William Michael Morgan puts 'Missing' into action

When country went through its recent bro-country phase, many longtime fans of the genre -- not to mention a major faction of Nashville's creative community -- griped that something was missing. Gatekeepers' rush to capitalize on the new sounds squeezed out the genre's traditional roots. Veterans hoped that some kid could become a 21st century version of Randy Travis, whose emergence in 1986 fueled a return to country's core in a period where crossover dreams had fueled much of the music's direction.

William Michael Morgan's first single, "I Met a Girl," invited comparisons to Travis, taking a crazy 52 weeks to climb to No. 2 on Country Airplay. His easygoing baritone and the song's spacious arrangement were a radical departure from the busy production values that dominate the current landscape, but they helped move the format back toward balance.

In that context, it's ironic that Morgan's sophomore single is "Missing." Released by Warner Music Nashville to radio through PlayMPE on Oct. 24, it's not a commentary on the volume of sounds in the format. Instead, it's a reflection on the abundance of noise in the culture -- the incessant text messages, 24/7 news and entertainment, and the social media vortex. It's so easy to get caught up in everyone else's issues and priorities in 2016 that adults can easily lose connection with the most important soul in their lives: their own.

"Everybody needs to go missing from time to time," says Morgan. "Everybody needs to get lost for a little bit and turn their phone off, turn their mind off and get missing. Go out in the water or the woods, whatever the case may be."

"Missing" owes its existence to songwriter Rhett Akins ("Dirt on My Boots," "Star of the Show"), who has been known to let the voice-mail messages pile up on his cellphone during hunting season.

"The song is basically about me," he says. "I do go missing a lot. People text me. They finally start sending me direct messages, wanting to know if I'm still alive: 'Dude, where are you?' I'm usually gone off hunting somewhere, and my phone died because it's so cold, or I just don't have any service."

The tables turned on Akins in late 2011 when another friend went AWOL for an extended period.

"He finally answered the phone, and I was like, 'Dude, did you go missing?' " says Akins. "He said something to the effect of missing was his favorite place to be. I don't know if he said it exactly like we wrote it, but that's where I got the idea."

Akins brought that concept into a writing session with Marv Green ("Shotgun Rider," "Wasted") at THiS Music on Nashville's Music Row. Green, whose hit list includes "True" and "It Just Comes Natural," felt that George Strait — noted for maintaining a low profile — was a likely target.

So Green drove the tempo and got a start on the melody, steering it toward the Texas club culture that sprouted Strait.

"It's not really a [western] swing song, but it's more in the California swingy, dance hall vibe, more than I grew up on," says Akins. "Marv's a great guitar player, and he really knows his country licks. He and his brother grew up playing bar bands. I never really grew up having to make people dance."

Green used surfing as a getaway during his formative years in California, and he's still apt to go for a run or take a walk at Nashville's Radnor Park to block out distractions. He and Akins decided to cast as wide a net as possible as they suggested escape hatches in the chorus.

PHOTOS: A look at the 2016 CMA Awards

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CMA Awards 2016: Red carpet arrivals
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CMA Awards 2016: Red carpet arrivals

Singer Faith Hill proved she always knows how to make an entrance in a black long-sleeved gown with a unique bottom. 

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Pretty in pink! Carrie Underwood looked absolutely breathtaking in a soft pink halter ballgown. This may be one of her best looks yet. 

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Sorry men, Olivia Newton-John may have beaten you at your own game! The singer stepped out on the red carpet with a feminine take on the classic tuxedo. 

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Singer Jennifer Nettles made jaws drop in a sleek red floor-length gown with a dramatic slit. She pulled this dress off effortlessly!

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Pretty lady! Jennifer Garner kept it classy in a strapless A-line dress with a embroidered bodice.

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Look at those curves! Singer Jessie James Decker showed off her enviable figure in a body-hugging sequined gown. 

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Olympic gymnast Simone Biles may have several gold medals under her belt, but she went for a silver gown on the red carpet. If you need motivation to hit the gym -- this is it. 

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Songstress Miranda Lambert played it safe in a black chiffon gown with a plunging neckline.

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Meghan Linsey was certainly the gold standard! We can't get enough of this slinky dress that hugged every bit of her curvaceous body. 

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Former 'Bachelorette' star Kaitlyn Bristowe stunned in unique two-piece black outfit by designer Hayley Paige that showed off her tiny figure.

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Keith is a lucky man! Actress Nicole Kidman stood out from the pack in a pink long-sleeved gown with accordion pleating.

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Maddie Marlow (L) and Taylor Dye (R) of Maddie & Tae opted for two completely different dress styles, but they both looked equally stunning!

