Whitey Morgan is in the middle of Texas, evading the police.
That sounds more like one of his songs than real life, but Morgan is chatting with me on the phone while driving, which is against the law in Texas. He warns me before he throws the phone down for a minute or two. It seems so smooth, I feel that Morgan has done this before.
Since Morgan is hitting more than 200 shows a year, the best place to find him is on the road.
On his current tour, Morgan returns to Billings to play the Pub Station Ballroom on Friday, Feb. 23. Be prepared, Billings, he’s going to play some of his newer songs. They are deeper, with stronger melodies, but they are “definitely more rock.”
But there is one thing the new songs have in common with his working-man country, they are honest, down-to-earth, gritty -- just like Morgan.
Morgan, whose birth name is Eric Allen, has enjoyed success with his latest album, “Sonic Ranch,” which hit No. 29 on U.S. indie music charts and No. 30 on the country charts. Morgan is celebrated as a country honky-tonker, with a voice reminiscent of one of his musical heroes, Waylon Jennings.
"Sonic Ranch" has a smoky cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Waitin' Round to Die" that sounds like it's off a 1960-era Western movie.
He now looks to musical mentors like Van Zandt and Tom Petty when it comes to songwriting.
Morgan's new material, which he plans to record and release on a new album later this year, is a step up for Morgan and band, he said.
“There is definitely more rock,” Morgan said. "There are better melodies, better lyrics, more instrumentation, songs that are piano heavy, things like that. They are on my old records, but they are a side note to the Telly and the steel guitar.”
Morgan has bemoaned the constant hum of country pop controlling the radio. But in an era of Spotify and online streaming, that might not matter as much as it once did. Morgan thinks the fans are sick of slick pop and ready for authenticity. He’s banking on that.
“Everyone is rediscovering authentic music that means something.”
Morgan said his songwriting was born out of necessity. A native of Flint, Michigan, he began his music career playing drums in a rock band.
“I would help with the lyrics,” Morgan said. “Back then, none of us were songwriters. The lyrical content wasn’t that deep. Over the years, it’s gotten better.”
Morgan moved to Northern California a few years back, but said he hasn’t forgotten his blue collar roots in Flint. He doesn’t write about the factories closing and the hard-knock life, but rather writes songs to help his fans forget the work day.
“I leave that other stuff to Springsteen. They’re at the show to forget about that.”