Thursday, February 10, 2011

Whitey Morgan Interview

The Whitey Morgan Interview
Once Your Down in Texas Waylon is still the King

Whitey Morgan is one of them true believers. He’s a country rocker in the tradition of Waylon, Hank and Willie. You know the type, a purist with a vision, a shoulder walking straight talking dude who sure as hell wouldn’t want to be called a dude. He’s more comfortable onstage than when he is alone, especially when his guitar needs to be re-stringed and his muse dried out for the night. 150-200 gigs a year. Whitey would never admit it but sometimes he gets tired - too tired…but too wired to sleep, mind’s full of thoughts, lyrics, chords and longing. There is a price to being Whitey Morgan …

As a child growing up in Flint, you were certainly influenced by its post industrial sprawl in terms of what is right and good; what is of value and what could be discarded; violence and racial attitudes; trust and respect for government. Can you speak to how Flint helped to scaffold your musical vision and talent?
I could talk about what it was like growing up in flint and talk about what I think about Flint and its roots and demise for hours. If you meet me, just get me started on it and I will bore you all night. But I can’t really claim that it is ever directly related to anything I have written. I’m sure that others would disagree about what affect it has on my writing. As far as vision and talent, it was traveling to other states and seeing where this music can take me and the respect I have received from people that I look up to that pushes me to be better every day. Which in return gets me outta Flint most of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of where I come from. Like I said just ask me on any night in a bar. I will tell you how great Flint once was and how there are still things that I love about it. Mainly Halo burger and Big Johns come to mind right now, although it is lunch time.

I heard that your grandfather was a good country guitarist. Did he teach you how to play? How did he influence you?
He is and will always be my biggest influence. He taught me my first G chord around the age of eight. G is still my favorite key to sing and write songs in. He also had a great singing voice. I still try to sound just like him.

How long have you been playing professionally? Where did you get your lucky break?

I don’t really know what playing professionally is. If it means that you don’t have to worry about bills anymore, than I'm not quite there. But close. I don’t think I've had a lucky break yet. I do have a lot of people that work hard and still put up with the bullshit that comes with being in a hard working band. I guess I’m lucky that they stick around.

In one of your early shows at the Machine Shop, you opened for country rebel David Alan Coe. Can you tell me about that gig?

The crowd was great that first time we opened for him. I still have people tell me that was the first time they seen us. As for Coe, I never got to meet him. We are going on our 7th time opening for him in Pontiac this October. I did talk to his guitarist Jon that first night and we still talk quite often when we are both out on the road

How did you come up with the moniker of Whitey?
I would say the first time I got called Whitey was at Cody Elementary in about the 3rd grade. It was a mostly black school at the time and I played basketball every recess. I would always hear “we'll take whitey on our team” or “white boy”. It continued throughout the years. When it was time to pick a name for this country thing, it just worked.

How do you come up with ideas about songs? Sometimes it sounds like you write as if you are standing outside of yourself and observing your life, and commenting about what its like to be Whitey Morgan, almost as if Whitey is an alter ego.
That’s pretty accurate actually. Before I ever write a word, I always come up with the idea of what the song is about and who is singing and from what point of view. Without that, I would just start writing words that have no direction and I end up throwing the song out. I took throwing out a lot of songs before I figured that part out. But it’s different for everyone I guess. I guess it is an alter ego, its fun to be Whitey sometimes.

I can hear the “Waylon” influence in your singing style and your songs. When did you first get hooked on Waylon Jennings? How did he inspire you?
Actually, Waylon kinda came to me later I guess. I was so obsessed with Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Jimmy Martin in my early country days. When I tried to write like them it just seemed so forced for me. But when I started diggin into Waylon’s 70s stuff, it just clicked to me. He had such a stripped down approach to arranging and chord structure that I just grabbed onto it right away. It came natural to me, and he was just so damn cool.

You played with the Waylors a few years back in Nashville in a Spirit of the Outlaws show. What was that like for you?

It was unreal !!!! It was at a time when all I listened to was Waylon’s live double disc that had just been released. I was so into all the players on this recording. I got to meet my hero, Richie Albright. Waylon’s right hand man and long time drummer. To me it was as good as meeting Waylon himself. He and Waylon were the ones that created that outlaw sound, that by the 80s everyone had copied. I had so many questions for Richie, but the answer I got most of the time was “Hell, I don’t remember most of that stuff Whitey”. But sometimes he would give you a story so detailed it was like it had just happened the day before. It was truly unreal.

You have some great players in the 78’s – Leroy is a fluid guitarist that matches speed and dexterity with tonal brilliance. Jeremy is a rock solid bassist that lays down that serious bottom that holds it all together. Can you comment on your band?
Well, the sound we have now, did not come easy. A lot of hard work and around 150 shows a year developed that sound. I’m damn lucky to have all of the 78s behind me, on and off stage.

