Pictures provided by Almost Out Of Gas.
– – – – – – – – – – –
One of the questions that comes up often in country music is “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” There’s a lot of industry country stars that would love to tell you they’re the ones, and they record songs, print up merch, and proselytize at every turn for their candidacy to fill in for the lost country greats. But beyond the glitz and the market-driven image campaigns that surround some of mainstream country’s “New Outlaws” is an artist like Whitey Morgan and his band The 78’s—a no frills, hard-charging honky tonk outfit that tours more than anyone and brings the twang and Outlaw bass beat to country night in and night out, garnering a deep and loyal grassroots following.
But it has been around three and a half years since Whitey Morgan released a record, and rumors of an unreleased live album have been out there for the better part of two. Whitey has recently been hanging around Texas, playing some shows and getting ready to make an appearance at Dale Watson’s inaugural Ameripolitan Awards show on Tuesday, February 18th, and I sat down with him before a Friday night show at The Rattle Inn in west Austin to catch up, and ask him the question Saving Country Music has been swamped with from readers over the last few months.
People ask me this all the time and so I’ll ask you: What can you tell us about new music from Whitey Morgan?
There’s definitely been some label things happening. I’m actually off Bloodshot [Records] now. That was of my doing. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of dude. I just felt like I can do all of this on my own. The next record is going to be huge. I bust my ass out on the road like almost no other band does, and everything I have is from that. It was just time for me to do something on my own and not give away too much of my money to someone who maybe wasn’t holding up their end of the deal. I’m sure they’ll argue with you on that, but that’s a record label. I have a great booking agent now and great management. I can release a record tomorrow, on my own. I have the distribution outside of a label, I have everything I need. So what do I need a label for?
What’s the story of this live album that’s been swirling out there for a while?
The live album has been done for a year and a half. That was part of the Bloodshot thing. As soon as the live album got finished and I gave it to them is when the talk started from my end that I didn’t want to be on the label any longer. Understandably, they recoiled and said “we’re not going to really release this until we resolve whatever is going to happen in this relationship first.” It will come out when it comes out, but I’ve already forgotten about it.
So a new album is in the works?
We just recorded in El Paso for five days at an unbelievable studio with an killer producer. We got three songs just about in the bag, and we’ll be back in May for seven or eight days, and try to finish up the rest of it. It’s a place called The Sonic Ranch. It’s like no other studio I’ve ever been in or even heard about. They have three live rooms and three control rooms, all on a 3,000-acre property. They have accommodations for I think up to 30 or 40 people in different haciendas. They have a staff that does your laundry and cooks every meal for you. My management is friends with the owners. I hate the studio, but I didn’t hate this studio. I didn’t feel like I was in this studio because I could leave and walk out the studio and be forty feet to my front door and it’s just me; I have my own little hotel room right there. Most studios you can’t do that. You’re stuck in there. You can go out to the parking lot and sit in the van.
Creativity is squashed by studios that don’t have that kind of environment. I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it because I don’t need any more musicians recording there than there already are. And the equipment is unreal. Not just the recording equipment, they have tele’s galore, amps, and everything. It’s unreal. Anything you want, they have it. And it’s all because a guy that has money is passionate about music and recording. To him, it’s the ultimate dream to have musicians come hang out at his place. He’s a great dude.
I’m excited. One of the songs we recorded is an old Bobby Bare tune called “That’s How I Got To Memphis”. We put that one down and I’m really excited about that tune. It’s a little different than my kind of sound. It’s kind of got that early 80’s era sound; it’s got that minor chord in there. It’s slick. I’m trying to move on without moving too far. I know what everybody wants, they want another classic, Waylon-ish sounding album. This one’s going to be a little different, but it’s not going to be that different. We’re doing a Waylon song. I’m not going to say what Waylon song we’re doing, because I don’t think anyone’s ever covered it so I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one. But that was another song we recorded and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever recorded in my life. The three songs are already leaps and bounds better than the last two albums I did.
The plan is we’re probably going to do an EP, maybe 7 songs. The plan is just to record as much as we can over the next few years. Even if it’s not albums, put out a 7-inch here and there, digitally release two songs. Just keep it going. Never a six month stretch without new songs. And now that I’ve got the studio I want to go to, I can’t wait to just start putting music out, now that I’m able to do it legally.
Who is the producer?
His name is Ryan Hewitt. He’s one of those guys who’s been in a lot of sessions where he was either mixing or engineering or co-producing. He mixed a lot of the Johnny Cash stuff with Rick Rubin, he did The Avett Brothers last three albums. I’ve only ever produced my shit myself. Maybe five years ago I would have been more stubborn. But now, when he’d open his mouth about something, instead of just automatically being like “No, it’s got to be my way,” I think about it from someone else’s point of view and most of the time he’s right. We worked really well together.
How are The 78’s treating you?
The last time I saw you I said that was the best band I ever had. It’s even better now. The band right now, we all get along like brothers on stage and off and that’s never happened in the history of my band. Right now, every night I’m smiling, I’m having a good time. It’s been a while. I’m trying to live a little better. But when we went into the studio my anxiety was through the roof because it’s been a while and I only had a few songs prepared really. And it just jelled.
So you feel like things are going in the right direction. Can you see it in the crowds?
Oh yeah. We’re doubling, tripling, quadrupling every show we play. The internet stuff’s been going better. Everything’s been going better. I never go into a show and it’s disappointing. It’s the management and the booking, but really it’s all of it together. The fucking band is good. The old days, we’d be touring forever but it was a half-assed band. Like I’d have a fill-in drummer for eight shows. And the last year and a half to two years it’s been a fucking good band. I would go see this band.
You played Dale Watson’s new bar down in San Antonio recently. How was that?
Big T’s Roadhouse. It’s cool man, its like Little Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon, but out in the middle of nowhere. It’s even white and red, just like Little Ginny’s. About the same-sized joint. We played it on Sunday; it was Chicken Shit Bingo. It was cool, really cool.
I want to know about your guitar.
It was brand new in 2001 I believe. But it was black with white binding. I loved it, but I always wanted a tobacco burst Tele. That’s the look I always love is tobacco burst anything. So I stripped it down, repainted it, and the “WM” I painted it on there by taking some pin striping, masking it, and spraying it. Once the original frets wore out, instead of getting a fret job, I just bought a new neck. That’s the third neck I’ve had on it. It’s the U-shaped, big baseball bat neck, and it’s got new Grover tuners on it. I love it. I go to these vintage shops and pick up these 70’s tele’s and I’m like, “Oh this thing is so rad,” and then I play it and I say, “Mine plays better” because I made it exactly how I want it to play. I ended up using mine in the studio even though they had like six unbelievable tele’s there from the 60’s and 70’s.
The 78’s are Brett Robinson – Pedal Steel, Tony Dicello – Drums, Benny James Vermeylen – Guitar and Backing Vocal, and Alex Lyon – Bass.