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About Chad Morgan

There are those listeners who feel that country & western music would be better off if there were less people imitating Hank Williams and more people imitating Roger Miller. Failure to add the name Chad Morgan to the Miller side of the tally is an excusable mistake, because despite a half of a century of service to the art of zany country music, Morgan remains pretty much unknown outside of his native Australia. Chadwick Morgan hails from a spot in Queensland known as Scrubby Creek. Just as Paul McCartney would return to the "Penny Lane" of his childhood for lyrical inspiration, Morgan would later score one of his biggest hits with his song "Sheik of Scrubby Creek." A few seconds of this record is all one needs to get a full bearing of what Chad Morgan is all about. The groove is basic country with a bit of a folk feeling. The voice begins sounding absurd; by the chorus, Morgan is yodeling, cooing, squeaking, and sometimes sounding like a raccoon with operatic ambitions. The lyrics, if they can be made out, snatch at whatever words might be needed to describe whatever strange goings-on he has in mind. Like Miller, he is not afraid to head for black comedy in order to make a point: Morgan's "In the Cemetary" is every bit as brilliant as Miller's "Pardon My Coffin." And also like the best of Miller, Morgan is able to use very commonplace incidents as well as the absurd. In "You Just Can't Win," the sensitive hubby gets up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, then gets chewed out by his wife for moving the blanket. But one look at a picture of Chad Morgan tells the true tale. Roger Miller was just using weird as a stylistic device, but Morgan really is weird. No press release or Morgan website exists that does not almost immediately mention his trademark buck teeth. The teeth, which seem to extend a good inch past his lower lip, are definitely real -- something that brought him a good deal of negative attention back in the Scrubby Creek days. Music was, perhaps, a way of getting some positive feedback for the lad, who entered the Australia Amateur Hour contest and wound up getting to record a song for the Regal Zonophone label in 1952. This label was one of the main companies documenting the Australian country music scene, which has always been healthy, if not as exportable as the country's film industry. Morgan won the contest with his "Sheik of Scrubby Creek," inspiring a move from Brisbane up to the more populous and exciting Sydney. For a few years, he worked with other big names on the Australian country & western scene, such as Kevin King, Slim Dusty, and Reg Lindsay. Package tours were popular in Australia at this time, as they were on the American country scene. A particularly successful venture for Morgan was participating in the 1958 Star Western Show. These were up-and-down years for Morgan, as he was in conflict about whether to be a straight country performer or continue playing up his goofy side. At one point, he considered having his teeth straightened (he even made a dental appointment). Fate intervened in the form of his car breaking down on the way to the dentist, and after that he decided to keep the buck teeth. His career seems to have two main sections. There is a gap of three years after the contest recording before he was able to get into the studio again. After that and running until 1970, he was able to release about a dozen different album titles, each with many of his original songs. In the '70s, he got off the road and apparently cleaned up his health and personal habits, which he summed up once thusly: "I've been wild and I've seen a lot without remembering a great deal the morning after." In 1977, an appearance with Slim Dusty at the Sydney Opera House led to a revival of his career. Much of Morgan's later activity is focused around an Australian country & western theme park called Tamworth, located in Brisbane. There is a wax figure of him in the Tamworth gallery of stars, and Morgan performs at events such an annual festival and the Gympie Muster. He is considered the supreme Australian country & western artist, and is sometimes credited with creating a style known as White Outback. In the manner of certain country artists, such as Minnie Pearl and Stringbean, Morgan is expected to be as wacky as he can be on-stage. Acknowledgement of Morgan's work outside Australia has been limited. It seems there might at least have been a possibility for international success following in the trail of Rolf Harris, an Australian folksinger who scored a huge hit with the song "Tie Me Kangeroo Down Sport," with lyrics about as down under as one can get. The public's interest in this type of material seems to have been limited, though, because Harris wasn't able to repeat his success, and there was no more room on the charts for any other weird Australian singers. As Morgan developed his status as a senior statesman of Australian country, critical appraisal of his work began to notch up a few levels. As is the case with many performers, his skill at comedy had prevented some listeners from also noticing his musical skills. He was described as "the only original artist in Australia" by singer Tex Morton. There has been at least one attempt to produce a compilation of international artists performing Morgan's songs. And in 1998 there was an announcement of a film planned on the life of Morgan, supposedly to star actor Steve Buscemi. But as the titles of Morgan albums -- such as Double Decker Blowflies and Sheilas, Dills, and Drongos -- make it clear, Morgan is pretty much interested in communicating only with his fellow Australians. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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