I heard that you are a fantastic drummer. True? Where did you learn the drums…who inspired you as a drummer. Do you look for a drummer that has your sense of time and dynamics?
I would say I was a solid drummer. I don’t play anymore, but I do miss it sometimes. It was just something that I picked up somewhere when I was in my teens. I look for a drummer that is solid and understands that drum rolls are not my favorite thing to hear. Keep it simple and in time please. haha

I notice that you have an almost brutal tour schedule for this summer. In fact, on the day of your gig @ White’s Bar you are also performing at the Ann Arbor Arts Festival. How is it that you can summon up the physical stamina and energy and emotional balance for such a demanding schedule?

It’s easy to play, its harder to not play. I wouldn’t have it any other way.I can’t wait to play 200 shows next year.

How did you hook up with the Deadstring Brothers?
We have had a lot of mutual friends for quite a while, telling us how great the other one is . We finally met up about a year ago and it’s been great. We both have a love for great music and being on stage as much as possible.

Rockin’ With The Deadstring Brothers
A Little More Ronnie and a touch of Keef

What can I say? The Deadstring Brothers are like a musical Nirvana. Often compared to the Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones and the latter day Faces, the Brothers stir up a wondrous elixir of 70’s British Rock and hybrid Country Outlaw music. I just can’t get enough or ‘em; They evoke a feeling in me that I haven’t had since 1971 when I put together enough scratch to comp me and my buddies tickets to see the Faces. But then, at the last minute , I caught a serious case of mono and lost 20lbs in the span of a week. I went anyway. And when I returned home, high from the intoxicating fever-pitch energy of true rock ‘n’ roll, you know what I told my folks…them cats can ROCK! Well, brothers and sisters, I’m preachin’ the gospel truth the Brothers rock like Sasha Grey insisting on another take till she gets it right. Just take a listen…

It seems that you are sure living the life of a working musician, releasing brilliant music yet struggling to breakout of the regional scene. Jim Dickinson, an enduring musical genius from Memphis once said that the best music is never recorded and if it is recorded, it is never released, and if it is released it is never heard. This seems especially prescient today. How does this notion relate to your experience?

Well, I think that if you work hard and treat people right good things happen. I never really had some grand vision of success for the band. I’m a musician not a self promoter, never wanted to be a star. Love playin’ music and that’s what I get to do, don’t really get much better than that.

How can you get that lucky break when you make music with integrity, sonic masterpieces such as Sacred Heart or Tennessee Sure Enough yet the market covets music that is so immediately nameless and disposable?
I don’t believe in luck or lucky breaks, just hard work and playing music every night! I do appreciate your compliments though.

Is Masha, still with the band? I love her voice and her nuanced delivery. She has a soulful Bonnie Bramlett vibe.
Masha has left the band but still sings on the recordings and does the occasional gig with us as well. Bonnie Bramlett is one of the best singers ever and we all love her.

Kurt, your vocal style is influenced by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave…not too shabby. Do you agree?
I don’t really think I sound a bit like any of those guys, though I am a big fan of them all.

Your music is a sonic wonder. How did you craft such a dynamic sound?
We have our own studio which allows us to work on music the way we want to, without anyone givin us any shit about it. It’s mostly all vintage gear from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s hence the tone that is that whole vintage rock thing.

A previous interviewer stated that your sound is full and rich and sounds great blasting out of your car window. I agree. Who produces you and how did you get such rich tonal perfection?
I produced everything up to the new record, which I co produced with my studio partner Dan Currie. He’s pretty must a vintage gear man as well and we just dig the tones from the 60’s and 70’s.

Detroit always has such great bands and you certainly rank up there with the best. Do you compare yourself to or are you inspired by other local/regional actssuch as the Forbes Brothers,The Muggs, Larry McCray, Whitey Morgan, Howard Glazer, Doug Deming, or Kim Wilson?
I’m a real big fan of Whitey Morgan & the 78s. They are some of my best friends as well. We all share a lot of the same influences.

How did you hook up with Whitey Morgan?

We just started going to each others gigs and from there hanging out and from there doing gigs together. They are my favorite live band out there these days and probably always will be. Ain’t no one even coming close to that true out law sound and they have three of the best guitars players around. Honestly they just put all the so called country bands to shame

Two of Detroit’s best bands - The Deadstring Brothers and Whitey Morgan & the 78’s are performing @ White’s Bar on July 16th. Advanced tickets are for sale on their websites. Tickets are also available at White’s Bar on the day of the show.

Bo White

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