were, like, for the Beatles. But even like the Motown acts, their albums would be like, a bunch of singles and some filler. Or maybe just one single and a bunch of filler. So we didn't feel the need to make an album, and we were still on A2, but we moved to Cameo-Parkway after "Respect" came out. They signed us halfway into the release of it, after it started taking off. They signed us to a three-record deal, and then they went out of business. I think I'd have to go back and look at the contract to tell you exactly what it was [albums or singles], but it ended up being three singles. And then Cameo-Parkway went out of business, so we were forced to...we never got a chance to put out an album. We had to go find another record label. So now we've got like three singles, and the record label's out of business. That would have been about the time to make the record [album], probably.
'67, when we did our third single with Cameo and they went out of business, we were on our own again. So we went back to A2 again, and put out "I Need You." And then Capitol signed that. So now we're on another label with another single. We never stayed with one label long enough to make a whole album.
After "Respect" peaked and everything -- it did pretty well. It was real big in Detroit and some other markets. I think Cameo was happy with it, everybody was happy with it. So we went in, and we recorded "Hold On Baby" as the follow-up. And we had Bob Seger singing the high backup part, and we brought in the keyboard player from a band called the Prime Movers. I think he's in San Francisco now. Bob Scheff -- Blue Gene Tyranny. He was the keyboard player for the Prime Movers, which was a blues band here. We thought it was a great record, we thought it would be even better than "Respect."
You did put out an original, "Sing," on the B-side of "Hold On Baby." I think it was one of your best tracks, better than the A-side, actually.
Jeep always wanted to put an original on the flip side of whatever we put out, at least so we'd have one original on the record. And he sat me down, and originally the song had been called "Out in the Street." I had written it. And he didn't like the lyrics, and we tried to record it in Cleveland, and he sat me down in his office in his apartment and said, "I want you to write a song about why you want to sing." So that's what I came up with. But the soundtrack had already been recorded in Cleveland. All I did was just overdub new vocals on it. I don't think we did anything but dub the lead vocal in Detroit.
The songs you were covering were often real obscure. Usually no one's ever heard the original versions, up to this day. Like "Hold On Baby," for instance.
That was a Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich song. It was recorded by Sam the Man Hawkins. Then "I Need You" was a Carole King song. Goffin and King. We recorded Holland-Dozier-Holland, Barry-Greenwich, Goffin and King -- we were recording songs by some of the top songwriting teams in the country. Not really to make it like, try and fake people into thinking that they were our songs. But just 'cause we thought it was a cool thing to do. "Temptation 'Bout to Get Me" -- I could give you a litany of obscure R&B covers [we did]. There was "Hijacking Love," Johnny Taylor. "Leavin' Here" was pretty obscure, actually. I don't think it was a hit outside of Detroit. We did "Misery" and I'm the Man" by the Dynamics. It was a big hit in Detroit, but I don't think it was a hit anywhere else. A local band called the Dynamics, back-to-back R&B hit when we were in high school. We didn't record that later, until [Morgan's subsequent band] Scott's Pirates.
"I Need You" was not one of [Chuck Jackson's] big hits. Chuck Jackson's version is real nice. When you hear it, you go like, whooah, it's real smooth. But we were always trying to do that. The older we got, the better we got at it. When we first started, we'd just sound like 16-year-old white kids from the suburbs, trying to sing R&B. By the time "I Need You" came out, we were starting to get better at it, and get a little more mature and more soulful sound.
What about that story that you had a chance to go to Atlantic and be produced by Jerry Wexler there?
That's an offer that was made through Jeep, and Jeep turned it down. He [Wexler] wanted to produce the Rationals, and Jeep wanted to produce the Rationals. There was a clash there, and so he decided not to go with Atlantic, unfortunately, because it might have been a good move for us. The record label didn't go out of business. We might have still been on Atlantic now. We probably would have kept going in the R&B direction. But you gotta remember that Atlantic was signing Led Zeppelin like a year or two later. So we could have still done [the Rationals' later, hard rock single] "Guitar Army," I think. What the heck, I mean, Edwin Starr was singing "War" at that time.
Where did "Not Like It Is," the B-side of "Leaving Here," come from?
That's an Albert King song. It's an obscure Albert King song that we covered.
CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO OF THE SCOTT MORGAN INTERVIEW
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