PART ONE – Tribute to the Late Ron Morgan – Guitarist Extraordinaire

Page from Ron’s Tribute from 2006 – 2014

                   1945-1989

In Loving Memory of the late Ron Morgan – Guitarist/Songwriter/Music Arranger – Of (6) Recorded Albums – (4) Released on the Reprise Label:
1967- 1968 – The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band “Part One, Volume 2 & Volume 3”. Later “Where’s My Daddy” (in which Ron wanted to distant himself from for obvious reasons). Reprise issue 1969 – The New Improved Electric Prunes “Just Good Old Rock n Roll” and 1969 – Jim Stallings “JJ Light “on the Liberty Label.

These pages were put together by Ron’s brother Robert (with help from his Beautiful Wife of  37 years). Robert has played music for over 50 years and performed professionally since 1986 (at the urging of Ron). Consider while reading the following – that the critiques come from many years of experiencing/ observing the cause and effect of ones pursuit of excellence in their musical aspirations.

“Some statements are what Ron spoke of and/or I had witnessed. Ron and I were tight brothers who had many freedoms that some have only read about – like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Besides practically running wild, we did a lot of Fishing, swimming in lakes, catching – skinning rattle snake [selling skins] and trying to deal with self reliance (yes, motherless children have a hard time) – all was a big part of our younger years.

Our Father (an accomplished Jazz Guitarist) brought Ron and I into the musical fold early on, we were born with music over our heads. Ron was born to be a guitarist – he breathed, walked and talked it. Never did he once ever use his talents in arrogance or displayed himself as a superior player, or as a gifted artist. I shared the most detailed subjects of Ron’s experiences throughout his entire life – especially the music part. If something sounds critical, it is more of the passion from Ron’s inspirational attributes and thorough dimensional knowledge of his instrument.

What many did not know about Ron, was his true motives towards music – not necessarily making or having a lot of friends. 

– So let there be stories from past acquaintances – other versions and none can be that absolute. To be Ron’s Brother and later his Bass Player, there are absolutely no words that could fully describe it”.

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L-R/ BRETT WADE, MARK KINCAID, RON MORGAN, RICHARD WHETSTONE

The Electric Prunes last lineup on the Reprise Label 1969.

See Wikipedia Article HERE

[photo – courtesy of Richard Whetstone]

Richard Whetstone – Drummer/ Percussion and Lead Vocalist for this lineup and release had this to say about Ron:

“While the other members were recording and laying down parts, Ron was catching some sleep on a sofa. When awaken, Ron immediately patched his ax into the console and proceeded to kill on a guitar part to put the finishing touches on the album.”

There is also mention of Ron’s affinity with his instrument in Roger Liston’s tribute to Ron below.

Robert continues – “Ron was a true to his school talented Musical Artist, who never sold out to  any trends when it came to music. Rather than talk about it, Ron  preferred to feel the music with a soaring passion deep in his soul,  searching the right moment to take flight. You would find Ron, always experimenting with arrangements as to go somewhere, but where?… Ron was too musically free to be concerned. His unique effect laden guitar work could  astound you by his commanding delivery of sounds – then lay down a melody that could take you to a special place and really grab you inside.

Ron lit many a Fire – inspiring players that were struggling with their instruments, to suddenly be set free and follow his lead with effortless skill. No doubt, there will be some that will read this and  understand that last statement… completely. Ron could create this electrical atmosphere of spontaneity a Musician may or may not have experienced. Usually, this cannot be forcefully captured, happens unexpectedly and can come rarely. A musically induced trance if you will – as on many occasions we would sit, listen and talk about such Albums as  “Electric Ladyland”, believing it was Jimi Hendrix’s musical statement of that very experience.

Obvious to those of us who witnessed it, Ron definitely had harnessed a very creative spark between himself and his instrument. He was quite humble at times, but could be almost childishly happy when he made his magic work with his musical imagination… declaring his musical statement. How unfortunate, we never got to hear and/or experience enough of  Ron’s great humor, enjoyed more of his company and incredible talent, during his short forty four years on this Rock.

Ron was sometimes quite misunderstood in his motives and was somewhat uncomfortable with unnecessary praise (yet he was humbly appreciative). He did not want the “image” to take control of him, as it did with many other great players. That self destruct induced mechanism, from the pressures of having to prove one self and/or not measuring up to what was expected by their peers. In my opinion – if Ron wasn’t impressed with the musicianship while performing, he would seem awkward – perhaps embarrassed on occasion and was falsely noted as having episodes of  “stage fright” in Three Dog Night’s/ Jimmy Greenspoon’s book.

A very important note to add: Ron started performing full time in 1963, perhaps more than all the TDN members combined – how could stage fright suddenly become an issue? Ron was a very instrumental part and founding member of Three Dog Night. Their musical direction was quite contrary to his and Ron’s preference to the recording studio, rather than live performances was only one example of why he didn’t stay with Three Dog Night. Ron was then developing into a very versatile, progressive and experimental hard rocking Guitarist.

