“I had a Great-Granddad that was Mayor of Williamsburg, Ky., up above the falls, on the Cumberland River, and most of my family came out of the Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, but I grew up near the Ohio River, in Louisville,” tells Britton Patrick Morgan as he lovingly plucks on his Huss & Dalton guitar he calls Jane. “I named her after my great-grandma Jane McCoy who was part of the Hatfields & McCoys. “Her son Nelson, my grandad, was the one who taught me this unique style of claw hammer finger picking I still sometimes use.”
Although loyal to his darling Jane, Morgan used his parlor guitar (1947 Gibson LG2) to capture an elusive and timeless feel for his newest project, High Lonesome Throne, which was released in 2018. “I love the unique, almost dissonant tone of this guitar,” explains the once Alaskan fisherman and off-grider. “Instruments, much like people, have their own distinct personalities.”
When asked about his creative process for the record, Morgan says he drew upon heavy emotional experiences he’s had to process; such was the story behind the album’s title track “High Lonesome Throne.” “It’s mostly about my best friend growing up. He was my best man in my wedding, but then he got snagged by bad habits and they took him away. It’s been several years, I think he’s still alive, but he has disappeared. So the song is about how life can go in the wrong direction almost overnight—‘Bathe me in the ashes of who I used to be, sometimes the light is dark to me.’ That’s a hard place to be, because one is almost indifferent to one’s own anguish. I recorded the song while pretty drunk, not deliberately, but because I didn’t feel in touch with the performance of the song until I actually felt it. It’s a song I rarely perform because it’s personal and heavy.”
On the other hand, sometimes, concepts and words come from moments of joy and complete clarity about simple beauty--some friends have called those songs ‘Zen Country’ or something like that. ‘Two Crows’ was written that way,” says the big man with the soft voice who has a “don’t care where you draw your water from” outlook on life.
He grew up singing in church choir. "I sang in the Louisville Boys’ Choir until my voice changed and it was all downhill from there,” he laughs. “My biggest influence was probably 1950’s rockabilly, old country, and Elvis --- mostly ‘cause my Dad used to play all that stuff. My Grandparents were big influences too; they were both musicians. Granddad was really into Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and old mountain songs.” However, the singer/songwriter names John Prine, Robert Hunter, Bill Callahan, and Bob Dylan on his “Mt. Rushmore” of favorites.
Morgan has been hitting the road solo these days, but plans to tour with his band of misfit musicians, Kentucky Revival. “I’ve been lucky enough to play with some of my heroes, but recently playing with legendary pedal steel player Richard Comeaux at a show on his home turf in the Louisiana bayous was a serious highlight,” he recalls. Most days the stellar guitar man is shuffling back and forth from Louisville to Nashville to cram in studio sessions, producing, and the responsibilities of fatherhood. He has played with or collaborated with numerous artists, including singer/songwriters Darrell Scott, Alan Rhody, Sara Trunzo, Casey Lambert, Malcolm Holcombe, David Olney, Tiffany Williams, and Verlon Thompson, among others. His new album prominently features the talented Cheyenne Mize and the legendary bass player for Johnny Cash, Dave Roe.
"I'm very much a product of my place and time, and my Kentucky roots I wouldn't trade for anything. I really love old traditions but I embrace new musical ideas and progressive arrangements. Above everything else, though, I try to follow my passions, because in turn people see me pursuing something I love, and that, I believe, is healing and liberating. I want to attack the day like a bird of prey, to love what I do, as opposed to the alternatives." —RW and April Dickey, 2018