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Whitey Morgan reflects on Flint, Michigan, and honky-tonk hell

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“When it comes to music, imperfections are a good thing.” - MICHAEL MESFOTO
  • Michael Mesfoto
  • “When it comes to music, imperfections are a good thing.”
‘I’m glad everybody decided to show up to the party I’ve been throwing for 15 years,” says outlaw-country artist Whitey Morgan, whose musical talent is matched only by his gift for dry sarcasm. While Morgan does have kind words for recent tourmate Cody Jinks — a former thrash-metal vocalist whose musical reinvention brought him to the top of Billboard’s country charts — he’s less enthusiastic about most other newcomers. “There’s a giant list of those kind of guys, now that it’s the cool thing to have a beard and sound like fucking Waylon Jennings, you know?”

Morgan, by contrast, has spent more than a decade out on the road with his band, typically touring six to eight months out of the year. At the moment, he’s promoting his fourth album Hard Times and White Lines, which was released in late October and praised by American Songwriter for its “tough, unadulterated, hardcore country/honky tonk” delivered in a gritty baritone reminiscent of, yes, Waylon Jennings.

On the album’s first single “Honky Tonk Hell,” Morgan and his band’s dark country-rock arrangement suits his images of whiskey, women and “a jukebox that moans for all the lost souls.”

The collection also includes a cover of his friend Don Duprie’s “What Am I Supposed to Do,” which takes the mood in an entirely different direction, one that resonates with Morgan’s blue-collar upbringing in Flint, Michigan: “I sit by as the city slowly dies / And I wonder about my fate / All the sympathy on the evening news / I’ve had about all I can take.”
Having spent his first 35 years in a city whose closed factories and toxic water supply periodically feed the national media’s never-ending need for disaster stories, Morgan recognizes the difference between expressions of sympathy and genuine empathy.

“They’ve been closing plants in Flint since the fucking ’80s, and now it’s the water supply, and all of a sudden everybody gives a shit. It was like a year where that’s all I heard about, but it was just empty conversations. We weren’t really getting to the bottom of the problems or talking seriously about them.”

Morgan still has relatives in Flint, but he and his wife moved out west four years ago. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he says. “We bought a place up by Yosemite and we had a little boy. I’m drinking a little bit less, and I’m angry a lot less. So yeah, I’m more optimistic these days.”

Whether that optimism will creep into Morgan’s songwriting is still anyone’s guess.

“The songs I’m writing now are more about what was happening five years ago, when it was mayhem and drinking, and cheating, and fucking being a nightmare. It’s been a slow progression, but at least it’s moving in a positive direction.”

Morgan may be cleaning up his personal habits, but don’t expect him to sanitize his sound for radio programmers. “I want to create this environment where it sounds real and raw,” he says. “When it comes to music, imperfections are a good thing. Music is not perfect.”

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