The Texas Blues Guitar Summit (Anson Funderburgh, Mike Morgan, & Shawn Pittman) with Oliver Penn
Anson Funderburgh has been an unstoppable force on the national blues circuit since his debut album with his Rockets, Talk To You By Hand, launched the New Orleans-based Black Top label in 1981.
Born in Plano, Texas, Anson grew up in a music-friendly environment; Dallas, with all its bedrock blues and country roots sits 20 miles south. “I’ve always loved music,” he says. “Nobody really played an instrument in my family, but they loved to listen to music.” On Saturdays, the popular country music programs of the day started in the early evening – Panther Hall, The Wilburn Brothers Show, The Buck Owens Ranch, The Porter Wagoner Show, The Grand Old Opry. “I loved to watch all those things,” says Anson. “My dad did too.”
When he was eight or nine years old, Funderburgh received his first guitar as well as an unexpected bonus gift that proved to be highly influential. His mother worked at a local school and she bought it from a lady that she worked with. “I can’t remember how much she paid for it,” recalls Anson. “I still have the guitar.”
A box of 45s accompanied the guitar – Jimmy Reed singles, Albert Collins’ Sno Cone (Parts I and II,) Freddie King’s Hideaway, Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City and Linda Lu by Ray Sharpe. That precious stack of hard-driving platters pointed Funderburgh in a stylistic direction that proved irresistible. Another important in-the-flesh influence included the Nightcaps, a Dallas-based band whose rollicking Wine, Wine, Wine was a regional sensation during the early ‘60s. “I think they probably inspired all the guitar players in my area,” says Anson.
Then there was his in-person brush with B.B. King, which left an indelible impression. It was 1969 at the Loser’s Club off Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. “It was a small club and he had the entire band, horns and all. It was amazing. It just blew me away.”
Anson became a professional musician at age 15, playing in a variety of local bands including Sound Cloud Reunion and the Bee’s Knees. “Because of a dance that was popular called the Texas Push, we always played shuffles,” notes Anson. “You had to do a bit of different styles of music for different things. Honestly, it was mostly blues. That’s the truth.”
Along the way, he listened to the greats of the genre, absorbing all he could. His biggest influences stylistically were Freddie King and B.B. King but Funderburgh also embraced the West Side sounds of Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. “I like all the guys that played behind the harmonicas, too – Luther Tucker and Robert Jr. Lockwood, Louis and David Meyers. I love all those old Jimmy Reed things with Eddie Taylor. There’s just so many.” Jazz greats Kenny Burrell and Barney Kessel also had an impact.
Anson’s first big break came in 1978 when he teamed up with harmonica player and vocalist Darrell Nulisch to form the initial incarnation of The Rockets. Introduced through a mutual friend, they started gigging every Monday night together in October of that year and by January of 1979 they were making music together full-time at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas. “It was such a fun thing, and we enjoyed the same kind of music, so it just kind of stuck.”
Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets were the inaugural artists on Hammond and Nauman Scott’s New Orleans-based Black Top Records, one of the leading contemporary blues labels throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Kicking off the label in 1981 with their acclaimed debut release, Talk To You By Hand, the band encored in 1983 with She Knocks Me Out!. “Those records with Darrell, I think those were good records,” says Anson. “We did a lot of covers at that particular point.”
Funderburgh found Nulisch’s successor by pure happenstance while the Rockets were out on tour and playing in Jackson, Mississippi. Sam Myers already boasted quite a resume, having cut classic singles for the Ace and Fury labels more than two decades prior. While playing at a club called George Street Grocery in ’81 or ’82, Myers came and sat in with the band. “Every time we played Jackson, we’d go see Sam…...we just became real good friends,” recalls Anson.
In 1984, Sam and Anson recorded My Love Is Here To Stay for Black Top. “I just had an idea of putting together a record, a little side project I could do, and still do The Rockets. And it would be a way to help Sam…….it sounded so good to me, that record is a great record.”
