A leading light in L.A.’s country community for years, Sam Morrow leapt onto the national stage with this year’s Concrete and Mud, cracking the Top 10 of the Americana charts along the way. Full of gruff stomp and funky, phased Telecasters, that album forms the bedrock of his conversation with the Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett on today’s episode of Walking the Floor.
“Finally, an Americana artist that has some punk-rock roots!” Shiflett exclaims, happy to speak with another songwriter whose path to Americana music was less than conventional. From his days as a self-admitted junkie to his time playing guitar during weekly church services, Morrow has blazed his own winding path, coming out on the other end with a voice that’s every bit as honest, weathered and compelling as his own backstory. We’ve gathered some highlights from his Walking the Floor appearance below, followed by the episode’s full premiere.
Raised in Texas, Morrow moved to Los Angeles not only to pursue music, but to leave behind a number of life-threatening vices.
“I was a junkie,” he says of his stoned adolescence. “I kinda did anything under the sun.” A 99-day stint in rehab helped him clean up, as did a six-month stay in a sober-living home. As the fog lifted, Morrow began gravitating toward songwriters whose music was raw and honest, taking cues from folksingers like Townes Van Zandt and David Ramirez. He’d grown up listening to harder-edged music, but he chased the muse into twangier territory, launching a career as a country singer shortly thereafter.
Success in the Americana world doesn’t always equal an influx of cash.
“We got into the Top 10,” he says, referencing Concrete and Mud‘s placement on the Americana charts, “but I still don’t really know what that means. It’s better than not being there, but it’s still not like I’m playing these sold-out shows. . .It’s not the Nineties anymore, with Billy Corgan getting a Number One hit and going straight to the Lamborghini dealership.”
Before recording Concrete and Mud, Morrow hit the books, taking notes on the music that moved him.
“[I was] just listening to anything,” he says of the research process that lead to the album’s creation. “Production styles. Songwriting. Listening to sounds I wasn’t familiar with. . .I’d never looked at songs like that before I started making records. I’d never listened to the production.” Tossed into the mix were albums by Little Feat and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as something unexpected: Robert Palmer’s solo debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley. “It has the Meters playing, and Lowell George produced that record,” Morrow enthuses. “It’s awesome.”
Don’t mistake him a country fanatic.
“I kinda get lumped into being a country artist,” he explains. “I do play country tunes, and there are country cuts on the record, but that’s that not all I listen to.” Nor was country music his favorite genre as a child in Houston. “I didn’t like country music for a really long time,” he adds. “Being from Texas, I kinda had this punk rock attitude of, ‘Oh, everyone around here likes country? Fuck country.'”
Oddly enough, it was the church that set Morrow on the right path toward a music career.
“I figured out that I had an OK voice at some point, and then I started playing in church, and [playing guitar] just kinda came with that,” he explains. “I’m super grateful for church being there, because it gave me the experience of playing with a band, which a lot of people don’t get.”