In The Spotlight - Flashback with Morningstar
Interview with Rick Bacus
Written by: Gdazegod (June 07, 2002)
Occasionally there are bands in the melodic rock genre that people have heard of, but have no idea beyond a couple of passing entries in books from yesteryear. Take Kansas City's Morningstar for example. Long revered by fanatics in the pomp/AOR category for years. But what do we know about them, apart from a couple of album releases on CBS? Bugger all actually. Hence my desire to chase down some facts from at least one of the ex members. Who best to fill in those gaps than band member Rick Bacus, writing in from Kansas City.
Here are some words describing Morningstar in past written publications:
The International Encyclopedia Of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal (Tony Jasper and Derek Oliver)
: 'Multi-instrumentalists who look like a straight forward heads-down boogie outfit from the inner-sleeve picture of their debut LP. But the music is more complex pomp rock, like a rock 'n' roll version of Starcastle. Morningstar are a good band with a resemblance to Axe.'
Metal Hammer - Hard Rock And Heavy Metal Encyclopedia:
'Kansas band with several styles. One moment you thought it was a real boogie band, the other that it was symphonic or that the style lay in between the typical, old-fashioned hard rock from the mid-seventies or more powerful work like Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The many voiced vocals resembled Nash and Young.'
Let's take a quick history lesson, courtesy of Rick. 'The band was formed in 1969 which included Greg Harris (drums, vocals) and Greg Leech (bass, pedal synth bass, vocals). Mike Waggoner (guitar, vocals) was a founding member along with the two Gregs, though he retired from the stage in 1974 to manage the band. Jerry Chambers (guitars, vocals) joined around 1970-1971. A lady by the name of Janet Jameson was also in the band at the time. She was one of the early electric violinists/lead vocalists in the Midwest, alongside the likes of Robbie Steinhardt (Kansas), and later on, Charles Waltz (Shooting Star).'
That incarnation of Morningstar also included bassist Scott Donaldson. Janet left in 1973 to form her own band Cole Tuckey, while guitarist Rick joined right out of College with a music degree the same year (Nov 73). Michael Edmunds, another guitar player was recruited around 1975-1976.
Early on, Morningstar did the usual bars, colleges, opening acts, festivals, etc. while writing and shopping songs to record labels. Their Manager operated a concert promotions company in Kansas City residing in the old Cowtown Ballroom concert venue, which was linked to a management company called Good Karma Productions. As a result, they played quite a few concerts and special events long before their record deal came. One of the first shows they played was to open for Alvin Lee and Ten Years After at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City.
The Midwest at the time, already had a number of national headliners plying their trade. Kansas, Black Oak Arkansas, Head East, to name a few. I asked Rick if Morningstar were bundled in with those bands around about that time? 'Yes. We did shows over the next few years with Black Oak Arkansas, Styx, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, AC/DC, Van Halen, Head East and countless others.'
Their hometown of Kansas City is famous for another icon of the Midwest. Shooting Star. One can't help think that there's a link along the way, given the geographic connection. 'Van (McLain), Ronnie (Verlin), and the guys in Shooting Star were a couple of years younger than us' explains Rick, 'and for a while we had the same Agent/Management Company, so we did several shows together, ironically with them as our opening act on some shows. Hey someone had to go on first! Lots of talent in that band, and in spite of our collective 'Spinal Tap' and 'Almost Famous' experiences over the years, kudos must go to Van and the rest of the group for persevering.'
Striking a record deal with CBS was some coup. How did that come about? 'We had been 'doing the dance' with ABC Dunhill for quite a while and even drove the old band bus to L.A to showcase for them' says Rick. 'They didn't even bother to make it to the gig. Can you say weasels?' (I'd be saying something else starting with 'w'.. and rhymes with anchors.. Ed).
'Anyway. Remember Good Karma management? They represented Brewer & Shipley, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. They presented our material to CBS, and a rep was sent to hear us. Marty Lewis was contacted and came out to hear us in St. Louis and agreed to produce.'
Marty Lewis did indeed produce both albums, but I get the feeling that a guy like Roy Thomas Baker would have been a better choice. I asked Rick what he though of the final output, commandered by Lewis. 'What can I say? Marty didn't really grasp what we were all about and for whatever reason, failed to capture the true essence of what we brought to a live performance, although he did get a decent vocal sound. As some of the contracts were in those days, we had a seven album deal, with review and bail-out clauses for everyone every two years or two albums.'
