In order for the confederacy known as pop country to collapse and artistic slavery in country music to be abolished, fans have chosen General Whitey Morgan to lead the charge. The “pop country verses outlaw country” argument would seem so 2015, except for the fact that it is a fight that Morgan, himself, helped pick. The Roxy Theatre has seen a lot over it’s history, as one of the most famous music venues on the Sunset Strip, but a line adorned in t-shirts with quotes like “Jason Aldean sucks and His Fans are Stupid” or the popular Whitey Morgan design with the big bold letters “Fuck Pop Country,” had to be somewhat intriguing. Most people just wear another band’s concert t-shirt, not an entire billboard of hate speech on their chest.
Just out of shoulder surgery and with a new baby boy, Morgan has good reasons for skipping the Roxy show before moving on to the Stagecoach Country Music Festival the following day. Instead, with a ‘Buick City’ work ethic and a killer band, ready to roar, pigs would have to fly to stop him. Whitey Morgan and the 78’s are 2014 Ameripolitan Award winners for Best Outlaw Band for good reason. They’ve also done hundreds of shows together, the old-fashioned way, so babies and pain meds are probably nothing that can’t be easily handled.
Morgan has never backed away from a talent-packed opening artist to let crowds know he is a music fan, period. This time, he brings Ft. Worth’s own, bandit songwriter, Cody Jinks, who’s song “Cast No Stones” spread like wildfire. Most of Jinks’ music probably rings truest to those who grew up with red dirt life, but his lyrical craft puts him right in line with peers like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. Jinks flew his parents in for the show and honored his mother with “Mama Song,” a personal story about his struggles in LA as a metal head musician and how his praying mother bailed him out, more than once. Since he now seems to be well into his real calling, we all owe many thanks to her. Jinks sang his song “David”; a moving, smoky portrait of what boyhood, manhood and loss looks like around the plains. Other songs talk about the struggle of farm life in these parts, and even the tension that goes on between the Christians and, well, the better Christians.
By the time Jinks got to “Cast No Stones,” his father had already made his way through the audience shaking hands like everyone already knew him, and some did. Adorned in a white dress shirt, starched Wranglers and a black Stetson (totally opposite of his black-bearded offspring in a Motorhead t-shirt), he made his way to the front of the crowd to sing along with his boy. It was a touching thing to see this kind of family pride front and center. As the curtain fell to separate them, father held on to son, knowing that Jinks may never see this sweet spot of success again as he moves on to the many Stagecoach fans.
Then came the General. Like a born leader, Morgan took the stage with a loud kick-drum that has become his signature. His high-energy version of the Damn Quails “Me and the Whiskey” was his opener and is on his latest album, Sonic Ranch. The koozie-clad audience held them up high as the perfectly tuned and timed 78’s filled the Roxy with a sound only Michigan can bring. The 78’s are a perfect fusion of Southern Rock, with it’s screaming guitars, and the historical Bakerfield Country sound with it’s bone-rattling bass.
Morgan’s original songs “Crazy” and “Honky Tonk Angel” seemed to be the evening favorites, but when Morgan brought Jinks out again for the George Jones cover of “Choices,” the dancing ceased for a close listen. The harmonizing ability of the 78’s is spectacular, and Morgan’s generosity in showing off each artist’s unique ability is a lesson in how to respect your band.
It is unlikely that Morgan’s militia of Outlaw soldiers is going anywhere, even as he climbs to more commercial status. For just short of a year, both Jinks and Morgan have been signed with Paradigm, the monster talent agency that also represents a wide variety of artists from Billy Jo Shaver to Aerosmith. Jinks’ new album is due out in August, and Morgan has recently expressed lack of interest in continuing the outlaw-verses-bro-country battle, possibly because Honky-Tonk artists are now trendy and branding “outlaw” is becoming profitable, again. However, don’t compare him to peacemaker Chris Stapleton just yet. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of Morgan’s middle finger.
Review by Bylle Breaux / Photos by Matt Stasi
Published in National Country Review