One of my favorite regular reads is “Saving Country Music” penned with an acerbic wit and what can only be described as righteous indignation by a dude named Kyle Coroneos, aka “Trigger”, with whom I agree on just about everything he writes in defending his self-imposed, virtuous cause. Some time ago, in regard to the awesome Red Dirt country band The Turnpike Troubadours, he concisely tweeted, “If someone says they don’t like country music, hand them a Turnpike Troubadours album. If someone says they only like mainstream country, hand them a Turnpike Troubadours album. If someone doesn’t know the Turnpike Troubadours, hand them a Turnpike Troubadours album.” I couldn’t agree more (and yes, I’ve followed this advice). Here, I’d like to re-purpose Trigger’s simple country wisdom with the following slightly amended thought: “If someone says they don’t like country music, take them to a Whitey Morgan & The 78’s concert.” (Yeah, I’ve done this too).
To the generation of vapid, backwards cap wearing ‘bros who understand contemporary country music to be the likes of inane pop-country drivel about beach babes and partying in pick-up trucks, may I present Whitey Morgan, a man producing a thoroughly modern soundscape, yet with utmost respect for country traditions and the outlaws upon whom real country music was built. Let’s just say Whitey’s got a lot more in common with Waylon Jennings than Luke Bryan. Actually, he’s got more in common with William Jennings Bryan than Luke Bryan. Luke Bryan is an utter disgrace to good country music. Let’s just move on.¹
I’ve been to two recent Whitey Morgan & The 78’s concerts and both were revelrous, whiskey-swilling, honky-tonk affairs, but at the same time were marked by some seriously ace musicianship. In addition to Whitey more than ably handling his own axe, the solos were liberally passed around among another crack lead guitarist, an acoustic guitar implausibly amplified so as to jump out of the live mix, and the ever-present, distinctive “high and lonesome” sound resonating from an expertly played pedal steel guitar. To the many who would be unfamiliar with what Whitey and his accomplished band bring to the current country music conversation, one critic’s description offered a warning of sorts: “This isn’t your watered-down pop-country music for the commute to soccer practice. This is blood, sweat, and beers that’s dripping with loneliness and sorrow while being equally tough as nails and feisty.” Said another way, it can be dark as hell and still great listening. One such example is the song featured here, the first Whitey Morgan record I ever heard, ‘Waitin’ ‘Round To Die’, off of 2015’s sensational “Sonic Ranch” album. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in this video, but to say it conveys a foreboding sense of desolation and dread would probably still be understatement. And I love it. This is some despair I can get behind.
One other note of related interest, lest anyone be left with the idea that Whitey Morgan and this “Saving Country Music” concept were merely a regional thing, let’s say, of importance strictly as a southern story: Both concerts I saw were in New York City, well-attended by a bunch of boots and hat-wearing big city folks; My favorite music writer who first turned me on to Whitey, Steven Hyden, is a proud Wisconsinite, now living in Minnesota; And while Whitey himself might appear straight out of central casting for a good-ole southern boy, he’s actually a modern-day outlaw who hails from the decidedly non-Dixie side of the Mason-Dixon line, all the way up in Flint, Michigan. That’s not even the southern side of the northern-most state! Real country lives on, and apparently lives everywhere (it just can’t live with indolent bro-country mooks like Luke Bryan.)
¹My man Trigger has referred to Luke Bryan as “the Ronald McDonald of Country music.” Probably still too kind.