Scott Morgan interview in I-94bar

Hydromatics Press

The Hydromatics hardly need an introduction for patrons of the I-94 Bar. If you haven’t tracked down their latest album “Powerglide” through some European mail order shop, you’re not trying. Fronted by Scott Morgan, formerly of the Rationals and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band as well as a solo performer in his own right, and crewed by Europeans Theo Brouwer (bass) and Tony Slug (guitar), their numbers included moonlighting Hellacopters frontman Nicke Royale on drums, before he gave up the stool to Michigan’s Andy Frost. Imbued with the spirit of Sonic’s Rendezvous band (whose songs pepper their set list) and an equal part of Detroit R ‘n’ B, they’re one of rock and roll’s best kept secrets. With two albums under their belt and a live release in the pipeline, our Italian correspondent ROBERTO CALABRO caught up with Scott in 2002. Here’s the result.

Scott Morgan

How and when did The Hydromatics start?

In 1998 I met Nicke Royale when the Hellacopters first came to New York. I became friends with him and the rest of the band and travelled with them on their U.S. tour. After we played Chicago he called Tony “Slug” Leewenburgh of the Nitwitz in Amsterdam and suggested we all record together. Tony enlisted Theo Brouwer on bass and a recording session was scheduled with Evert Kaatee at Yland Studio in early 1999. We each contributed two new songs and also recorded songs by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, MC5 and Ricky Carter & the Weathervanes. Tony christened the album “Parts Unknown” and it was released by White Jazz Records later that year.

What have you done between your first and your second album?

After the recording in Amsterdam, I went to Los Angeles and played with my friends the Jones Brothers. We played at Spaceland with Wayne Kramer and did a recording session at the Beach Boys’ old studio called Fourth Street now. It was Brothers studio when they owned it. We recorded Al Green’s “Full Of Fire” and my “Endless Summer“. “Full Of Fire” is included in the Real-O-Mind release “Medium Rare“. The vinyl version to be released on Munster has “Endless Summer” as a bonus track.”

In October ’99 the Hydromatics toured Europe with the Hellacopters and Zen Guerrilla. Other than jamming with the Hellacopters in New York and Detroit, and playing a bit around Detroit, I didn’t do much more than write new material in 2000. In 2001, I started by touring France and Italy with Deniz Tek and Sonic Assassin. Then I flew from Rome to Amsterdam to record “Powerglide”. We did a Hydromatics European tour just before the release of “Powerglide” on Freakshow Records.

Why did Nick Royale leave the band?

Nick is pretty busy with the Hellacopters. He suggested we find someone else. I had been jamming with Andy Frost in Ann Arbor for about six months and now he was perfect for the job. I actually told him he was hired just before I left for the tour with Deniz.

Let’s talk about “Powerglide”. It’s a great album perfectly balanced between a hard-rock side and a soul-oriented one. How did this kind of album come out?

I’ve always been a big soul music fan and I’ve been trying to blend it with the rock and roll. This time I decided to put in a heavier dose of soul and I think it worked out well. We even added a psychedelic soul bonus track “Starvin’ “. That one reminds me of “Calling Lwa” on “Parts Unknown“. It’s a vodoo song to call up your patron spirit.

What are the main differences between “Parts Unknown” and “Powerglide” for you?

I think the extra soul influence is one difference. I wrote more of the material this time also. We added the background singers on this one too, and I think that added a lot.

Why on the new album did you decide again to play a bunch of Sonic’s Rendezvous Bands’ numbers?

On “Parts Unknown” Nick and Tony wanted to get studio versions of Sonic’s Rendezvous Bands songs that had only been recorded live. “Powerglide” continues in that tradition. This time we added two Fred “Sonic” Smith songs that we had done on “Getting’ There Is Half The Fun“, the Rendezvous Band live in Detroit with Deniz Tek on Real-O-Mind Records.

Apart from the old SRB songs, are the other tracks new or do they come from different periods of inspiration and composition?

I wrote “Ready To Ball“, “R.I.P. R & R“, “Soulbone“, “Tumblin Down“, and “Green Eyed Soul” in the time I had off in 2000. Tony and I wrote “Powerglide” together.

What are your fave songs on the new album?

I’m very happy with the album as a whole. All the songs have their own merits. I think live and on record “Ready To Ball”, “R.I.P. R & R”, and “Soulbone” are naturals. As an album track “Tumblin’ Down” with the singers and horns arranged by Thijs Willemsen is undeniable.

