NEW YORK – Whitey Morgan was growing tired of being asked what he thought of the music that plays on country radio today, so he put his response on a T-shirt. The shirt has "F--k pop country," emblazoned on the back followed by "support your local honky tonk band" and it quickly became one of his top sellers.
"You know what, that T-shirt was more of an answer to the question I get all the time," Morgan told FOX411 Country. "Let's talk about something else besides that because it has nothing to do with that I'm doing. [I'm] a whole lot different than what they're doing in Nashville."
The Flint, Michigan native looked completely at ease at FOX411 Country's New York City studios despite looking out of place with his unruly long hair, "Duck Dynasty"-worthy beard and tattooed arms. His no-nonsense attitude and booming speaking voice match his music’s I-am-who-I-am vibe.
Dubbed by the media as one of country music’s last outlaws, Morgan struggles with the title even though his latest album, Sonic Ranch, fits the bill. He growls in “Whiskey and Me,” “I gave up on Jesus/ When momma gave up on me/ So much for the family life/ It's just me and the whiskey.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Morgan said dismissively. “The people saying that don’t know any different, they haven’t done the research. They don’t know there are four guys in Texas that are as good as any of those we in country music refer to as the glory days, the traditional country music era.”
Morgan likens the comparison to those who walk out of an Olive Garden and say “there’s no good Italian food in New York City anymore.” “Well, you just got to go find it. It’s the same with music.”
The lead singer of Whitey Moran and the 78’s said while he appreciates the nod, he doesn’t like the label. “I don't like being labeled anything really, like any person who has their own thoughts and ideas of who they are.”
Morgan knows who he is as an artist, but he’s battling an industry that worries more about making money than making music, he said.
“People write songs…because it means something to them. The world’s come to this thing, especially Nashville, it’s this marriage of artistry and money that doesn’t make any sense to me and they’re turning out the worst crap we’ve heard ever in the history of music. It’s really the worst s--t ever. I mean, I can’t even listen to it.”
Morgan doesn’t just sing about hard living and heartache, the honky tonk singer has lived it. Growing up in an economically depressed Flint, the son, grandson and great-grandson of automobile factory workers, Morgan has a strong sense of American pride that extends pass the flag-waving.
“I’m from Michigan, from Flint, man, we created the auto industry, we helped build this country,” he explained. “Being from the Rust Belt, we have this pride even though our cities are basically in shambles now, even though we’ve been kind of forgotten about.”
He continued, “Some people want to talk about being patriotic but they don’t really know what the hell they’re talking about. They just say it like it’s a buzzword. Like a lot of these country guys do, but when it comes down to it they can’t really discuss deeply what it means to them. Detroit and Flint [are] in shambles, General Motors moved out but everyone in that town has their pride because they know we were there when it started and we’re the reason why this country is what it is.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. Whitey Morgan and the 78’s have been churning out traditional tunes for a decade playing for rowdy crowds across the country and their lead singer hopes to keep it going that way for another 20.
“When I'm ready to wrap it up [I want to say] we went out there and worked hard we and didn't worry about the mainstream and we didn't worry about the radio stations in Nashville, in Texas because there's a thousand people in Chicago, or another city, that want to hear us play but who don't give a s--t what's on the radio.”
You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.