Country music has no shortage of characters hit by hard luck: the hard-working man who can’t seem to make ends meet, the drunk who just can’t put down the bottle, the good-hearted woman who wants to do right but ends up, time and again, doing wrong.
In most cases, those characters come off like just that — characters; inventions of a particularly gifted songwriter. But in the case of Whitey Morgan, those characters — the drinker, the troublemaker, the hard-working man — all seem real.
That’s largely because the stories on his most recent album, 2015’s “Sonic Ranch,” are pulled from Morgan’s own life. That music will comprise a good portion of his set Saturday, Feb. 17, at La Crosse’s Cavalier Theater. Morgan played the Cavalier last June and this time he has Alex Williams opening for him.
Credit most of the album’s fighting spirit to Morgan’s childhood in Flint, Mich. A teenager who, in his own words, “got my a— kicked on a daily basis,” Morgan witnessed the toll the city’s troubled economy took on the people closest to him.
“I experienced Flint through my parents and relatives,” he explains. “A lot of them lost jobs at General Motors, and I saw a lot of factories close and get torn down.”
Despite the turmoil, Morgan’s family was close.
“We never dwelled on the negative. My mom always had dinner on the table and my dad worked every day for GM to make sure there was always food. They never let on that things were getting bad. Growing up in Flint ignited the ‘never give up’ attitude I apply to every part of my life. That’s what you learn when you grow up in that town.”
Morgan wanted a producer he could trust on “Sonic Ranch.”
“We needed someone that could get the big, bad sound we wanted, that wouldn’t slick it up Nashville-style. We also needed someone who would push me to my limits and not let me settle. We found that guy when we found Ryan Hewitt.”
Together Hewitt, Morgan, his band crafted a record as big on heart as it is on attitude. It’s music about loss and pain, but also about picking yourself up and pressing on, fighting to get what you want, and then to hold on to it for dear life.