Nulisch stepped away from the music business and exited The Rockets in 1986. “When Darrell decided to leave the band, I called up Sam and asked him if he wanted to move to Dallas. He said, ‘Sure.’ I went and picked him up in Jackson and moved him to Dallas,” recalls Anson.
With Myers as The Rockets dynamic front man – his booming pipes were perfectly complemented by his muscular harp work – Anson embarked on his most bountiful period on wax, issuing one spectacular album after another on the Black Top imprint: Sins (1987), Rack ‘Em Up (1990), Tell Me What I Want To Hear (1991), Live At The Grand Emporium (1995) and That’s What They Want (1997). And you can throw in the ’91 overview Thru The Years: A Retrospective for good measure. Anson also guested on Black Top recordings by Snooks Eaglin, Nappy Brown, Joe Hughes, Grady Gaines and James “Thunderbird” Davis. The band moved to Bullseye Blues in 1999 for Change In My Pocket and Which Way is Texas? in 2003. The Rockets even achieved cinematic immorality by appearing in the nourish 1994 feature China Moon, starring Ed Harris. The film’s soundtrack also featured several of the band’s songs.
Mike Morgan was born in Dallas on November 30, 1959, and grew up in nearby Hillsboro, Texas. Morgan displayed an avid interest in music as a youngster, listening intently to the impassioned soul sounds of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett on local radio stations. He received his first guitar while in the third grade, but didn't begin to take playing seriously until he discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan's album, Texas Flood, in 1985.
"When I heard Stevie's first album, that was it," Morgan recalls. "I already knew how to play the guitar, but Stevie showed me a lot of things I didn't know. After that, I dove headlong into playing the blues."
As his prowess on the guitar developed, it became clear that he was not merely a Stevie knock-off, but rather an original player with a sound and style all his own. Mike moved to Dallas in 1986 and soon hooked up with experienced vocalist Darrell Nulisch (formerly with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets and Ronnie Earl) to form The Crawl (named after an old jukebox hit by guitar great, Lonnie Brooks. Darrell had a tremendous knowledge of blues and a deep collection of blues records, and he exposed Morgan to the music of the Chicago blues scene and many of its key players.
Mike Morgan and The Crawl quickly made a name for themselves as one of the best contemporary blues bands in Texas, writing original songs that were on a par with the classics they chose to cover. After Nulisch left the band in 1989, Morgan set out to find a vocalist who would fit his desire for a broader-based R&B sound. He found the perfect match in Kansas City native and blues veteran Lee McBee, whose smoky, seasoned vocals were reminiscent of the legendary 1960s soul singers Morgan listened to while growing up. The fact that McBee was also an accomplished and revered harmonica player added more fuel to The Crawl's fire.
As Mike and Lee's collaboration proved popular with blues aficionados, appearances at the Benson & Hedges Blues Festival, the Dallas Blues Festival, the Atlantic City Blues Festival and the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival soon followed. Shortly before a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Morgan's old pal Anson Funderburgh took Black Top owner Hammond Scott to a gig. Scott was so stunned by the band's talent and originality that he signed them to the label immediately following the Jazz Fest appearance.
Mike Morgan and The Crawl found a national audience with the release of their debut recording, Raw & Ready, in 1990. Backed up by extensive national and international touring, Mike Morgan and The Crawl continued to amaze their fans throughout the 1990s by releasing five highly regarded albums, Mighty Fine Dancin, Full Moon Over Dallas, Ain't Worried No More, Looky Here!, The Road and I Like The Way You Work It. Morgan even kept a high profile during some down time away from the band in 1994 by recording Let The Dogs Run, a highly acclaimed record that paired him with fellow Dallas guitarist Jim Suhler.
Meanwhile praise for Morgan and the band came flooding in. Guitar World Magazine called Morgan "a genuine blues guitar hero!!"
Blues Access Magazine raved, "Mike Morgan and the Crawl crank up an irrepressible of fresh gritty blues and romping Stax/Volt-era soul."
