After becoming a country fan as a teenager, Whitey Morgan became “obsessed” with Waylon Jennings’ band, the musicians who he says “changed the way country music was being played.”
But Morgan never expected to be playing with them himself.
These days, the 31-year-old country singer from Flint is part of Spirit of the Outlaws, a collective put together in 2006 by Nashville singer Brigitte London — ostensibly to help her record her own music but subsequently as an act unto itself. Featuring drummer Richie Albright, pedal steel player Fred Newell, bassist Jerry “Jigger” Bridges and guitarist Eugene “Madman” Moles, it’s an all-star rhythm section backing a cadre of singers, of which Morgan considers himself lucky to be among.
“A lot of the guys on the show with us, they don’t know about all of this as indepth as me — Waylon, the whole outlaw country thing,” Morgan explains. “I knew the guys in (Jennings’) band every year of his career. I was obsessed with, ‘How’d he get that sound this year, and who was playing bass for him?’
“So to have this happen, to be able to play with these guys, is so unbelievable. If there was ever a band to play with, this is the one I would’ve picked out of any of the ones he had.”
Credit London, 38 — a Wisconsin native who moved to Austin, Texas, and then Nashville in 2005 — with not only bringing the Jennings alumni together but also creating the Spirit of the Outlaws show. She was working on her first album when her recording engineer suggested using Albright on the drums.
“He knew what a Waylon fan I was,” London recalls. “So (Albright) came in and brought some of the other guys with him, and we enjoyed playing together and something kind of special happened, musically.
“And, of course, I was in heaven. They were my favorite musicians forever, and they hadn’t reunited like this since Waylon died (in 2002).”
In addition to Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver and oth- ers, this corps of musicians help craft what became known as country’s “outlaw” sound in the early ’70s — a harderhitting, rocking approach that started with Jennings’ “Honky Tonk Heroes” album in 1973 and was played with a bit more muscle than the polished fare that was coming out of Nashville at the time.
“It was really stripped down,” explains Morgan, who switched from rock to country as a teenager, after inheriting his late grandfather’s guitar and record collection. “It wasn’t muddied up by all the horns and extra crap the song didn’t need.”
On the preoutlaw hits, Morgan adds, “you’d barely know it was a drummer playing. When Richie started playing, it was all about the kick drum being loud and then the bass guitar being loud, which was not what was happening in Nashville at the time.
“It brought in the rock crowd, ’cause it was a little more edgy. And if you saw a picture of them, with the long hair and wearing leather, you’d have thought they were a rock band back then. They got away from wearing the fancy suits and all that stuff. It drew a lot of people in.”
Recognizing the treasure trove of music history around her, London — who released a second album, “Thunder,” in 2007 — hatched the idea for Spirit of the Outlaws as a monthly show at Nashville’s Douglas Corner in which the Jennings musicians backed a rotating array of singers that London discovered. “It took a while to convince them,” she recalls. “They all missed Waylon. There was a lot of healing going on.”
London, who says she was “real picky” about who she brought into the fold, found Morgan through his MySpace site.
“We happen to think Whitey’s real special around here,” she says. “You have to be good to hold your own with these guys. You could tell by the way Whitey used the drums in his music he was into Richie and had to be the right kind of person to be part of this.”
Morgan acknowledges that he was nervous when he went south for his first Spirit of the Outlaws show — on three-days notice. He was relieved to find that “they’re real genuine people who just love playing music, nothing else.” He was also flattered when Albright broke a bass drum head during “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?,” then signed it and gave it to Morgan.
“He said it was only the second time he’d done that in his whole drumming career, which was pretty cool,” Morgan recalls.
Morgan, who’s working on his third CD (and first for the Detroit-based Small Stone Records label) has recorded a version of “Waymore’s Blues” for a Spirit of the Outlaws album, which London plans to release in April. She’s also created an online magazine at www.spiritoftheoutlaws.com and is working on a documentary about the endeavor.
“It’s a real extensive project,” she says. “These guys deserve it. It’s amazing they have the heart and soul to do this considering where they are in their careers.
“What’s really great is all these younger artists are coming down and doing their own projects with these guys, too. It’s living on and breathing kind of through these different artists. It’s keeping the spirit alive, which is so cool to see.”
Spirit of the Outlaws, featuring guest singers Whitey Morgan, Brigitte London, Billy Don Burns, Bert David Newton and G.S. Harper, performs at 9 p.m. Tuesday (March 11) at the Berkley Front, 3087 12 Mile Road, Berkley. Admission is $10. Call (248) 547-3331 or visit www.spiritoftheoutlaws. com.
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