Photo courtesy of Bloodshot Records
Article by Nick Starr

Do you prefer your country music to not talk about sport utility vehicles or wet t-shirt contests during spring break? Have you listened to all the records you own by Hank, Johnny, Merle, and Willie to the point of having every word and note memorized? Are looking for something new, yet steeped in tradition? If this is the case, Whitey Morgan and The 78’s may be your answer.

Whitey Morgan began his musical journey around the age of ten when his grandfather, Kentucky native Bill Morgan, started teaching him to play guitar. "I would try to sing along with him, but I was just a kid, so it was embarrassing," says Morgan. This embarrassment led him to the drums, and he played in such Flint area bands as Kid Brother Collective and Dixie Hustler. Finally in 2003 he decided it was time to step out front to sing and play guitar in the tradition of his grandpa. Morgan’s backing bands went through lineup and name changes before solidifying as the 78’s. "The name," says Morgan, "refers not to the record size, but to the year 1978." He continues, "We feel that was the last year of the true outlaw movement in country music. If you listen to the hits from that time period, everyone was just doing what Waylon had been in 1972, and he was already on to the next thing." The 78’s released their debut album Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels in 2008 on the Detroit based label Small Stone.

The band's connection with Detroit based alt-country band The Deadstring Brothers led to a new deal with Chicago’s Bloodshot Records. Whitey Morgan and The 78’s forthcoming self-titled album will be released by the label on October 12th. The group recorded the new album at the Woodstock, New York studio of the legendary vocalist and drummer of The Band, Levon Helm. Morgan says, "We chose to have this record be self-titled because this is a fresh start for the band...This record is much more stripped down and live sounding. There is an old school Honky Tonk, Johnny Paycheck influence." With one listen to the new disc, it is clear that Morgan is referring to "The Real Mr. Heartache" era Johnny Paycheck, and not the one of the "Take This Job and Shove It" era.

The album opens with the somewhat obscure Johnny Cash gem "Bad News." The next ten tracks are a mixture of originals and covers—including Paycheck’s own "Meanest Jukebox in Town"—that mainly deal with one of Morgan’s favorite topics: drinking. However, this time out the drinking songs (even the up-tempo numbers) seem to focus on sorrow and remorse, and come off as cautionary tales instead of a conscience-free party. This is a clear sign that Morgan is continuing to mature as a songwriter. When the band changes up the topic, we get some real album highlights. "Buick City," which could be about virtually anyone in Morgan’s hometown of Flint, tells of the experience they are living right now, in a once great town down on its luck. "Hard Scratch Pride" brings the Morgan family's musical tale full circle as Whitey has a chance to tell the life story of his original mentor, grandfather Bill Morgan. Another track of note is "Where Do Ya Want It?" which is a new song that was given to the band by legendary underground country traditionalist Dale Watson.

With the release date of their second album looming, Whitey Morgan and The 78's are preparing to hit the road hard. Morgan wants it to be known that the band—which includes Brett Robinson on pedal steel, Jeremy Mackinder on bass, Travis Harrett on drums, and Tamineh Gueramy on fiddle and vocals—is sounding good. "We are ready to go, and we are excited for what the future holds."

Whitey Morgan and The 78’s self-titled album will be released by Bloodshot Records on October 12th. For more information, visit http://whiteymorgan.com. Also, you can see Whitey Morgan and The 78’s live when they open for Colt Ford at The Machine Shop on Wednesday, September 15th.

© Nick Starr, 2010