“For every dollar I lost there’s a penny I earned/ Oh but I learned/ There’s a hole in the pocket of my jeans that the money just burns- right through/I’ve got the gamblin’ mans’ blues.” Singer-songwriter Ken Will Morton keeps recording, keeps putting out albums, keeps gambling that someone will listen and fall in love with his music. Many, including folks at No Depression and Paste, already have. We talked to the Athens, Georgia native about songwriting, his musical influences, and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Take us through the arc of your career so far. How did you end up on a label?
I put out my first record independently In Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Hands then King of Coming Around on a small label. That didn’t go too well. So I simultaneously released two records via Rara Avis run by Michelle Roche (Kickin’ out the Rungs and Devil In Me) and had the best experience so far as results. Then I met some guys in Nashville who were starting up a label… subsequently we worked out a deal and wrought my last record True Grit ( titled way before any awareness of the film, FYI). I felt kinda left in the dark about what they’re doing/ have done…disappointed. Working on two new records now. one (yet to be titled) recorded by Russ at Ghostmeat Records is a more acoustic affair…the other I’ve done most of it already with my buddy drummer extraordinaire Dino at home. Which is a first – but a most rewarding experience a I am essentially the producer and engineer as well as artist. It’s a full out rock record. I’m calling this one Slow Burn. Probably put it on Rara Avis if she’ll have me.
Who were your most profound musical influences?
I’d say The Who, The Kinks, Replacements, Black Flag, Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Lemonheads, Steve Earle, Charley Patton, Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Waylon, Willie, Muddy, Mahalia… I know I’m forgetting a bunch but these lists are hard to ponder…
What was the last song you wrote?
I’m working on one now called “The Has Been That Never Was”… the title says it all…..hopefully not an epitaph. Oddly, it’s mostly upbeat and tongue-n-cheek.
What’s a song of yours you really want people to hear, and why?
“Que Lastima,” from my upcoming album… which means ” what a pity” in Spanish. It’s definitely different than what one might expect from me… and I’m proud of it.
What’s a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?
“Be wary of mysterious strangers, and be careful not to fall into harm’s way, ’cause life is always fraught with danger, and trouble’s never far away.”
Are there any words you love, or hate?
I don’t think there are any I cringe at too much. I love a lot of ’em quite a bit and am eternally grateful for the muse when she visits.
How do you typically write songs? Words first, or melody?
I used to do melody first. But the past year or two or three I’ve enjoyed writing from the title on down.
Do you find yourself revising a lot, or do you like to write automatically?
Yes, I like the analogy of a sculptor, finely honing as I go. Once in awhile, I’ll get a good one in one fell swoop, one sitting.
Who’s an underrated songwriter, in your opinion?
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
So many..the first coming to mind is “The Star Spangled Banner.” What a tune… no instrument necessarily needed… song of a nation… indelible imagery… and if i wrote it, being still alive — imagine the royalty checks.