Whitey Morgan and the 78’s is a “certified country” band that more or less lives on the road. By phone, Whitey discussed Waylon Jennings, the music machine of Nashville, and touring.
What makes Waylon still the king?
That’s my opinion. The song that he did about a guy that influenced him…I just took that song and made it about him. It just seemed to fit. Everyone knows that’s one of my biggest influences. There’s a lot of reasons why I like him. His band was very simple and straightforward with big energy and backbeat. That’s stuff I like.
Do you think country music has lost the way of the outlaw?
Definitely. It’s more about business these days. You’ve got people who can barely hold a note onstage making records that are 100 percent digital and slicked-up with all the modern technology, AutoTune and all that stuff. It’s hard to be an outlaw when you’re following the system in the studio and onstage. It’s one thing to follow the business end of it to a tee, but when your music is also perfect… Making music is all about money these days too. Why else would you make sure everything is perfect unless you’re trying to please the machine? That to me says it all. There’s no personality. How can you be anti-establishment when you’re a spoke in a giant wheel? I couldn’t tell you the difference between any of these people. They all sound the same because they’re all recording in the same studios with the same programs. The same players play on pretty much every album that comes out of Nashville. How are you supposed to get any variety and difference in sound, tone, and attitude when everything is being played by the same people? The thing about Waylon was he was very adamant about using his band because how else was he going to sound like himself if he didn’t have the people that were on the road with him all year. That was his big thing. I’ve been a big advocate of that too. I sound the way I sound because of my band.
You mentioned being on the road with your band. What’s the best and worst thing about being on the road as much as you are?
Right now we’re doing this northwest coast run and every day is like a family trip, a vacation where we’re seeing things we’ve never seen before.
The worst part is doing this without my wife and the people that I love at home. It’s tough to be out here and take pictures and send them to my wife and say “I wish you were here.” It’s part of the job and she understands. That’s very tough. It’s definitely a tug of war between having the experience and not sharing the experience with the ones you love.
How much adjustment does that take?
It takes a while. For me, the first few years of touring, we didn’t go out for long periods of time. We’ve built to this, being gone for three months. I guess that would be the best way to do it. It would have been really hard if I had just started out being gone three months at a time. A lot of the guys in my band talk to their family all the time. I go the opposite way. I’ll text my wife a couple times a day and talk to her maybe once or twice a week. It seems easier. When you talk to them all the time, they’re in your brain all the time. I try to turn it off and be about business and the road. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I talked to her all the time. You’re just opening an old wound and why do that to yourself?
What advice about touring would you give to a band that’s just getting started?
Learn how to go with the flow. Don’t worry about the little things. It will drive you crazy. It’s neverending. All the little s— you get pissed off about is going to happen again tomorrow. Just try to let it wash over you. Don’t let every little thing stir your temper and your emotions. That’s the biggest thing for me. Every day there are going to be new things to annoy you. You just need to stop worrying about it. Worry about the big things. That’s how you stay together as a band. Try to consider somebody else’s thoughts and feelings before you open your big mouth. You gotta ride in the van with that guy every day. People think it’s like being at work. No, it’s not. You’re not with your co-workers 24 hours a day. You don’t eat every meal with them. You’re not in the van with them every day. It’s hard. The only time I’m not with them is when I’m sleeping. The rest of the time it’s “Let’s get in the van. Let’s eat together.” It’s good to get away from them sometimes. If you’ve got conflicting personalities, it can be a real pain in the a–.
Getting back to country music, are there any acts you find worthwhile in Nashville?
I have respect for the ones that I know have earned what they have. Those are few and far between. I’ve heard stories about the guys that played on Broadway for 10 years before they got a record deal. They worked for 20 dollars a show, three times a day every day on Broadway. Those are the guys I respect. I respect the musicians too. The pickers, drummers, and bass players that go in the studios every day and bust their a– to make a producer happy and take the minimum scale. The karaoke country singers that get record deals because they look good and they can sing a little bit, and somebody else writes all their s—…that’s pretty disheartening.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
I’d probably be building hot rods and restoring classic cars, which is what I did for 15 years before I did this. Or I’d be working in some kind of restaurant. I love to cook. I like to be in the kitchen and the vibe of people working together to get stuff done. I see myself doing that when I stop playing music.
What’s your best dish?
There’s so many. My favorite thing to make is fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. That’s the kind of stuff I grew up eating. I love making anything that takes me back to childhood.
Whitey Morgan and the 78’s play The Echo on Tuesday 14 August and Gallagher’s in Huntington Beach on Wednesday 15 August.