Whitey Morgan just spent part of his Christmas week stranded in the Rockies with a broken down car. It was a minor set back, and one that the Flint, MI native takes in stride. But after singing the praises of AAA, the conversation quickly switches to the state of pop country music.
“We've reached a new level of crap on the radio,” he said in a phone interview from a motel room somewhere on the road. “I don't know what these stations are playing, but it's not even pop country anymore. I don't know what the hell they're doing. There's not a genre to explain it.”
Morgan's sound and work ethic have a lot more in common with folks like Merle Haggard than with anything coming out of Nashville today. He would not have it any other way.
“(The band and I) were sitting in the restaurant and this dance-infused thing comes on the speakers,” he continued. “It's like, 'I don't even know what that is'. But it's not country.”
For Morgan, country success only comes through two things: a serious work ethic, and an old-school talent approach to the genre. Morgan has both of those in spades. Known as a relentless road dog, Morgan tours most of the year, and credits his booking agent for keeping the trip as seamless as possible. It's a vital job, because throwback country doesn't have the immediate fan appeal it once did, so if Morgan's knows that if he wants to build a fan base, he's going to have to do it the old fashioned way.
“You've got to get out there and work at it and show people that you want to make it happen,” he said. “Unless you want to go out on the road and work hard, you're not going to make a living doing it.”
“There are bands that sit in their home state and play in the five bars that are in their county, and think that should be enough,” he continued. Even over the phone, you can hear him shaking his head. “Having a day job and doing this on the weekend isn't getting it done.”
As far as Morgan's career is concerned, the approach seems to be working. He is seeing bigger crowds at every show, and that is translating into more support for the music.
After signing early on with Bloodshot Records, and releasing two albums under the label, Morgan split with the label last year and has been crowd sourcing his newest effort. It's a new-fangled approach that seems incongruous with Morgan's more traditional sound, but it's something he warmed up to, once he got his head around.
“When I first heard about Kickstarter, I was like 'so basically you go beg for money?' I didn't really get it. (But) it's a cool way to get the fans involved. I'm not asking them for a handout, they're basically pre-ordering the album.”
And for the now-independent Morgan, it's also an immediate, visceral way to gauge how many people he is connecting with. And that is what keeps Morgan going. Every Kickstarter order is another fan that has been won through hard work and good music. And Morgan figures there are plenty more where they came from, as long as he is willing to seek them out.
“There's a million Whitey Morgan fans out there, they just don't know it yet,” he said. “How are they going to find out? Me and the boys have to get in the van and show them.”
Originally appeared in Cityview on December 21, 2014