When Larry Sands announced his desire to take the 19th Century Sound Affair in another direction, guitarist Mike Waggoner and drummer Kenny Mairs didn’t exactly throw themselves off the top of the Kansas City Power & Light Building. Rather, they grabbed the remaining members of the Chontels and formed the Invasion-esque cover band London Wood in the Spring of 1967. Mairs didn’t last the year, and was replaced by Greg Harris that fall, a change that would alter the band’s trajectory permanently. “One night Greg and I were returning home from a gig,” said Waggoner, “It was late, almost dawn. Greg caught a glimpse of Sirius above the horizon and pointed it out to me. He called it the Morningstar.”
They added and subtracted members over the next 18 months, firstly former Melinda & the Misfits vocalist Melissa Mendenhall, then bassist Greg Leach and guitarist Butch Soto. The quintet found favor with Columbia, Missouri, recording impresario Lou Rennau, a former Chicago White Sox shortstop and piano player for Goldilocks & the Three Bears, then producing regional groups under his Fairyland Productions banner. Two sides were cut in August of ’69, the Soto original “Virgin Lover” and “If I Didn’t Want To See You Anymore”—a 19th Century Sound Affair holdover. Issued on Fairyland’s custom Lion Records imprint that fall, the record (credited to Morning Starr) would land the band an opening slot for Led Zeppelin at Kansas City’s Memorial Hall on November 5, 1969 (Larry Sands’ Bartok’s Mountain would share the bill), and an offer from Manhattan’s Fillmore East would trail behind. “We drove 2000 miles to play four songs,” Waggoner remembered. “All those miles were too much for Melissa. She was worn out and quit shortly after we returned home in January 1970.”
Morningstar made a handful of line up changes over the first half of the new decade, before settling on bassist Scott Donaldson, vocalist and electric violinist Janet Jamison, and Waggoner’s 16-year-old guitar student Joel Weinberg. With a slew of new original songs developed over a memorably hot summer, Morningstar entered Cavern in September of 1970 under the watchful eye of Jim Wheeler. Donaldson’s “Little By Little” would highlight Jamison’s chops and the intended flip, “Keep Me In Your Mind,” showed off her violin and the getup’s country-rock leanings, but neither would be pressed.
Mike Waggoner set his axe down the following year and took up briefcase instead. His New Sound Projections agency found itself at the nexus of KC, the newly dubbed “Kosmic City,” booking the likes of Tide, Stone Wall, White Eyes, Morning Dew, Backwood Memory, Stoneface, the Classmen, Fraight, and Kansas. It would be another six years before these efforts paid off for Morningstar, resulting in a deal with Columbia. That mammoth operation’s Kip Cohen had been in attendance at the Fillmore seven years prior, although he’d witnessed an entirely different Morningstar lineup. Only Greg Harris linked that band to the one that recorded the self-titled debut Morningstar album. For a cover image, there was no star but instead the medieval spiked-ball-and-chain bludgeoning weapon, as if to beat back the decade of the band’s formation. A year later, Morningstar flamed out, just one of 60 bands cut in the great Columbia purge of 1979.