As we enjoy the neotraditional country movement making its way through the genre, it’s important to take a look back at the artists that paved the way for steel guitar and fiddles to come over the radio airwaves again. Artists like Jon Pardi, Midland and William Michael Morgan almost re-introduced those instruments back to country radio, which was in the midst of a snap track, hip hop beat trend.
For his part, Morgan topped the charts with his debut single, “I Met a Girl,” and has taken his brand of country music all over the country and overseas, and has graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry countless times, all before turning thirty.
However, before he heard his voice coming over the airwaves, Morgan, hailing from Mississippi, was hearing those of George Strait, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley, picking up the guitar at nine years-old and performing live at twelve.
“I don’t know if there was an exact moment where I knew I wanted to do it, but I always knew I wanted to play music,” says Morgan. “It just started happening. Somebody would ask me if I wanted to play somewhere, and I figured that I should. I wasn’t old enough to drive, so my parents were sweet enough to take off of work to get me to bars an hour or two away.”
Just a year after he began taking the stage, Morgan also entered the studio to record his debut album, Always Country, which offered him key studio experience early in his career.
“There was a guy in Mississippi that was a friend of my dad’s for a very long time. He owned a studio on my street where I grew up. They recorded a lot of gospel and blues music there,” says Morgan. “We went over and asked if he minded if we got together and played. He had some extra time and allowed us to do it.”
With both stage and studio experience under his belt, at just 18 years-old, Morgan packed up and moved his life to Nashville to pursue his musical dreams full time.
“Back where I come from, people get out of their house. They leave and do their own thing. They grow up, and I was no different,” says Morgan. “It was hard to say goodbye to Mom and Dad, but they were supportive of me the whole time. It was tough, but I was excited. I was ready to go. I was ready for my freedom. I was ready to learn and I was ready to make mistakes.”
Within a year of being in Music City, Morgan attracted the interest of Warner Music Nashville, who quickly signed him to a record deal.
“That makes you grow up fast,” says Morgan. “It was a big blessing, because I got to do a lot of cool stuff early on.”
After spending the next few years writing songs and honing his craft as an artist, Morgan’s then-producer came across a song called “I Met a Girl,” co-written and demoed by Sam Hunt, which was selected as his debut single.
“Scott Hendricks and Jimmy Ritchey were my producers at the time, and Jimmy brought the song to me,” says Morgan. “I loved it. Sam’s version was very different from what I ended up doing with it; it was much more poppy, very much just Sam’s version of it. I told them that I loved it, but I knew we were going to have to change some stuff. The producers got in there with the players and really shaped it to the way it needed to be, and that’s what you hear.
That sound was also what Morgan heard coming over the SiriusXM airwaves as he heard the song on the radio for the first time.
“They told us about the hour that they would play it. I was in my apartment at the time with a couple of buddies. We went and bought a Bluetooth speaker and a six-month subscription to SiriusXM so we could listen to it,” says Morgan. “I remember it coming on, and all of us jumping all over the place and freaking out. I called my mom and dad and asked if they heard it, and they were listening as well. It was the first moment I knew that this thing could possibly take off and be a career, as opposed to just being a dream.”
Both the song and Morgan did take off, as it topped the Mediabase country chart after setting a record for the longest ascent to the top of the charts at the time, as it continued to climb for 49 weeks prior to landing at number one. Once it sat atop the chart, Morgan recalls receiving a call from a country music legend to inform him of the chart-topping moment.
“I had gotten a call really early one morning. At that time, I wasn’t waking up early in the morning, I was going to bed early in the morning,” Morgan says with a laugh. “I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t answer it. I went and listened to the voicemail, and it was Reba McEntire. She and my buddy are great friends, and he had mentioned that the song had just gone to number one, and he got her to call me. I sent it right to my mom and dad. We still have it saved.”
Hoping to capitalize on the success of “I Met a Girl,” Morgan released his sophomore single from his debut album, Vinyl, “Missing,” which entered the top 30. Though it seemed destined to be a hit, Morgan points to the timing it was released and how “country” the song was as reason for it stalling at number 29.
“At that time, I had just come out, and Jon Pardi and Midland were just coming out. That neotraditional wave was just starting, and we were some of the forefathers of it. We were the ones that pushed it up the mountain,” says Morgan. “I think the amount of fiddle and steel on it had a lot to do with it. Music is ever-growing and ever-changing. I wasn’t going to change with the times and do what everyone else was doing. I would personally rather just go home, so we just wait for our turn and wait for the music to circle back around.”
After releasing the album’s title track as a single, Morgan released an additional five singles in 2018 before mutually parting ways with Warner Music Nashville.
“At first, it was sad. We had been doing it for so long. I had been with them for seven or eight years, but you’ll never hear a better parting story. They were fantastic through the whole thing,” says Morgan. “It was such a good ending that it felt very promising and I could see the next door opening. We were free to explore the fiddle and the steel and the things in music that were really dear to us.”
Morgan fulfilled that promise with his first independent single, “Whiskey Kinda Night,” an excellent tear-in-your-beer tune that comes equipped with a steel and fiddle interlaced solo.
“I love that steel solo. It felt really good to just go out and try something. It didn’t sell millions of copies, but it got a great response. We stayed true to who we are and didn’t sell out.”
Continuing to march to the beat of his own drum, Morgan has also sporadically released acoustic covers over the last few years that will make up a soon-to-be-released covers album.
“One of my heroes, Daryle Singletary, did a covers album, and I wanted to do something like that. I toured with Alan Jackson, and he did an album called Under the Influence in the 90s as well. I wanted to top my hat to the people that paved the road for me; folks like Mac Davis, Johnny Paycheck, Gary Stewart and George Jones,” says Morgan. “The album is going to be coming out soon. We might release one more song before the full album, which would be ‘Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’ with Kylie Frey.”
Along with his that album, Morgan has also been in the studio with producer Keith Stegall preparing new original music as well.
“Keith and I get along so well, we’re like two peas in a pod. He knows the right way to pull things out of you without beating you down,” says Morgan. “We’ve been in the studio and we’ve done a bunch of new stuff together. We have an EP done, but we’re at the point where we’re debating if we want to record a full album or release it as an EP. We could end up releasing it very soon, or it could be a little bit longer, but we’ve been playing some of the new stuff out on the road, and it’s been getting a pretty dang good response.”
As he continues to take his music on the road, Morgan brings a confidence in his artistic identity and a sense of direction for where he wants to take his music moving forward.
“I just want to be me. I want that to come across,” says Morgan. “I want to let my music do the talking. As long as I can continue to keep people coming out to clubs to sing and dance with us and have some fun, we’re doing it right. That’s who I am and that’s who I want to be.”
*William’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*