New Years Eve 1999 saw an end to the Morgan /McBee era of Mike Morgan and the Crawl. As Lee ventured out to do his own band back in his home state of Kansas, Morgan decided it was high time he took over as front man. After years of great vocalists / front men such as Lee McBee, Darrell Nulisch, Chris Whynaught and Keith Dunn, Mike was ready to take on the new challenge.
In 2000 Texas Man, Mike’s first vocal outing was released on Severn Records. Texas Man met rave reviews and was followed up in 2004 by “ Live in Dallas.”
2007 saw the release of the most current CD, Stronger Every Day. Stronger Every Day was released by Seven Records and has guest appearances by Lee McBee and Randy McAllister.
After years of non-stop touring, Mike turned his attention to playing mainly in Texas and branching out with artists such as The Tejas Bros, Dustin Arbuckle, Johnny Sansone, Johnny Burgin, and The Terraplane Rounders. In 2019 Morgan formed a super group of guitarists called Texas Blues Guitar Summit featuring Anson Funderburgh, Shawn Pittman and himself.
2022 marks his latest and most dynamic release to date in The Lights Went Out in Dallas on the CRS label based out of The Netherlands.This album includes an all star cast of DFW and Austin’s finest musicians the likes of Reo Casey, Anson Funderburgh, Mike Flannigan (B3 player for Jimmy Vaughan), Shawn Pittman, Drew Allain, Danny Cochran, and Kevin Schermerhorn just to name a few.
Mike is normally doing a three piece band with the rhythm support of Kevin Schermerhorn on drums and Drew Allain on bass.
Shawn Pittman was born in the small town of Talihina,Oklahoma at the Choctaw Nation Indian Hospital and raised in Cleveland County, Oklahoma. At age of fourteen he picked up guitar and was soon introduced to the mysterious sounds of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters. Soon after he started exploring Elmore James, Albert King and Buddy Guy. Being a teenager Pittman then discovered the Vaughan Bros as well as Anson Funderburgh and Mike Morgan.
At Seventeen, he moved to Dallas, Texas where he attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts national debut in ’97 as Burnin’ Up on the Cannonball Records label Something’s Gotta Give, was produced by Jim Gaines and followed in ’98. Pittman toured with Susan Tedeschi briefly in ’99, just long enough to make a television appearance with her on the Conan O’Brian Show.
'Full Circle,' backed by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section Double Trouble. He had a band with former Fabulous Thunderbirds bassist Preston Hubbard called Killer Instinct. Between 2008-2010 Pittman had five more independently released recordings under his belt. This flurry of activity eventually led to a new record contract with Delta Groove, and plans were immediately set in motion to record another album.
‘Edge Of The World’ marked Shawn Pittman’s tenth release, and contains an inspired program of original material by an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, recalling all the vintage tones and ambiance of the great blues recordings of the 1950’s and ’60’s. Pittman plays virtually every instrument on the CD, handling vocals and guitar, to bass, drums and piano, on top of doubling as the album’s producer and engineer. Special guest Jonathan Doyle (Mighty Blue Kings, Jimmy Sutton’s Four Charms, White Ghost Shivers) represents the album’s only other personnel by contributing tenor & baritone saxophone on four songs. When asked to comment about the inspiration behind his latest and most ambitious project Pittman simply states “I’m just playing the music I want to hear.”
During which time he also released his 11th album 'Backslidin' Again' (2015). In January, 2018 Pittman recorded his 12th album 'Everybody Wants to Know' with longtime friend and drummer Jay Moeller In the Spring of 2020, Pittman returned with ‘Make It Right', in partnership with Netherlands-based Continental Record Services (CRS) B.B. King told me when I asked him his secret for longevity: “Treat people how you want to be treated, and remember everybody has a boss.”
Pittman moved back to Dallas in 2021, and as an adaptation to the pandemic, has expanded his repertoire to include acoustic/solo music. His latest release 'Stompin' Solo' is his first all acoustic album on the CRS subsidiary Must Have Music.