If you want to see true honky-tonk country music, you need to catch a show with Michigan native Whitey Morgan. Today, he’s been busy on the road crossing the country on tour, as well as recording his latest album, which has been made possible thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. I recently spoke with Whitey Morgan about that album, as well his interaction with fans, and musical influences.
Jessica Blankenship: For your new album, you decided to take a new route by going through Kickstarter. How come did you decide to do crowd-sourcing?
Whitey Morgan: I was never a fan of the Kickstarter stuff because a lot of people go on there and beg for money. So when I heard my manager say that we should do a Kickstart campaign, right away I was reluctant. But then I realized what we were doing was giving them an opportunity to basically to buy the album in advance but also get a great package deal with the vinyl, the posters, the signed items; give them something that they want. At the same, it was beneficial to both us and the fans because they are helping us get this album funded. Not only that, we will be giving them something that the general public won't be able to purchase when it comes out.
Also, without having a record label right now, as a business move, it was the smart thing to do, which I'm not really much of a business man. I don't a crap about that world, but I have to start thinking that way because I don't have a label and I don't want a label. We've been doing everything ourselves lately, so what's going to end up happening this record and probably the next record will be released on our own.
Jessica: Independently per say.
Whitey: Yes, really independently. When people say independent, they think 'oh independent label,' but for me it is just me, my manager, and that's it. No one else is funding this record. Obviously the fans helped by advancing us some dough, which is great as they really came through for us. The gratitude I feel, I mean, when I saw it crossed over ten days early, I mean I was probably at a bar somewhere if I remember right. I got a little emotional and had a drink in my hand and the boys were there.
It felt great to feel that support there. We work hard, harder than most bands, and it was good to feel the support from the hardcore fans that know. I feel that the people that bought it know how hard we work because they've seen us in the good times and bad times. Now we're going into these towns and someone will come up to us and say 'hey man I gave $150 for that outlaw package and I can't wait to get all my stuff.' It's so cool because those are the fans I remember and to know that they're the ones that really helped us out; it's all kinda makes sense now.
Jessica: They are proud to support it.
Whitey: Yeah, it feels so cool to know that they are that much into it, something that I'm doing. I'm just some drunk dude singing songs that I love, but it really touches me to know that people love what we're doing and support it.
Jessica: They've got your back.
Whitey: I think they really like that we're working really hard because they are working hard for every dime they earn.
Jessica: What was the grand total that you ended up raising?
Whitey: If I'm not mistaken, it was around $52,000 and our goal was $35,000. It was cool and we had a couple of our more well to do fans book the private parties. To them, it was obviously they got to help fund it. I have a lot of these fans that are in their mid-forties, and they have been busting their rear their entire lives and now they have money and they still love to party. It was like the ultimate honor to them to buy their own private, crazy Whitey Morgan party for a night for them and their friends. It's cool and again, the same kind of fans. They know what it is to work and work for something you believe in.
Jessica: The other day you posted a photo of you with Tony Martinez. It is interesting that I found out about him via one of your shows. Berry Byassee posted a video of your set in Bowling Green, KY, a few months ago. I was unable to attend that show due to crappy weather, but he got up on stage and I instantly was asking who that was and trying to find out more. How did you get connected to him?
Whitey: Berry is a good guy. That was the first time I ever met Tony.
Jessica: Are there plans to have him on this new record?
Whitey: Ahhh, he's on it. I just flew him out for three days. He's doing all of the harmonies with me. We sing together like you wouldn't believe. It sounds so good. When I needed some good harmonies, I needed that little bit of that country thing that Tony has. He came down there and he played Telecaster on a few songs and he sang harmonies on 6 or 7 out of ten tracks. He sounds amazing. Tony is a hell of a character. We talk about these great characters there used to be in the 60s and 70s like Jerry Reed, Buck Owens, and all of these guys. Can you imagine hanging with them and how wild and crazy they were? Tony Martinez is going to be one of those guys. He's going to have those stories told about him because he's a great guitar player, he's a hell of a singer, but he's always on. When you're hanging out with him while we're in the studio, he had me almost in tears laughing just from his crazy stuff that comes out of his mouth. He's so witty and creative. He's always on. We're always serious and he's over there doing what he does. He's a rare find these days. He's young and doesn't have an album out yet. I can't wait to see what he's going to do. I will fully support anything he does because he is a great picker, singer, and just a hell of a good person. That's a rarity these days in country music. It really is.
Jessica: Where are you at in the recording process?
Whitey: We are working on final mixes for half of the record. I've got the other half, the instrumentation is almost there. It's got to be edited then mixed. We're on the home stretch. We're doing it all old school. We are actually mixing on the old console, which nobody ever does anymore. Everybody else does it with Pro-tools where the faders and stuff is on the screen. My producer, Ryan, is actually mixing through Dwight Yoakam's old console that he used on a lot of the early stuff. He's actually running the Pro-tool into the board using the faders and mixing it analog style like the old days. He sent me the first mix and it's so good. I'm so good. I'm a skeptic even with my own stuff and second guessing everything I do. When he sent me those mixes, it was the first giant weight off of my shoulders. I finally realized that this album is happening and it sounds ten times better than the last album. You better get ready to what's about to happen.