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Singer Raelynn took some inspiration from the Disney movie 'Frozen' for her stunning gown.

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Actress Sharon Stone took the plunge in a sophisticated black dress with a deep-V neckline. 

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Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley flaunted major cleavage in a emerald green strapless dress complete with a sparkling diamond necklace.

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Singer Cassadee Pope looked absolutely elegant in a body-hugging black frock with a unique ruffled bottom. 

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Jamie Lynn Spears rocked a scandalous black gown with two thigh-high slits. Britney's little sis is definitely not a little kid anymore!

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Singer Kelsea Ballerini got playful with her stunning floral pink gown. It's safe to say she pulled this gorgeous look off!

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Miss America Savvy Shields was a vision in white in a high-low strapless lace gown. 

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Singer Brantley Gilbert brought his wife Amber Cochran to the big night. Gilbert donned a classy tux but all eyes were on his wife who sported a Grecian-inspired gown.

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NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 02: Maisy Stella (L) and Lennon Stella of Lennon & Maisy attend the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 2, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Leggy lady! Singer Danielle Bradbery flashed her toned pins in a red gown with a revealing thigh-high slit.

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Charlie Daniels stood out from the pack of black tuxedos in a unique denim and blazer combo. But we definitely loved his white cowboy hat the most!

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The 'Final Five' gymnasts proved they know a thing or two about looking good on the red carpet. Aly Raisman's gorgeous gown was designed by Hayley Paige.

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Singer Michael Ray made heads turn in a hunter green velvet tuxedo.

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Singer Tim McGraw looked handsome as ever in a black tux and his signature cowboy hat.

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Singer Gretchen Wilson didn't go for the status quo with her look, opting for a simple t-shirt outfit with some thigh-high boots.

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Thomas Rhett (L) and his beautiful wife Lauren Gregory looked totally loved up. Her stunning gown definitely had heads turning -- what a lucky man!

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Country's power couple has arrived! Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood made their presence known on the red carpet with their no-fail black-and-white outfits.

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Electra Mustaine, Dave Mustaine and Pamela Anne Casselberry dressed to the nines in their respective outfits.

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Lookin' good! Luke Bryan just made everyone's jaw drop with his his classic tuxedo and even classier smile.

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Singer-songwriter Paulette Carlson was all smiles in a floor-length black gown with sheer sleeves.

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Songwriter Bill Anderson looked dapper in an all-black tux with an eye-catching gold belt buckle.

(Photo by Jason Davis/FilmMagic)

Musician Ryan Follese donned a sleek navy-and-black tux for the big night.

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Musician Janie Fricke rocked a fringe outfit ... but it was her eclectic choice in accessories that made the look.

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Handsome men! Curtis Rempel and Brad Rempel of musical duo High Valley sure do clean up nice in their fitted suits.

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It's safe to say no one rocked a black suit at the CMAs as best as singer Mark Collie.

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Singer-songwriter Elle King went for a daring fringe look -- and she's totally rocking it with ease!

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Scott Thomas, Joshua McSwain, Matt Thomas and Barry Knox of musicial group Parmalee brought their A-game in their respective suits.

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Singer-songwriter Jon Pardi had ladies swooning in a maroon blazer. 

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Flower power! Singer Lauren Alaina rocked the high-low trend in a flattering floral pattern.

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Country legend Reba McEntire looked half her age in a sequined dress that showed off her tiny frame.

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Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum blew everyone way in a white gown with an edgy cape. 

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

SInger Deana Carter sported a flattering black frock that hit just above her knees. But it was her bright orange pumps that stole the show.

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Singer Frankie Ballard had all the ladies lookin' as he flashed his pearly whites in a sleek suit.

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Singer Scotty McCreery's different take on the black tux certainly didn't fail him. 

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Yee-haw! Singer William Michael certainly knew how to rock a cowboy hat on the red carpet. 

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 02: Singer Charley Pride attends the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 2, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

'Nashville' stars Maisy Stella and Lennon Stella looked absolutely stunning with their black-and-gold outfits. 

(Photo by Jason Davis/FilmMagic)

Singer Easton Corbin donned a green tuxedo -- and he looked good doing it! We loved his fresh take on the red carpet uniform. 

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The 'Property Brothers' are in the house! Jonathan Drew and Drew Scott cleaned up nicely in some unique tuxedos. 

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Songstress Lori McKenna opted for a simple short-sleeved gown, but she looked gorgeous nonetheless. 

(Photo by Jason Davis/FilmMagic)

Power couple! Musical artist Lee Greenwood (R) and former Miss Tennessee Kimberly Payne looked in love on the red carpet.

