The story of a 20-something fleeing Texas for Los Angeles, reckoning with addiction, and becoming a rising country music star, is, well, the sort of thing that’d make a good country song. And it happens to be the story of Sam Morrow, LA’s young prince of unabashed country gold.
Raised in the suburbs of Houston, the son of a financial planner and a stay-at-home mom, Morrow grew up on a family diet of Willie Nelson, church music, and radio hits—a musical foundation built on glossy, dead-eyed country from Houston’s most popular stations and Nelson’s greatest hits. Morrow subsequently grew up viewing everyone’s favorite weed dad as the narc, rather than the outlaw; as the logic of youthful rebellion goes, if Morrow’s parents were big Willie Nelson fans, the dude probably wasn’t cool.
Morrow instead gravitated to Southern rap—artists like Screwed Up Clik and Lil Flip, even convincing one of his best friends to get a Screwed Up Clik tattoo during a night of drunken debauchery in Houston. But when Morrow left the Texas metropolis for good, making his way out to Palm Springs to enter rehab for a debilitating opioid addiction, he slowly started gravitating back towards country music, inspired by the new Americana influence in Los Angeles’ growing scene, featuring artists like Sam Outlaw and Jaime Wyatt.
“I’ve been exposed to more kinds of music since I moved to LA. I’m now tackling a hybrid between the stuff I grew up listening to in Houston, and the music I’ve been exposed to here,” the 27-year-old explains by phone from a Cracker Barrel in Georgia. He’s on tour promoting his third LP, Concrete and Mud—which was released this past March—with rising Texan songwriter Paul Cauthen, and these moments in between stops are the cherished ones, where Morrow is able to reflect on a career that almost never began due to drugs and alcohol.
Morrow’s perspective on his sobriety, now going on eight years, has matured and become more lighthearted as his career has progressed. When he first left rehab, moved to Los Angeles, and began pursuing music more seriously, he leaned into the image of the stoic, serious artist; vulnerable and moody, heartworn and a little bit broken. His first two LPs, 2014’s Ephemeral and 2015’s There is No Map, are dark and brooding takes on country music, featuring song titles like “Gone,” “Barely Holding On,” and “Hurts Like Hell,”—the sad tunes of heartbreak and loneliness that bolster even the genre’s biggest stars. The irony of Morrow only getting into country music after he left Houston for LA isn’t lost on the musician.
“I got so much more comfortable with who I am,” Morrow explains. A lot of that identity is tied into the country music he was exposed to as a child, now paired with the Americana, folk, and rock music he began to digest in LA. Morrow’s path to recovery involved a lot of self reckoning and discovery, and the most powerful way for him to express this new sense of self was through the confessional style of country music he once so strongly shunned.
Following his first two LPs, Morrow began to work on what would become Concrete and Mud, linking up with producer Eric Corne in hopes of moving outside his wheelhouse of confessional folk country, and towards a sound that flirts with Americana and dances with swamp rock just for fun.
Today, Morrow’s music feeds off of Southern swamps and sweltry LA nights as much as it does his country roots. Morrow uses the terms country and Americana interchangeably, and the sounds serve as equally varying musical themes on Concrete and Mud, which moves from classic country, to psych ballads, and white boy funk.
“Anything can be Americana now,” Morrow says. “They just throw everything into that genre. I think, sure, my shit fits for that reason. Most of the music I like would be considered Americana, too. In a way, I guess my music is just a hybrid of a bunch of different subsects of Americana.”
Concrete and Mud is the first record on which Morrow actually sounds happy to be playing music, telling stories about enjoying cigarettes and the San Fernando valley instead of his addiction and struggles. “I had a turning point where I realized I didn’t have to take everything so seriously, or be a super emotional idiot all of the time. That’s not really who I am with my friends,” Morrow says, before adding, “I always kind of thought that as a songwriter, I had to turn the lights off and light a candle, just be really sad. But for this record, it was just the opposite. A lot of shit’s changed, and that includes the music.” If Morrow needed to sift through his recovery, that’s what his early LPs are for. On Concrete and Mud, the introspection gives way to a release, a freedom.
“Quick Fix,” for example—whose video premieres on Noisey above—is a ludicrously grooving country-funk tune that sounds like it was prepared in a lab of stoned scientists who wing all of their measurements, but end up pretty close anyway. It’s a slyly silly number, a track that finds Morrow poking fun at himself, with lines like, “My apathy gets the best of me / And there goes another friend,” delivered with a cynical joy.
The song’s video, directed by Chris Phelps, mirrors the music’s skewed take on country, re-creating the Jessica Simpson “These Boots Are Made for Walking” sexy car wash trope, but with a greasy looking dude who’ll probably just make your car dirtier than it was before. It’s a funny ploy that’s not self-serious, and really not that important to the song or its story—more of a weird document of a low-key summer anthem. “We just make what we want to make,” Morrow explains. “It allows me to take more chances and not really give a fuck.” Giving less of a fuck is exactly what’s allowed Morrow to make arguably the best song of his career, somewhere between Little Feat and Leon Russell, unavoidable and extremely cool, without any try-hard vibes.
These days, Morrow’s setting his bon vivant gaze on the road, opting for the slow burn of overnight drives instead of the quick fix that nearly brought him down before his career even began. The feeling always lingers, he says, but it grows dimmer by the day. Music used to be Sam Morrow’s lifeline; now it’s a celebration.
Catch Sam Morrow on tour this summer:
August 1 - Seattle, WA - Tractor Tavern*
August 4 - Bayfield, CO - Pine River Brew Fest
August 7 - Sacramento, CA - Harlow’s Night Club*
August 9 - Boulder, CO - FMQB Triple A Conference
August 10 - Los Angeles, CA - The Moroccan Lounge*
August 11 - Phoenix, AZ - The Rebel Lounge*
August 12 - Denver, CO - Denver on My Mind Series at the Black Buzzard
August 13 – Colorado Springs, CO – Black Sheep
August 14 - Ft. Collins, CO - Downtown Artery*
August 16 - Albuquerque, NM - Sandbar Brewery & Grill*
August 17 - Lubbock, TX - The Blue Light*
August 18 - Amarillo, TX - Hoot's Pub
September 7 - Kansas City, MO - Knucklehead's
September 9 - Memphis, TN - Growlers
September 10 - Lexington, KY - Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour
September 15 - Chattanooga, TN - JJ's Bohemia
September 16 - Morgantown, WV - 123 Pleasant Street
September 17 - Newport, KY - Southgate House
September 18 - Columbus, OH - Rumba Cafe
September 19 - Chicago, IL - Bourbon On Division
September 20 - Ferndale, MI - Magic Bag
September 21 - Evansville, IN - Piston's Bar & Grill
September 22 - Indianapolis, IN - Holler On The Hill Festival
September 24 - Des Moines, IA - Vaudeville Mews
September 25 - St Louis, MO - Old Rock House
September 26 - Davenport, IA - The Raccoon Motel
September 28 - Bozeman, MT - Live from the Divide
* w/ Paul Cauthen
Will Schube is a writer based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter.