B.B. King. Elvis. Jimmy Buffett. Faith Hill. Some of the world's most famous musicians have Mississippi roots. That strong musical tradition in the Magnolia state shows no sign of going away as a new generation of up and comers takes the stage and of those Mississippi rising start is is country singer William Michael Morgan.
Vicksburg native William Michael Morgan hasn't yet celebrated his 21st birthday and has already signed a record deal with a major label. Warner Music Nashville has a roster also includes such acts as Blake Shelton, Hunter Hayes and Kenny Rogers.
Morgan is busy touring and working on his first album but took some time to talk with me about why music and Mississippi are part of his soul. He said he was five years old when his met his first love, music.
"I heard an old Marty Robbins song my dad was playing on the radio, and it just stuck with me," Morgan said.
Morgan loves vinyl records and old school county music. Merle Haggard and George Jones are among his favorite artists.
"The realness of it. The feeling you get. The sadness," he said. "The crying of a steel guitar."
The 20-year-old fuses traditional county with a current, radio friendly sound to create his own niche.
"You have to find that groove that radio needs and what they're looking for but I try to always stay true to what I do," Morgan said. "I try to find what I call a happy medium between the two. Of course, I'm always going to try to stay as traditional as possible because that's my roots. That's what I love."
Morgan grew up in Vicksburg performing in talent shows. By the age of 15, he'd started his own band and had begun making trips to Nashville where he eventually moved.
He said, "I was lucky enough to meet some songwriters and kind of got in that way. It's not an overnight process. You have to put in everything you've got."
"It's not I'm going to do this but I'm going to work doing this. I'm going to go out with my friends. You really have to put all your time, energy and everything you've got into it," said Morgan.
Those sacrifices paid off last year when Warner Music Nashville signed Morgan to a record deal. Now his days are full of rehearsals, recording his debut album and traveling the country to perform for the crowds.
"In the studio it's more laid back. You can do it again. You can go over it a few more times," he said. "But live you've got to really hit it and give it everything you've got. You're feeding off the energy of the people. It's a great feeling."
This rising star gives much credit to his Mississippi roots.
"Mississippi is just beautiful. You grow up there and everyone is so humble. I think it really helps not just with your music but with your personality," said Morgan. "The soul. People down here have a lot of soul."
Morgan said some veteran country stars have taken him under their wing and given him advice about the dos and don'ts of the music business.
"You just have to surround yourself with great people. People who have your best interest at heart," Morgan said. "People who want to write and understand what you're doing. I like to start off with a melody. If I can get a melody, the words kind of come to me. Writing every day also you kind of run out of ideas. You have to really listen to stuff, listen to the radio, listen to the news. See what's happening in the world today."
Morgan is not only chasing his dream but also about being inspiration for those who come after him.
"My biggest thing is I want to look back and say I did that," Morgan said. " I want something that I can be proud of at the end of the day. Just like I look up to every one of my idols Merle Haggard and Mark Chesnutt, I would know that I've done something if someone is influenced by my music as much as I was influenced by others' music."
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