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Where's Miley? Singer Billy Ray Cyrus hit the town without his famous daughter in a bizarre blazer and hat combo.

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Singer Hunter Hayes certainly made some ladies blush in a dapper navy tuxedo complete with a skinny tie.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Music artist Cam made heads turn in a colorful striped dress. She completed the look with a slicked-back hairstyle and black stilettos. 

 (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Oo la la! Singer Maren Morris literally sparkled in a sequined gown.

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 02: Singer-songwriter Darius Rucker attends the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 2, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Actress Wendi McLendon-Covey opted for a strapless A-line gown with eclectic patterning. We appreciate her fashion risk, but she may not have pulled this look off.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 02: Musician Ben Haggard (R) attends the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 2, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Singer Chris Janson and his wife Kelly Lynn dressed to impress with their all-black outfits. 

(Photo by Jason Davis/FilmMagic)

Cowboy take us away! Singer Justin Moore went for a grey tux for the big night and we think it was the right choice. 

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Singer Lorrie Morgan wasn't afraid to show some leg with her dramatic take on the fool-proof black ballgown.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Actress Hayley Orrantia looked like a total princess with her stunning mint green ballgown by designer Hayley Paige. We couldn't stop staring!

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Singer-songwriter Dwight Yoakam and guest hit the red carpet.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Emily Eshuis and singer-songwriter Derek Wells attend the 50th annual CMA Awards

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Singer Easton Corbinn attends the 50th annual CMA Awards

(Photo by Jason Davis/FilmMagic)

(L-R) Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town attend the 50th annual CMA Awards.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

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"We set up the back half of the chorus first and then figured out 'Where do you go missing?' Well, big city, country, little beach town," says Green.

The second verse details just how long the protagonist has been out of circulation — the grass is three-feet high, the mailbox is full, and his email has at least 100 unanswered messages — but the money line is in the classiccountry wordplay: "I'm on a mission to be missing."

"I love alliteration," says Green. "Rhett and I love a lot of the same music, and we love playing with words and melody at the same time. It's just one of those things — you get both of the 'm' sounds, you get the [short "i"] of the 'mission' and 'missing.'"

And they got the song done quickly. They didn't get it placed quickly, though. Strait never did bite, and when Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" set off a wave of progressive singles in 2012, there weren't many acts looking for something as traditional as "Missing." Not, at least, until Morgan signed with Warner Music Nashville. Sony/ATV vp creative Tom Luteran and senior vp creative Terry Wakefield pitched the song to producer Jimmy Ritchey (Jake Owen, Greg Bates), and Morgan's team lived with it for a while before they finally cut it for his debut album, Vinyl.

"It really hit me because at that time I was just so busy," recalls Morgan. "I didn't even know which was up or which was down."

They recorded "Missing," along with the rest of the album, at Ocean Way Studios. Fiddler Larry Franklin, electric guitarist Brent Mason and steel guitarist Paul Franklin play the song's descending signature riff and get plenty of opportunities for small, instrumental fills, but there's enough space left that Ilya Toshinsky's acoustic guitar rings clear.

"There's not a lot of bells and whistles," says Ritchey. "There isn't any programming on the record whatsoever. It's all guys playing their instruments."

"This song was one of those that just has to fit in the pocket and feel good," adds co-producer Scott Hendricks (Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson). "There's not a lot of complexities for the musicians on this song, but that's also part of its charm. It's so easy to listen to."

Morgan later cut his final vocals at the Warner Bros. Studio after he did his own sort of "missing" routine in the booth to get in the right head space.

"I keep to myself," he says, explaining his approach to vocals. "I'm normally an outgoing guy, but I reserve myself a little more, I drink a bunch of tea, a bunch of coffee and a bunch of water, and that's it. Maybe a bag of Lays potato chips — I do love me some of them Lays potato chips."

Morgan's routine works.

"Everything you preach to other singers about, you don't really have to with him," says Ritchey. "Just turn him loose, let him get comfortable, and let him hear himself the way he wants to hear himself — he'll sing it two or three times and be done. He's that good of a singer."

As "I Met a Girl" concluded its chart run, Hendricks and WMN vp A&R Cris Lacy both lobbied for "Missing" as Morgan's sophomore single.

"It talks to so many people," says Hendricks. "Women, men, young, old, in-between — all of us have the innate desire to be missing, and these lyrics just say it so cool."

"Missing" begins its chart run with a No. 59 debut on Country Airplay. Assuming it moves forward, it guarantees a traditional-country presence on modern country radio in the coming months. And it brings some utilitarian encouragement to a stressed-out 21st century populace.

"It's about getting gone for a minute," says Morgan, "just freeing yourself and getting all that bad juju out of you before it beats you down."


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