St. Louis blues musician Steve Morgan, who had a 30-year second act on Cape Cod as the leader of Steve Morgan and the Kingfish, died suddenly on Oct. 12, 2022 near Peterborough, N.H. while en route from Eastham to Maine with his friend and bandmate drummer Ed Wanamaker. The cause of death, confirmed by his daughter, Amber Morgan, was a pulmonary embolism. Steve was 74.
The son of Kenneth and Josephine (Mondello) Morgan, Steve was born on Jan. 14, 1948 in St. Louis and raised in Overland, Mo. “He was incredibly mischievous, a prankster, a quality that remained with him throughout his life,” said Amber.
Growing up in the rural Midwest, Steve was an amateur naturalist. “He always had frogs or snakes in his pockets,” Amber said, “and he would put them in his dresser and the odd dead one in the freezer.”
As a preteen he became obsessed with the word “freedom” and scrawled it on every possible surface. Once he wrote it on a slip of paper, then with a heated kitchen knife he softened the center of a stick of butter, inserted the paper, and observed his parents discover it when they cut into the butter at their next meal.
Steve attended St. Louis University High School, but he was restless and left before graduation. He read insatiably: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Henry Miller was a favorite author.
Steve earned a GED and went to radio broadcasting school in St. Louis, which may have been helpful years later when he hosted the Thursday Morning Blues Cruise on WOMR.
“I first got interested in playing the blues in 1968,” Steve told blogger Michael Limnios in a 2013 interview. “I had recently picked up a guitar and never put it down.”
He taught himself to play, experimenting with the range of possible sounds his guitar could make, while working as an auto mechanic. He sneaked into blues clubs and bars in St. Louis where he saw Ike and Tina Turner, among other blues greats, and he was hooked.
In 1973, his life changed: he was granted sole custody of his daughter, who was born that year. “Being a working musician while trying to feed a family,” he told Limnios, “meant I always had day jobs.”
Steve become a stock and commodities broker, a career he successfully pursued for more than 25 years, even though he didn’t particularly enjoy the work. In his heart, he remained inquisitive about art, nature, and people, and his commitment to music never wavered.
One night, while playing at a bar in rural Missouri, he saw Marjorie Sanson in the audience. He signaled the band to take a break. He and Marjorie married, Marjorie adopted Amber, and they were a family until Marjorie’s death in 2019.
Marjorie had spent her childhood summers on the Outer Cape, and when she brought Steve to Wellfleet, he was taken by it. The family relocated to Wellfleet in 1992 and later settled in Eastham.
Amber took a job with the Dolphin Whale Watch, working on a boat captained by Joe Bones. She introduced Steve to Joe, they got on well, and Joe brought Steve to the Beachcombers Club, where Steve found a community of like-minded souls and where he eventually served a term as Skipper.
Steve played his first gig with the Kingfish in November 1992. As he told blogger Bill Copeland, the owner of Chatham Sand had asked him if he had a band and Steve said yes. When he got the gig, he had to put a band together. With some changes in personnel over the years, Steve Morgan and the Kingfish played together until the fall of 2022.
Early on, the going was rough. “About 1997, I disbanded my band and was playing with no one and felt like I was in one of the worst possible places to play blues,” he told Limnios. “I still do, but I persevere.” His perseverance paid off.
In 2015, when he was 67, Steve Morgan and the Kingfish won the Boston Blues Challenge, which qualified the band for the 2016 International Blues Competition where they made it to the quarterfinals. Between 2007 and 2022, the band released five CDs, Hurricane, Blues in Paradise, That Ain’t Blues, When Will I Know?, and I Feel a Buzz Comin’ On.
In a September 2021 column in the Independent, Dennis Minsky wrote that Steve “brings his origins with him: the influences of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and traditional Black musicians, filtered through the experience of playing in a Southern rock band out West for almost 10 years, in country bars, and in front of hay wagons in barns. His early learning was a Bob Dylan songbook.”
Steve “was the consummate band leader,” said Roe Osborn, the bass player for the Kingfish. “He ran the band like a family; he was the most democratic band leader I ever worked with. He encouraged all of us to write and perform our own songs. He didn’t care who was the lead.”
The last observation is clearly reflected on When Will I Know?
Limnios asked him what the blues means. “The blues is our affirmation of life no matter what it throws at you,” Steve replied. Amber agreed. Her father was, she said, “always able to talk you off the ledge. ‘They call it the worst-case scenario for a reason,’ he said, ‘because it almost never happens.’ ”
He is survived by his daughter, Amber Morgan of St. Louis, and his grandson, Eben Morgan of Eastham, an accomplished musician who was taught by his grandfather.
Steve was predeceased by his wife, Marjorie.
He is also survived by his two cats, who now need a home.