Upon the release of the debut album, the band played everywhere they could, and they were getting extensive airplay on the East Coast. They received significant airplay too, in their local region of St Louis and Kansas City, plus other parts of the Midwest. They were a top add in Billboard, as well, their acoustic effort 'Sunshine (Changing Of The Season)' was out as a single. By all accounts they didn't receive much help from their record company, with the exception of Gene Denovitch, who was their friendly Columbia/CBS rep in St. Louis. 'we were scheduled to open the show for Frank Marino And Mahogany Rush with an extensive tour up and down the East Coast' adds Rick. 'Two days before that was to begin, Frank, who was also a car buff, dropped an engine block on his arm and cancelled the whole tour. Anyway that's the story we got. Any new band with their first album out, needed to get to the markets where airplay was happening before the songs vanished off the station rotation, or you were history. No MTV yet. We were just trying to get added on at stations, and show up for a show as soon as we could.'
Musically, we find the Morningstar material to be quite elaborate. As comparisons to bands such as Yes and Styx can easily be made. In fact GLORY-DAZE's album reviews described the band as pomp. But symphonic and progressive could quite easily fit the bill. 'Most of the songs you label as 'pomp' are songs I wrote. 'Through The Night', 'Let Me Dream', 'Never Meant To Be', 'Premeditated Rendezvous' for instance, though I would have to say that my influences are quite varied.' says Rick. 'I listened to a lot of early Genesis, Yes, Zappa, Beatles, Beach Boys in the Pet sounds days, Queen, Little Feat, Gino Vanelli, british blues from the 60s, both Johnny and Edgar Winter, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and Wishbone Ash.'
One of Morningstar's features is the lovely vocal harmonising, reminiscent of another mid-west favorite Starcastle. The ability to provide multi-part harmonies would prove to be a strong selling point for the band. 'Yes the vocals were a selling point, but the three lead guitars were also a big attraction. Our live show consisted of many dual and triple guitar solos. Too much fun!' says Rick.
A debut album is obviously near and dear to an artists heart, as Rick describes. 'The record deal and the release of the first album was truly exciting for us all, and jumping in with both feet was what you did. It was always a great time on and off stage for and with the fans, and that somehow was the great equalizer when pitted against the b.s of the business off-stage. Yes it is a dirty business' remembers Rick.
'Timing is alsocritical to any new act. CBS had just spent a ton of money signing a deal with Paul McCartney, and around the same time they spent more money on ads for a new Barbara Streisand recording. That's where the money went.'
Onto the 'Venus' era, and second time around, the cycle starts again. 'By the time the 'Venus' album came out and ran its course, we were not really the same band as when we started' recalls Rick. 'Regarding the cover songs on the album (Spencer/Davis Group 'Gimme Some Lovin' and a Stills/Young track 'Everybody I Love You'): that was a suggestion from management. No comment from me on that.'
'That track 'Rock and roll Rodeo' Jerry wrote that one, and I never would have linked it to anything Rick Derringer recorded (i.e my comparison of this song to Derringer's 'Rock n Roll Hootchie Koo')
. It was a big part of the live show, and always very well received.'
Actually, on the back cover of 'Venus', who's who? Starting at 12 o'clock going clockwise? 'It is: clockwise - Greg Harris, Greg Leech, Rick Bacus (holding the ball object), Jerry Chambers, Mike Edmunds.'
What happened to the band after the release of 'Venus'? Someone told me a tall tale many moons ago saying there was a third album. Is this true or is it an urban myth? 'No third album as far as I know, but what the hell, I didn't know that the 1st and 2nd were out on CD until about a year ago, so I can't comment on those re-releases right now, but will keep you posted. However, the late 70's were the beginning of the disco-wave of bands coming in, and bands on many labels at the time that weren't disco and did not already have a 'hit', were dropped. Morningstar were just one of over 60 bands cut from the CBS/Columbia roster at the same time.'
'With no support from the record label, no tours, no money, big loans from the bank, a fairly dysfunctional management team, all of those things combined made it very clear that it was time to stop, and choose a different path' says Rick.
According to Rick, Greg Leech is the only band-mate he keeps in touch with. He is a graphic designer with his own business. As far as Rick is aware, Jerry Chambers teaches guitar. Edmunds was a musical instrument distributor's rep last he heard, and he's not so sure about Greg Harris, who was last heard owning an antique store. Feburary of 1980 was the last performance of Morningstar in Joplin, Missouri, and since then, Rick has had little or no contact with the band.
'Janet Jameson and I met around 1969-70 while playing on the same shows in different bands. We finally got together in 1980 after the Morningstar and Cole Tuckey bands disbanded, forming the Janet Jameson Band.' Says Rick. 'Janet and I have been married for 22 years now, and have our own business writing music and doing sound design. See our site URL (shown below) for more details. We are also recording in our own studio and plan to complete a CD around Christmas. We rarely, but once in a while get out and perform here in Kansas City with a number of different friends we have made over the last 30 plus years.'
So, yet another Midwest legend discovered and put to sleep, years after the event. For all you pomp lovers out there, you finally have the good oil on what was the band Morningstar.
Thanks to Rick Bacus for sharing his thoughts and words. (George, Ed)
Rick and Janet's Website: www.bacusaudioandmusic.com
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Posted by gdazegod
on June 15, 2002 ·
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