Whitey Morgan comes from Flint, Michigan, a proud city that knows hard work and even harder times.
On his new live album, Born, Raised & Live From Flint, Morgan captures his sound and no-BS personality at its rawest and most natural — onstage and in front of about 500 rowdy locals.
Check out “Buick City,” the album’s opening song and tribute to Flint’s former mega-factory, then stick around for an exclusive CMT Edge Q&A.
CMT Edge: What was it like to grow up in Flint?
Morgan: It’s hard to say unless you’ve experienced it, but it’s kind of a smaller city where industry was everything. Everyone I knew growing up, their parents all worked at General Motors. That was just what you did.
When I was younger was when a lot of the factories were closing. It wasn’t really that different until I reached my teen years and I started to really see how it took its toll. You started seeing abandoned buildings and the corner stores all went from being 7-Eleven’s to being just a shitty corner store with bulletproof glass and bars on the windows.
It split up a lot of families. I know a lot of families where all of a sudden, everybody moved and there were just a few people left. And when you’re blue-collar and working hard like that, it’s not like you can really go and visit anyone states away.
For me, I remember it happening and when it started happening to Detroit everybody was acting like it was something new. I’m like, “This has been happening since I was 10 years old.”
How often do you get the chance to play in Flint?
We play there about every six months, so it’s not a whole lot. It’s not like it used to be in the old days when I was playing a show every couple of weeks. … It’s a good thing to go there and just play for those people that have been fans of mine before anyone knew who the hell I was.
Do you remember what the night you recorded the album was like?
Oh, yeah, I mean, it’s like every night at the Machine Shop in Flint. Every time I play there, it’s about the same thing — it’s a packed house and a lot of my friends I haven’t seen in a while. It’s like a family reunion.
The Machine Shop started out as more of a metal/rock club. It’s definitely the best venue in Michigan for the size. It holds about 550 people, but the vibe there is really cool. And the fans up there, because they don’t get bands as often, are so much more intense and they have an appreciation. When we get done playing a song, it feels good. It fills up your soul.
Being from Michigan, how did you become interested in country to begin with?
My grandfather came up from the South like a lot of people in Flint. There are a lot of Southern transplants up there.
The Hillbilly Highway, right?
Yeah, man, Route 23 goes right into Flint. My grandfather worked for Chevrolet for a long time, and when I was about 8 or 10 years old, I remember him showing me my first chords on his guitar. He was a bluegrass picker. His whole life he played country music, and he showed me how to play it.
When he passed, I was 16 or 17, and I was playing music at the time, but it was more punk rock, rock ‘n’ roll — you know, the stuff you play when you’re 17 and mad at the world. And when he passed, I inherited his Gibson (guitar) that I had learned to play on.
It hit me that I enjoyed sitting in my room on the edge of my bed just playing that guitar, and that made me feel more fulfilled than any full band I had ever played in. It blew my mind that it could feel that good for it to just be me and a guitar.
I also inherited his record collection, and I started putting those on and started noticing a lot of these songs my grandpa sang. I was like, “Oh, that’s Waylon, that’s Johnny Cash, that’s Johnny Paycheck.” I had no idea who sang those songs. I just thought it was my grandpa. It took off from there. I realized there was an entire genre of music I hadn’t been exposed to yet.