Hot Artists to Watch in 2016: William Michael Morgan [No. 3]
Some call him Bill. Some call him Little Bill, or Little Willie. There's Will, or William Michael, or sometimes just "Michael." "Slim — they call me 'Slim' with the titled brim," William Michael Morgan says, laughing. "No, they don't call me that."
But they all call him country. Morgan is the next generation's response to hip-hop and R&B's influences infiltrating country music. He's the anti-venom for those weary of Florida Georgia Line. He's the antithesis of Sam Hunt, which is ironic.
The 22-year-old "I Met a Girl" singer comes from Vicksburg, Miss., a Mississippi River town buffering up to Louisiana. Blues great Willie Dixon hailed from Vicksburg. Morgan is quick to point out Elvis Presley and Conway Twitty were from his home state. The music culture runs deep, but a teenaged Marty Robbins fan finds few like-minded individuals amongst his contemporaries. Before he could drive, Morgan's father, Mike, and his mother would drive him to bars in the area for shows. It helped that his band was stocked with men two or three times his age, most of whom had taken those stages before.
When I did move up here, I think my mom and dad gave me $200. I kind of pinched my pennies for a little while until I found my own place and got my first paycheck.
It also helped that it was Mississippi.
“You know, Mississippi is a little more lenient than other places, too,” Morgan says, laughing. “I don’t know if you could do that up in New York.”
He offers three of the same names every newcomer seems to spout when asked about his influences, but with him, there's no doubting his sincerity. His smooth, patient country baritone allows the beautiful imagery of "I Met a Girl" to float above a listener's head for a few seconds before he begins the next chorus or verse. Other songs from an unreleased sampler fall in line. His songs reflect his raising.
Even though he cut an album and began making regular trips to Nashville during his final years of high school, Morgan held off on moving until he turned 18. By then he had an infrastructure in place that afforded him the opportunity to focus on music full time. Writers like Troy Olsen and Wynn Varble gave tips on crafting lyrics and melodies. Quickly, he felt like he was part of the community.
“That’s the great thing about Nashville. Everybody opens up their door and is willing to help you out,” he says. As he's aged, he's opened up to non-traditional country sounds. This tends to happen to any young man, especially one with as much pure talent as Morgan.
“When I moved up here … all I listened to was Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, you know that was it. I moved up here and I started really getting into stuff like Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble and of course being from Mississippi you grow up with a little R&B in you, so I was listening to Usher.”
... Usher? The thread that ties all these men together is a great voice. Morgan appreciates Sam Hunt, too, saying he'd love to meet and write with the "Take Your Time" singer one day. That seems destined to happen, as it was Hunt who wrote (with Shane McAnnally and Trevor Rosen) and first recorded "I Met a Girl" for his Between the Pines Acoustic Mixtape album in 2013.
The best way to compare the two versions is to say the structure remains the same, but Sam Hunt does what Sam Hunt does best and Slim does what Slim does best. The younger singer and songwriter reveals he fell in love with the song as soon as Hunt's publishing company sent it to him two years ago. Producer Jimmy Ritchey helped him craft the single's final sound. In the end it's a great introduction to William Michael Morgan, an artist who promises he'll bring pure country music to any stage he plays in 2016, including WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn. and Country Jam Colorado in Grand Junction.
It's easy to mistake a traditional sound for something that sounds "old." In conversation, Morgan reminds you that he's 22, not 42. He's a Star Wars fan who doesn't discriminate when asked "Beer or Whiskey?"
His Twitter game is only topped by his emoji game. Morgan may have his father to thank for this. Between trips as a chauffeur, Mr. Morgan set up his son's MySpace page, showing him the power of social media. Now, the newcomer says Twitter is his favorite way to keep up with fans and other artists, and he's dedicated.
“I’m a lover, I’m not a fighter," Morgan — one of 10 Hot Artists to Watch in 2016 — says. "So I like to send the kissy face emoji a bunch … a lot of heart eyes, a couple shy monkeys.”
"You can't go wrong with a shy monkey." Hey, if you're an older country music fan pining for the return of that classic country sound, you're going to have to deal with a couple of shy monkeys.
More Hot Artists to Watch in 2016