Nearly 600 miles separate Flint, Michigan, from Nashville, Tennessee. For Whitey Morgan, a honky-tonk hell-raiser who grew up in the shadow of Flint’s shuttered factory buildings, that distance might as well be 6,000 miles.
Large, bearded and barrel-chested, Morgan mixes the twang of his outlaw heroes with the blue-collar bombast of the Great Lakes State, carving out a sound that owes more to the Rust Belt than Music City. Don’t be fooled by the pedal steel guitars. This may be country music, but it’s dirtier and more dangerous than your average Tennessee two-step, filled with songs about people who drink out of desperation, not celebration.
Morgan tips his hat to those that came before him with the upcoming Sonic Ranch. Recorded in EL Paso and due out in May, the album pairs eight rough-and-tumble originals with covers of Waylon Jennings’ “Goin’ Down Rockin'” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die.”
“I’ve always loved that Townes song,” he says, “and I thought, ‘What if we gave it a western vibe? What if we made it sound like the next Sergio Leone movie?’ It’s already a very dark-sounding song, so we took the guitars and tuned them down to C sharp and just ran with the idea.”
“Waiting Around to Die” quickly became the album’s leadoff single. When the time came to film its music video, Morgan headed to North Fork, California, where he booked a two-day shoot in the town’s abandoned historic village. Dubbed “Bandit Town” by Morgan’s girlfriend — who purchased the village in December 2013 — the area provided the perfect setting for a swampy, swaggering song about a drifter who can’t seem to outrun death. The locals were happy to pitch in, too.
“We didn’t have to cast it,” Morgan explains. “It’s this crazy, desolate, California mountain town, and the people who live there are pretty colorful characters. There’s a lot of bikers and cowboys, so we just talked to them about being part of the video. We got Paul, the bartender in town, to be the gravedigger. The grim reaper is played by a motorcycle dude that my girlfriend met one day before the shoot, while he was riding down the road. She flagged him down and asked if he wanted to be in the video. He said, ‘Cool; can I wear my [motorcycle club] colors?’ She said, ‘Sure,’ and that was that.”
Don’t expect this spaghetti western to have a happy ending, though. . .or any clear ending, for that matter. Shot by director Adrien Colon, the clip focuses on jumbled, snapshot narratives rather than a play-by-play storyline, leaving viewers to draw their own connections between the hog-riding grim reaper — who motors into town during the final seconds, after Paul has finished burying an unknown body — and the gravedigger. Who died? How? Why? Like the song itself, Morgan’s video doesn’t offer up any easy answers.