Outside of old “Leave it to Beaver” reruns and Boston police reports, one rarely hears the name Whitey these days. But grizzly singer-guitarist Eric Allen, a native of Flint, Mich., had his reasons for choosing the name Whitey Morgan for his honky-tonk stage persona in 2005. Whitey was his basketball nickname at his mostly-black elementary school (he took it in good humor) and Morgan was the last name of his late grandfather, who changed his life when he willed him his guitar and vintage country and Western record collection. “Let’s face it — Eric Allen is just not a very good stage name. But Whitey sounds like some kid from the ‘50s, some knucklehead from down the street,” says Morgan, who fronts the bluesy band The 78’s. Their fourth album “Hard Times and White Lines” was released in October.
There’s just something special about hailing from the Midwest, right? Something honest, down to earth?
I’ve tried to explain that to people, and I don’t even know if I have an explanation. It’s just … different. Different growing up here. People are so geared toward working hard. If you want it, you’d better be prepared to work for it, so don’t get any attitude. And growing up, there was a really good touring scene. I was going out to see bands I’d never even heard of. I only knew they were from New York.
As a kid in Indiana, we didn’t understand when punk rock came along, why you had to give up on the heavy metal you liked the day before.
You’re right. The coasts were so hard-core, you had to be all in. You couldn’t still listen to “Highway to Hell” and love it. And just like in the sitcoms, I had older sisters, and they were big-time into AC/DC and all the stoner rock, so I, of course, was inundated with that. Then my dad was into Seger and Nugent, so I was hit hard with that, too, while my mom was into cool chick rock, like Stevie Nicks and Heart. Then my grandpa was forcing me to listen to bluegrass when I was 10 years old. But that’s how I ended up this way — I’ve got a hell of a lot of influences.
What’s the difference between Eric and Whitey?
The easy answer? Alcohol. It changes me, and it has to. So I haven’t played a show sober since I was 26 years old, and I’m 42 now. In my early 20s, I never got into drinking. But once I got my heart broken, I realized that I actually enjoyed it.
IF YOU GO
Whitey Morgan and the 78’s
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 30
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com