Acclaimed Songwriter Headed to Athens Uncorked September 9< < Back to
Southeast Ohio native and nearly lifelong songwriter Mike Morgan has some pretty impressive fans.
Counted among them are American musical great Conway Twitty; former governor of Louisiana and singer of spiritual and popular song Jimmie Davis; outlaw country progenitor Ed Bruce, and Americana heavyweight Slaid Cleaves. All of these notable voices have sung and recorded tunes penned by Morgan and his longtime creative partner, Jeff Elliott.
On Saturday, September 9, Morgan will perform a solo set at Athens Uncorked, 14 Station St. Morgan will perform a number of his signature Americana tunes — combining country music and blues in equal parts.
Although Morgan has written quite a number of songs for Nashville, TN based country artists, he started his foray into the world of music much the same way many young people in the ‘60s did: by forming a garage band.
“The first song I ever wrote I wrote with Jeff (Elliott), called “Kindly Move Along,”” said Morgan in an interview on a sunny afternoon in late August outside of Athens’ Donkey Coffee. “It was a horrible song, and we never did get anywhere with it.”
Morgan played extensively in the regional garage band The Truants, playing music that might not be as nuanced as the music he would go on to create, but spirited enough to be truly enjoyable.
“Every time my father, Conway Twitty, started the process of searching for songs for his upcoming album, he would listen to over 2000 songs. He always believed that the listener deserved the very best songs he could find. He searched until he found the very best songs out there. You and Jeff’s song “The Feel of Bein’ Gone” is certainly one of those songs. My father was such a huge fan of songwriters. He believed the song was the star and he was the vessel to deliver the message into the hearts of those listening. He took it very seriously in choosing a song. “The Feel of Bein’ Gone” is a great example.” – Joni Twitty-Ryles, Conway Twitty’s daughter, in an email to Mike Morgan
“We loved The Kingsmen, so we were always trying to emulate them,” said Morgan of The Truants. “We played “Louie, Louie,” a lot, of course. I was brought up in a house where I had the opportunity to listen to all kinds of music, but it wasn’t really until I was older that I started to really listen to country music. My dad loved all types of old country western music; Hank Williams, that kind of thing; so when we weren’t playing rock ‘n’ roll, we were playing country music on an acoustic guitar.”
Morgan said that a major musical landmark in his life was BJ Thomas’ 1966 cover of the Hank Williams tune “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
“We learned the chords that BJ used for that song, and it just sort of evolved from there,” said Morgan.
After high school Morgan would attend Eastern Kentucky University, and Elliot would enroll at Ohio Northern University. Morgan said that they continued their songwriting partnership in a long distance sort of way – eventually heading down to Nashville with a couple of songs on a tape, hoping to impress any publishers they could.
“At the time, we knew all the people and the publishers and kind of what they were looking for; so we just went door to door with our recordings, hoping that they wouldn’t turn off the tape after the first couple of bars,” said Morgan. “It was great, because we went into one publisher, and they liked what we had, and they signed us. I don’t think that it would ever work that way these days. Back then, Nashville had plenty of people who could sing songs, just not many who could write them.”
Morgan said he believes that making it in the music industry is just like trying to make it in any type of industry, boiling down largely to who one knows and what kind of networking can be achieved. Songwriting, on the other hand, is not something that Morgan believes can be simply learned or happened upon the same way a good networking opportunity can be.
“Writing comes from all places—as far as writing country music and blues, you have to feel where it comes from; music like that only comes from the heart,” said Morgan. “God has given me, and many others, lots of gifts; and I feel that I am just blessed with music in my life: I love to listen to it, write it, everything. In terms of writing music, though, I think that you need to have experiences to really get it right – people want to feel something from a song – they want to hear it and think ‘that’s what I am going through right now,’ or ‘I have a friend who went through that.’ Not every song that I write is ‘true,’ sometimes they’re just based on something that someone said or something that I picked up from an experience. It’s an emotional truth.”