A multi-instrumentalist journeyman whose work spans four decades, GF Morgan (a.k.a. “Jeff”) has built a career spanning Texas honky tonks like Austin’s legendary Hole in the Wall and New York’s prestigious Lincoln Center stage.
His love for Celtic music began early, but only later became his driving musical passion. “It’s always been something that’s been in my life,” says Morgan. “When the Clancy Brothers came over from Ireland, my father brought home their albums…and I played them so many times, the needle went straight through to the other side…”
Self taught, Morgan studied bluegrass during his high school years and spent a summer in San Francisco immersing himself in the rock music scene of northern California. Following a year studying film and television at New York University, he worked as a side man and studio musician on guitar and mandolin in Austin, Texas, where he immersed himself in the alternative country music boom that was flourishing at that time.
In the late 1970s, after cutting his musical teeth on American folk and rock, Morgan began focusing on Celtic music as half of the Morgan & Foulk, which opened for many national acts including Tommy Makem, Tom Paxton and New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Taking the Celtic sound even further, Morgan formed the band Renegade, with their first album, A Lark in the Morning, being released in 1991 to wide acclaim in both the US and Irish press, and earning performance spots at numerous festivals including Lincoln Center’s “Out of Doors.” A second live CD, Stand & Deliver, was released in 1998. The band morphed into Mollyhawkes in 1995, releasing a third album, The Great Sun.
Morgan’s current release, Driftwood, is the result of decades of immersion in the music of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This deep experience helps him bring a fresh perspective to the traditional. About the old songs he says, “Coming up with new versions of them is particularly challenging, because so many people have the old versions in their heads…But you have to be careful, because with other songwriters writing in the traditional vernacular, it’s really easy to hear something and think ‘Ah, that’s been around hundreds of years,’ when in fact it was written five years ago. So one has to tread carefully and do diligent research on everything.”
Alongside the traditional tracks making up the bulk of Driftwood, Morgan’s original songs reveal just how much the essence of Celtic music has become part of his American soul. The instrumental title track could easily be mistaken for one of the countless achingly beautiful Irish or Scottish odes to freedom denied or unrequited love. “Blue November Day” seamlessly knits together the traditional and contemporary in a heartfelt, thoughtful and vividly imaged love song.
Driftwood is available for download or streaming on Bandcamp, Spotify, Pandora and iTunes. Physical copies, which include notes on the songs and musicians, can be found at Amazon Music.
Fortunately for Celtic music lovers, Morgan has a growing collection of originals and new arrangements of traditional tunes (no doubt informed by meticulous research) waiting for release on his next album.
By Dan Walsh