Whitey Morgan and The 78’s at The Blind Tiger, Greensboro NC
It’s always good to step into someone else’s scene. Whitey Morgan is an artist I wasn’t aware of until a few months ago. He is a real-deal honky-tonk king, carefully following in the footsteps of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, and Whitey and his band, the 78’s, are at the top of the game. Seeing the show at The Blind Tiger in Greensboro was the second time I’ve seen him in five months, and he and his band keep getting better.
My friend Russell introduced me to Whitey Morgan. The story goes that Russell went to so many shows that Whitey asked him to work on the tour selling merch. Russell has been to at least seventy-five shows, and he has encouraged me to go with him to the local shows. In this world of faux-pop crap ‘country’ music, watered down FM pop, Whitey is a real throwback, in a good way. The band honky-tonks in an authentic style, and Whitey’s songs are all about what matters: love, love-lost, drinking, getting high, and drinking some more. His cover choices are exceptional, as he proved at the top of the night: second song of the set was Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Cocaine Train,’ delivered in a way that would make Johnny proud.
‘Honky Tonk Hell,’ from the Hard Times and White Lines record, was a powerful ballad kick started by Brett Robinson’s amazing pedal steel guitar.
‘That’s How I Got To Memphis,’ from Whitey’s excellent new Sonic Ranch record, has a classic, almost Glen Campbell feel, well presented with the interplay of Robinson’s steel and Joey Spina’s lead guitar work. Spina in particular was on fire this show. I noticed him watching a young hotshot guitarist in the opening band, but no one was was showing up Joey tonight.
‘Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue’ was a strong tale of woe bearing some resemblance to Skynyrd’s ‘Tuesday’s Gone.’ The rhythm section of Eric Savage on drums and Alex Lyon on bass was solid, and as unflashy as you’d want for a honky-tonk band. Acoustic guitars and backing vocals were held down by the mischievous Tony Rodriguez, who hit all the vocal notes with ease. The 78’s tore through a great arrangement of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ that showed off Whitey’s great cover selection chops. They also did a stellar honky-tonk version of Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire.’
Whitey’s signature song has to be ‘I Ain’t Drunk (I've Just Been Drinking)’ which drove the crowd in Greensboro crazy. They tore through this one and the rest of the set, ending up with an epic version of ‘Sinner’ from the Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels record, a song with a dash of Bob Seger in its DNA.
The last song was a truly awesome version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Waiting Around To Die.’ I’ve never heard a better version. Whitey Morgan is at the top of his game. Sonic Ranch is a great record, and it sounds amazing, recorded in the Neve room at the Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, one of the best studios in the US. He and his band are poised to move up. They are hard not to like, have the chops, keep it old school, and play superb covers. Expect to see him at the Greensboro Coliseum next time.
It is not the usual Zub scene, but the crowd was friendly, welcoming, happy, and even a little diverse. Peak musicianship viewed before a roomful of folks who to a person knew it didn’t get any better. Who wouldn’t want to share in that.