Several years ago, I saw a performer named Teddy Morgan perform to a small bar crowd in Manhattan. Having already discovered Morgan’s music through two friends, I was disappointed there was not a larger crowd for someone who made such great music.
But it is a tough business. The ups and downs of the music world eventually probably led Morgan to shift his focus from his talented work as the front-man of a band to being a backing performer for actor-singer Kevin Costner in his band Kevin Costner & Modern West.
You have to do what you have to do to survive. And the change allowed Morgan to make a living and play before much larger crowds than he was seeing out on his own. But I miss the music he might have made if he had continued on his prior path.
Teddy Morgan’s Early Career
Morgan grew up as a talented guitarist in Minneapolis recording his first album, Ridin’ in Style (1994), with a focus on blues. Allmusic lists an album from 1995 called Teddy Morgan & the Sevilles, but I have not been able to find it.
Although Morgan’s albums featured his singing, on other projects he often loaned his guitar skills to make other singers look good too. For example, he played guitar in a performance from 1994 backing up singer Candye Kane on the blues.
Below is another early Morgan performance where Morgan sings lead on a song when he was still focused on the blues. Here, he performs “Dear Ted Letter” with the Sevilles (Eric Mathew (bass), Esten Cooke (drums)) in July 1994 at the 19th Anniversary of Antone’s in Austin, Texas. July 12, 1994.
For me, though, Morgan’s best work so far came in his next four albums. Although the blues continued to color his work, these next albums blended his blues influences into albums that tended more toward roots-rock. Bob Dylan influenced Morgan’s music too, as Morgan occasionally covered some Dylan songs.
Louisiana Rain & Lost Love & Highways
His style shift reflected a geographic move after Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds heard the young Morgan in a bar and convinced him to move to Austin. Morgan’s next albums — Louisiana Rain (1996) and Lost Love & Highways (1999) — showed the influences of rock and roll as well as country music on his blues style.
Below is “Baby Don’t Leave Me” from Louisiana Rain (a song that at least one band, The Jelly Blues, has covered).
Lost Love & Highways included a sharp band called the Pistolas. NPR and Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker selected Lost Love & Highways as one of the best albums of the year. But apparently the sales were not there.
Below is the title song from Lost Love & Highways, showing the country influence:
Crashing Down & Freight
I saw Morgan perform live soon after the release of Freight, which may be his best album. But by that time, he was reduced to trying to sell the CD out of a cardboard box on breaks during his performances. I bought two copies from him.
One of my favorite Morgan originals is the song, “Along the Way,” which is a great combination of blues and rock with a little twang.
Yet, it was clear that after four albums, Morgan was far from being supported by a big label.
Move to Nashville & Joining Kevin Costner
It appears with a relatively disappointing solo career, Morgan used his talents in other ways. He moved to Nashville, and he played on CDs for other performers. He also worked as a producer and used his other vast talents to stay in the music business.
And at some point, because of Morgan’s talents and based upon the recommendation of John Coinman, Kevin Costner asked Morgan to join his band Modern West.
Teddy Morgan still maintained his own website for awhile after joining Modern West. But it is focused on promoting his work with other artists like Alternate Routes and Tim Warren as opposed to promoting his own solo music. Morgan also has performed with The Alternate Routes in addition to his gigs with Modern West. [Nov. 2017 Update: Morgan apparently abandoned his website and the link now hosts a company hawking diet supplements.]
Morgan continues to do great work with Kevin Costner & Modern West as well as work behind-the-scenes making other musicians sound better. In 2012, Modern West found some success with an album inspired by Costner’s excellent miniseries, Hatfields and McCoys. The album, Famous For Killing Each Other: Music From and Inspired by Hatfields & McCoys, climbed to No. 14 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
More recently, Morgan played guitar on and produced “Love Shine” for Kevin Costner and Modern West. The band released the video in June 2017.
I understand that, like all of us, Morgan has to make a living. Unlike many others, he is fortunate to be using his talents in something he loves. And I am thankful for the music Teddy Morgan has made. I am a fan of Kevin Costner’s movies and do not begrudge him pursuing other artistic endeavors either. Modern West consists of talented musicians.
But I still wish Costner would occasionally let Morgan play “Along the Way” on stage. And I wish Morgan were making more music on his own.
By himself, though, Morgan probably never had a crowd anywhere near as big as this one with Kevin Costner singing Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man.” When you watch the video, Morgan is on the far right side of the screen.
Teddy, I miss you.
Who is your favorite side-person in a famous band? Leave your two cents in the comments. November 2016 Update: Apparently, Teddy Morgan no longer maintains a website for his own music.
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