Last year you released a great album titled “Medium Rare” that covers your career from 1970 to 2000. Can you tell me something about that release?

My friend Geoff Ginsberg at Real-O-Mind Records came up with the idea. He took all my unreleased tapes home with him and came up with a track listing that we edited slightly. It includes the last song the Rationals recorded in 1970 plus three songs from our reunion in 1991. It also included three of the recordings from the L.A. sessions. The rest are demos recorded over the years.

And what about the “Sonic Way Live“, the last year European tour with Deniz Tek and (three members of) Sonic Assassin?

Deniz and I arrived at De Gaulle airport last March. We took a bus to the train station and had to run with all our gear to make the train. We arrived in Montpellier where we met Rauky (singer for Sonic Assassin, nda) who drove us to Sete. Then we went straight to rehearsal with the Pasquini brothers Romano (bass) and Pippo (drums) and Stefano Costantini (guitar and driver extraordinaire).

In France we played Toulouse, Theirs with the TV Men from Brittany and Puffball from Sweden and Niort where we recorded the gig. Then we head back to our base in Sete for one day of much needed rest before the overnight drive to Italy. In Italy we played Foligno with the Loose. Then we drive way down south to Calabria. When we finally arrived at Marzi, a small village near Cosenza, we entered town in the evening and the police pulled us over. It turns out they wanted to give us an escort into town. When we arrive at the outdoor concert site, we are greeted by the mayor.

The gig was great and it was also recorded for future release. Then we played Pescara and Rome where we recorded again but unfortunately the tape was stolen. All was not lost as Sonic Assassin knew a guy with a studio in the country where we transferred everything from Niort and Marzi to disc. We did some work on the tapes in Capena outside of Rome and Deniz did some more in Montana later. [ED: It will be issued in 2003 on Career Records.]

After that, we hung out a few days with Romano and Pippo from Sonic Assassin, then I said goodbye to my friends and was off to Amsterdam to record “Powerglide” with the Hydromatics. I enjoyed my stay in Italy as I did France. I hope to return again with the Hydromatics.

I know these days you’re pretty busy with another great project called Powertrane featuring Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman) and Ron Asheton (Stooges). What can you tell us about it?

We haven’t found a US deal for The Hydromatics so I’ve been busy putting Scott Morgan’s Powertrane together. We’re doing our first tour here in a week. We plan on recording in the next few months. Andy Frost is on drums again. Chris “Box” Taylor from Mazinga is on bass, and Robert Gillespie from Mitch Ryder’s Band on guitar. Deniz Tek is touring with us and Ron Asheton will play in Ann Arbor and New York.[The live album is out on Real O Mind and reviewed here.]

It seems to be a constant period of great activities and success – at least at a certain level – for you now. Why was your name and work “hidden in the shadow” for a long time, after SRB?

I had to start over after Sonic’s Rendezvous Band ended. I started out getting a band together and recording new material. Then we went looking for a record label. We spent several years playing live in Detroit, New York and Chicago and making demos. Fred Smith told me making demos was a mistake. I realized he was right, so we recorded “16 With A Bullet” and “Detroit” and put it out on a small label called Jukebox Records in Detroit. Within a month I was getting calls from CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and the Village Voice because of the teen violence issue in “16”. The crack cocaine thing was just starting here and all the gang bangin’ that went along with it drew national interest to my single.

We recorded “Rock Action” next and released it on Revenge Records in Paris. Then we released two records on Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor as Scots Pirates. By then things were rolling and I went on a west coast tour. While in L.A. I recorded “Dodge Main” with Wayne Kramer and Deniz Tek for Total Energy Records. We did some gigs with that group the following year, and I started going to Los Angeles to record and play live. Joey Ramone came to our gig in Hollywood.

We recorded “Pop Poppies” and “Radio Hollywood” with the Jones Brothers. I went back to Detroit to play with Gary Rasmussen from SRB and Robert Gillespie for a few months, but that group wasn’t recording or touring so my girlfriend Maureen and my friend Geoff suggested I meet the Hellacopters. We recorded “Downright Blue” for Sub Pop and did 2 gigs in New York the first time we met. We also rerecorded “16 With A Bullet” and “Slowdown, Take A Look” as well as a couple of live tracks from Vancouver, Canada for Sub Pop. I wrote lyrics for “Hurtin’ Time” on “High Visibility” and I’m working on some lyrics for their next record.

First published on RUTA 66 (Spain) issue n. 185