In 1968, I recall TDN opening for Electric Flag at Hollywoods’ top bill venue The Kaleidoscope. The audience was a blues/rock crowd and seemed not too fond of an almost “lounge singer” sound. Shortly after, Ron returned home with a binding contract before he was to go into the studio with Three Dog Night – a Family Lawyer advised Ron not to sign, which he did not due to a clause that defined the band (musicians) as secondary.

In addition, a former band mate of Ron’s – Bob Yeazel and I who were there at the time, witnessed Ron’s song arrangement abilities were evident in their Debut Album and Hit, “One Is The Loneliest Number”  – see Yeazels comment-#3 in Ron’s memorial book. What was in his heart during that time period – Ron really walked away from the Dogs before they replaced him and even after their success, he never mentioned any regret for leaving. After all, TDN then was a cover band and Ron wanted to create, not recreate.

Ron never seemed unreasonable, just true to his mission. Early in his career, Ron ran in to Dick Clark while doing a bit on the hip show “Where The Action Is”. Ron declined an offer to join Paul Revere & the Raiders before Doug Heath joined – Ron thought the “Minuteman” garb was silly, quite uncomfortably warm and The Raiders to Ron was a commercially driven hype machine.

Later in the early 70′s, Ron declined Tommy Bolin’s request to join him in L.A. for one of his solo mid-seventy albums. Being I was a High School friend of Tommy’s girlfriend Karen Ulibarri, she asked me to relay this invitation to Ron from Tommy; but I can’t recall what album (possibly Teaser or Private Eyes). Although Ron revered Tommy as an awesome Guitar Player/ Singer/ Songwriter – Ron commented, “two powerful lead guitarists might clutter things up”. Ron at that time had fallen onto some hard financial times as well and didn’t seem to warm up to an excursion to LA for a session. Ron and Tommy jammed together in Tommy’s Boulder Colorado based “Zephyr” band. Ron and Tommy on the same stage, was almost scary. Ron added later that it seemed more like a contest than an exchange of giving each other room to lay down a groove. This may explain the “clutter part” Ron had reluctance to work with Tommy, but always spoke of Tommy with utmost admiration.

Ron was always reaching for the music he felt   inside and would get annoyed feeling he must serve his music colleague’s expectations rather than getting into his musical zone… his musical best. This may have been the “Giant Killer”, considering how close Ron really came to being a commercial success. Yet in retrospect, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Three Dog Night, The Electric Prunes and short Studio projects with The Standells and JJ Light; indicates much success in itself. Ron’s inspiring guitar abilities, energy and musical accomplishments, surely deserve overdue credit from those of us who benefited from him.”

“Thank you my Brother for the Electric, for the Fire”, Robert Morgan

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PART TWO

Ron Morgan “A True and Lasting Example of Musical Excellence”

[By Roger Liston – Ron’s Drummer in The Wild Ones/ Group Therapy 1961-1965]

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“Ron and I co-founded Denver’s Wild Ones in 1962, when we were only 16; I am Roger Liston. While it is a given that Ron achieved stratospheric levels of excellence, what few people know is how far down he and I were talent-wise when we started our garage band back in 1961. Since he and I had been kicked out of every band we were in, in that time, we made a solemn pact that we would not fire each other from our new band, no matter what! We committed ourselves to our mutual success.

We named our first band “Morgan’s Marauders” and we were simply terrible. So bad that we got fired from almost every bar in the greater Denver area – sometimes during the first set! Worse yet, after we had “played through” every night club around, they remembered way too well how bad we were and would not think of taking a chance on hiring us again.

This was a huge test of our faith in our pact. However, we had apparently learned more from our failures than we realized since we did something fairly inspired and looking back, it was a bold and impressive move. We completely repackaged our “act.” We renamed the band, got new suits, took new pictures, learned new songs and sent in a new face to sell the club owners our “new band”. This marketing plan worked and since we were a whole lot better, we were able to keep and even thrive on the gigs we got.

At about this time, Ron’s musical talents were beginning to emerge. He was uniquely gifted, even though we didn’t realize it at the time. However, even accomplished guitarists in other bands were quick to take notice of Ron and were increasingly amazed at what they were hearing. Two years later, even the great Frank Zappa focused his complete attention on Ron when he took center stage.

Zappa first met Ron when the Wild Ones shared the stage with his band, the Mothers of Invention – for two weeks at L.A.’s Whisky A Go Go, where we alternated hourly sets. I remember Zappa did his best to look uninterested when we were playing, but whenever Ron cut loose with a killer lead, Frank stopped moving – not breathing, blinking or drinking (Coors, of course), until Ron finished his lead.

The phrase “a deep affinity” describes what existed between Ron and his “axe”. He simply loved his guitar – he actually slept with it and almost every night, usually playing himself to sleep – even though we made him turn off the amp at bedtime.

In the mornings while still in bed, he would find and then put on his signature black-out sunglasses, find his guitar – usually lost somewhere between the sheets and begin knocking out some way cool Freddy King licks, while still in bed. Ron’s playing was so good; he would dazzle us even though he was only half-awake.