Jessica: Who are some of the musicians featured on this album?
Whitey: My pedal steel player is Brett Robinson, and Joey Spina on guitar. My new bass player has been with us for 6 months now, Alex Lyon, who is 22 years old. He grew up playing blues in Detroit. He has an unbelievable grasp of the bass instrument that I've never heard from anyone of 50 years. He grew up listening to and playing the right stuff. The drummer is from Nashville and name is Fred Eltringham. He's like a Nashville guy, but he's a cool Nashville guy playing on the records. He's not the kind that is playing on the corny pop country stuff. He came out to El Paso for three days and laid down some of the best drums I've ever heard. When I say best, I don't mean technically perfection in every step. He laid down some of these grooves that I haven't heard since Waylon and Richie Albright. We didn't play to a click track. We went in there and played. I can't even explain until you listen to it and hear the feel this record. It's big and bad, but it feels real at the same. It's not over-produced slicked up Nashville style.
Jessica: It's what music should sound like after all.
Whitey: It's a little bit of everything. I had a producer from L.A. that worked on Rick Rubin's stuff. He even mixed some of the Johnny Cash stuff for "American Recordings" stuff. He did the last Avett Brothers records and Flogging Molly record. He's a rock producer. He knows how to make stuff sound big, but make it sound raw. Then you bring me into with him in the studio in El Paso, which is one of the top three studios in the world right now. It's really one of those underground studios that not a lot of people know. But when you talk to people in the know, they are like "oh yeah, I know about that studio. Man, what's it like?" It's like a myth. People don't know about it because it is so unreal. It has been in a couple of magazines, but still, not a lot of people know about it. There are so many elements contributing to this record. I can't wait for everyone to hear it.
Everyone wants me to put out that next country record or outlaw stuff, which I don't even know what that means these days. It really doesn't mean anything, because outlaw back in the old days meant you were going against the system. The system was giving you money, but then said screw it I will do it my own way. Well the system isn't given me any money. So I'm not much of an outlaw as I'm doing it my own way and no one is there to telling me I can't. That's just me being me. I hate the outlaw label. I think it's bullshit and anyone that tries to claim it these days is full of shit. You're not an outlaw. There's these guys that go out there and say "we're playing outlaw country music" and they get up there and they're loud. They go and disrespect the bar; they disrespect their own fans and the sound guy. They piss everybody off in the whole building and then go "we brought the outlaw show." No, you're not an outlaw, you're an asshole. There's a big difference. You're a disrespectful asshole. In this business, I get it you want to do things your own way. Unless you're an 18 year old punk, there is no way to treat people like that. You're nobody, so why are you burning bridges that you might need to cross someday. I never do that. I wasn't raised that way. Granted, I'm not an angel, but I apologize for it and make good on it. There's no reason to burn bridges on the way up. You might need to cross some bridges on your way down.
Jessica: You are involved with social media with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Talk about the success in reaching out to the fans with that.
Whitey: My manager is better at it than I am. I had 15,000 fans a year ago and now over 33,000 or something. People think, 'what's the catch? What's this secret thing that you are doing that's getting all of these fans that are probably not really fans?' I'm like, 'well nothing. It's call touring and putting up ads in the right places and getting true fans. On a daily basis, I open up 20 messages on Facebook that are from people that just found out about me. That's the fans I want; the fans that actually dig it and listen to the same stuff I do.
Jessica: Being a guitar player, who are a few guitarists you look for inspiration?
Whitey: Marty Stuart and Kenny Vaughn are two of my favorite modern day players. When I watch the Marty Stuart Show, they're on another level. It's the only musical show I've ever seen in my life that sounds as good as it sounds. You can watch Saturday Night Live or David Letterman and it sounds terrible. It's just this weird sound, but that show sounds so amazing. I don't know how they do it. Marty will be this far off the microphone and it is unbelievable; the tones are great, the harmonies are unreal. I've never heard a tv show ever sound like that.
The song that we've been doing lately, "That's How I Got to Memphis," that is where I fell in love with it. Bobby Bare and Marty Stuart did it a year and a half ago on his show. I always knew the song, but there was something about that performance. Bobby Bare, he's old and his voice is kind of trembled, but man him and Marty killed it. I started from that day I learned that song when I saw it on the Marty Stuart Show. I learned that song again. I may have not really sang it, but I sat around and picked at it. Then I came up with that guitar lick, which is kinda like a rip off of "Slide Off Your Satin Sheets," but definitely a different version. Then we went into the studio and recorded it. I think it's going to be really good for us. Everyone that has heard the version that we did in the studio - you got to imagine there's organ on it, and piano, baritone guitar - it sounds huge. It's one of those songs that everyone that hears it cannot get that guitar lick out of their head for days. They almost hate me because of it.
Be sure to keep up with Whitey Morgan online at www.whiteymorgan.com. I highly encourage you to catch a show of Whitey Morgan at your local honky-tonk and see what other fans are bragging about.