Teddy Morgan – Beyond the blues
No less a figure than Greil Marcus said of Teddy Morgan’s 1999 HighTone release Lost Love And Highways that he would “have Hank Williams and Kurt Cobain high-fiving if they weren’t so pissed they didn’t see this coming.” That’s some heavy freight, but possibly most significant in its omission of Lightnin’ Hopkins.
When Morgan left his hometown of Minneapolis ten years ago and headed for Austin, it was for the blues. Clifford Antone had lured him with a chance to record the music that had obsessed him since he got his first guitar at 14. His picking had been so inspired that by age 18 he was touring with the Lamont Cranston Band, bluesman James Harman and soulstress Lavelle White.
But a funny thing happened to Morgan on his way to being the next blues guitar legend. Even as he was releasing two critically favored blues records for Antone’s label, he was befriended by Gurf Morlix, who swept him up in the music of Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.
Morgan was struck by how much music he’d missed while burrowed in the blues. “I was so into old, black blues, for a while I closed my ears to anything else, because I loved it so much and it was such a mystery to me. It just felt like if I was letting other things in, I wasn’t going to get where I wanted with this stuff.
“What happened I think was I got all I could from it,” Morgan says. “I learned everything I could that related to me.” Other friends began tuning him in to the likes of Dave Alvin, Wilco, and Joe Ely, and Morgan soon found his passion redirected to songwriting. Lost Love And Highways was the result.
Then he found love and highways. He met the girl of his dreams in Tucson and subsequently left Austin behind. The couple recently celebrated their first anniversary, and Morgan has released his first record on his own. It’s called Crashing Down, a title that could hardly be more opposite to his frame of mind.
“Being at the time I am in my life, just real settled and feeling really good about where I live, it’s kind of a different feeling for me,” Morgan says. “But it’s made my songwriting more restless because there’s always that — finding new influences, writing new songs.”
It didn’t take Morgan long to stumble into Tucson influences, thanks largely to the artist-magnet nature of a renowned local recording facility. “I found Wavelab in the phone book when I was calling a few studios to do demos,” Morgan explains. “Just moving here I’d never heard of Calexico or Giant Sand. I walked in on a session that Calexico was doing and [John] Convertino was bowing the vibes. It was such a beautiful, amazing sound!” Convertino’s Calexico collaborator Joey Burns wound up playing vibes and accordion on “Western Star” for Morgan’s album, which was made at Wavelab. The desert sky turns up again on “Moon So High”, and the instrumental “Joaquin” was inspired by Morgan’s dog: “He’s the gentlest soul,” Morgan says. “The way he moves through the desert, he never gets cactus in him.” “The Price I Pay” is among several songs Morgan has recently co-written with Tucson country crooner Troy Olson.
Morgan tips his hand, though, with his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. Dylan’s music was his first love when he discovered his mom’s record collection at age 13. “I’m kind of a later bloomer when it comes to songwriting,” he says. “That’s the fun thing about it, the inspiring thing. It’s like everything I’ve listened to. The desert is workin’ for me, now.”