Just like Paul Revere used to say in between Raider songs when “selling” his James Brown wristwatch; “On the hour my watch goes “Owww!” and on the half hour – “HEH!” So I start everyday off rockin!” And Thanks to Ron, WE got to “start our days off rockin’.”

For two years, six nights a week, four hours a night, the Wild Ones played at two great Colorado clubs; Sam’s on Lookout Mountain and Clancy’s in Fort Collins. Even playing this often, Ron put in another 2-4 hours of practicing every day. And after only a few thousand hours of practicing, he “suddenly” became master of the instrument and perhaps the genre.

The Wild Ones took every opportunity to showcase Ron. For instance, we arranged a medley of Freddy King classics to feature him, one of which was “San Jose” – There were at least two more songs in the medley, but this is the only one I remember, probably because I still listen to this song on my iPod. As for a side note, white folks of our era had not even heard of Freddy King, and would not for another ten years, However Ron knew every lick of every Freddy King song even in 1965; talk about being ahead of his time!

Ron would establish this medley by first playing the songs just as Freddy would, then, in the subsequent bridges and turnarounds, Ron would take us to a new level of musical experience, with the medley lasting for 12-15 minutes. Typically a hundred or so patrons of the club would move to the foot of the stage to better watch him perform his magic. What they saw was simply unprecedented; They were watching a world-class guitarist performing songs that mainstream America would not hear for another ten years in a small town Colorado night club. He was simply stellar–the rest of us in the band would just try to keep up with him and stay “out of the way”.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Roger Liston’s 1938 Studebaker Hearse was not only totally cool, it was used when The Wild Ones opened for Herman’s Hermits and drove it up to the stage at DU Stadium summer of 65′.

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L – R  Roger Liston – Drums, Mark Bretz – Keys, Dan Johnson – Bass, Ron Morgan – Guitar, Danny Clapper – Guitar

Roger continues… “I believe music is a spiritual language– one that speaks directly to our souls – and Ron could speak eloquently to our hearts through his guitar. The chosen few who got to share the stage with Ron remember our timeless moments with him – and they seem like they happened only yesterday. Every member of the Wild Ones has said that performing with Ron was truly the best time of their lives. It is sad that we don’t recognize greatness among us, when they are displaying their greatness. Only in retrospect do we too often recognize later, their achievements and give them honor they are due.

Ron, those who knew you, well remember you and remember warmly what you gave us. Thank you for your dedication to your dream of excellence and for showing us how to navigate that rocky path to excellence. I personally believe that great music will continue to be played after this life. I look forward to that great day when we will get to see you, hear you play for us and check out the new licks you have since departing from us. Our music hasn’t been nearly as good since you left. We love and miss you. See you soon.”

Your Friend,

Roger Liston

ABOUT ROGERIn 1965, Roger left the music world to become an electrical engineer, which he later did not enjoy; but the bachelors degree got him several lucrative selling jobs in high tech. Before leaving music, he had become a highly skilled exponent of a new style of drumming — funk and soul. He had even studied with one of the first and greatest soul drummers, Melvin Parker who was the featured drummer on James Brown monumental “Live at the Apollo, 1963” album. (Melvin is brother to the great jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker).

Roger, who may have been the first white person to learn soul drums, co-authored with the legendary great Chuck Dowd–the first book on funk drumming “A Funky Primer for the Rock Drummer.” This book was the very first to define soul and funk drumming. It went on to establish a completely new style of drumming; one that is played everywhere in the world today. For thirty-five years, Funky Primer was the best selling drum book in the world and is still available today–even in Utah where Roger Lives today!!

PHOTOS

RONDAN1965-473x345

Ron and the Wild Ones playing at Denvers’ first teen dance hall, “The Rugged Room” 1965 

It was a pool hall before that, where I worked (cleaning tables, general custodial). I took pool lessons from some of the best players in town and got to know the owners quite well. Through my association they met my family – Ron, then my sister Sheila.

This is in part why I have an affinity to doing this tribute –  Ron may never have played here. Len Goldberg (owner) later managed The Wild Ones, got the band to open for Herman’s Hermits and later go to L.A.. At this time, they changed their name to “Group Therapy” due to a legal claim to the name Wild Ones.

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The Wild Ones backing the famous Recording Artist Freddy Cannon at the Lakeside Amusement Park Theater 1965.

 

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Ron’s first studio release 1967

 

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Volume Two 1968

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Volume Three [back] 1969

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Ron with the “Leather Souls” in Denver 1967

L/R Bob Yeazel, Ron Morgan, Jimmy Greenspoon, Roger Bryant, Myron Pollock. Ron and Jimmy went on to form “SuperBand” [below poster] and then on to Three Dog Night in L.A. shortly after.

 

superband

This weekend at the Family Dog was a turning point for Ron. He and the band weren’t ready for the rather intense light show and this kind of venue. The crowd didn’t respond to their material in a positive way and they performed rather awkward. I felt Ron was getting away from his real artistic approach he developed when recording with the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

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Ron [upper left] during Three Dog Nights first recording session 1968

Thank you for viewing. Any comments in Ron’s Memorial Guestbook is always appreciated.

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