Union Made

The music made inside Velasco's bar in Florissant is both defiant and relaxed

The principal document of Morgan's working-class country music can be found on one tape, long out of print but well-known among the rank and file of the International Association of Machinists. "There are few places that have an IAM local that wouldn't know Derek Morgan," he says. The cassette includes tunes written by Morgan and friend Robert Harris, songs like "Rosie the Riveter," "The Tool Maker" and "The Drug Test."

I moved to the country a long time ago

I thought the whole world would just let me be

Derek Morgan at Velasco's in Florissant
Amy Bautz
Derek Morgan at Velasco's in Florissant

It's a sack of wet cement

When the boss and the government

Go nosing around in your pee

If that hilarious story is the most-requested song at Velasco's, the music Morgan, Kopp, Copeland and friends make every weekend transcends satire. On instrumentals like "Nervous Breakdown" and "Orange Blossom Special," the reticent Copeland finally lets his fiddle ring out, and you wonder why he's been holding back for so long. "If John were to leave," Morgan says of Copeland, "that would pretty much close me down." Copeland's tone and timing are exquisite, and the band seems to find itself in the sounds of his old fiddle. At this point, the music owes less to what the players have learned of their instruments -- which is surely considerable -- and more to what they've learned from life. The music made at Velasco's comes from the heart, but what do we know, finally, of any man's heart? All we have is the work he does, the songs he sings, the stories left behind in the smoke.

"You can be successful in many ways without having had success," Morgan says. "I'm known in many places, and I love knowing that. Whatever talent I have is God-given. I didn't just go out and buy it; I couldn't get it by other means. That's why I want to give it back. In the course of doing that, hopefully, I leave a little mark somewhere. You find out as you go down the road that maybe you have."

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