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Country Music - Cowboy Western Songs and Singers-Michael Martin Murphy
Michael Martin Murphey is best known for writing and performing western music and Cowboy songs especially old cowboy songs. He is also a writer and singer of country songs and country music lyrics. He has been on the CMT top 20 hits.
He was born March 14, 1945 in Dallas Texas where he grew up. His parents Pink and Lois Murphey took him and his brother on regular trips to visit relatives in the country. There he started riding horses at the age of six on his grandfather’s and uncles ranches. There he was also exposed to cowboy songs and stories that he found a love for. His uncle had old 78-rpm records of country and folk music and probably included old country music and old cowboy songs.
He was playing country music, folk music and rock in Dallas clubsin the 1960s. . He told Gary James in an interview that he studied medieval and ancient history because he was interested in the role of the minstrel in society. He said they were the singer-songwriters of their day and had considered it for a doctorial thesis. Apparently practical matters like making a living with his music prevented him from going that far.
Sparrow Music Company gave him a contract and he became known on the Los Angeles Folk Scene. In 1964 he got together with a Texas friend Michael Nesmith and formed the “Trinity River Boys” band with John London and John Raines.
Nesmith got him his first big break when he asked him to write a song for The Monkeys a group Nesmith belonged to. The resulting song was “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Around” which sold five million copies.
A Note on Sources
This article is based largely on the article in Wikipedia and and interview that Gary James had with Michael Martin Murphy on www.classicbands.com
Michael Martin Murphey then moved to the San Gabriel Mountains to work on writing songs and song lyrics. He got a contract with from Screen Gems Company that is the publishing aspect of Columbia Pictures. Country music performers like Kenny Rogers, Flatt and Scruggs as well as many other country music artists recorded his songs. Kenny Rogers did an album the Ballad of Calico using songs of Michael Martin Murphey about a Mojave Ghost Town.
Many country music singers in the 1970’s left the Nashville scene and went to Austin, Texas. According to an interview with Murphey by Garry James on classicbands.com “We were all considered outlaws because we were trying to decentralize the heavily centralized music business. There was Los Angeles, New York and Nashville,” Murphey said. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings may have been the start of it but many others followed. Jerry Jeff Walker, Tanya Tucker, Emmy Lou Harris and Johnnie Cash have also been identified with it. I remember the TV show Austin City Limits that showcased many of these artists. It may still be on but I don’t have access to it now.
During the Outlaw years his band included Bob Livingston and Gary P. Nunn, who wrote the song “London Homesick Blues.” This is one of my personal favorites because of the songs lyrics and imagery.
Murphy combined his country music, folk and rock influences for a new sound. He also wrote a song about Indian rights Geronomo’s Cadillac that became sort of an unofficial anthem for the American Indian Movement.
Later, in 1972, Bob Johnston signed him up with A & M Records after hearing him in Dallas. He produced Murphey’s first album Geronomo’s Cadillac in Nashville. The album shows his love of folk, blues and country music, as well as an early Gospel influence. Rolling Stone said that he “is the best new songwriter in the country.”
Epic records released his alum Michael Murphy in 1973 with what may be his masterpiece “Wildfire.” It is a sentimental song about the ghosts of a woman and her horse. He heard a story from his grandfather of a ghost horse. Years later he had a dream about this ghost horse rescuing people in the desert and that led to the country song. It went to the top of the Radio and Records charts and no 3 Billboards Pop Chart.
Wildfire he told the interviewer changed his life. He made three albums before he recorded it. His producer did not think the song would sell, especially as a single. He made his producer a believer when they played it for the kitchen staff and they were enthused. They put it out as a single.
He made his first film appearance in Hard Country which he co-wrote. It was then that the studio insisted he change his name to distinguish himself from another actor named Michael Murphy.
In 1985 he released the album Cowboy Songs There hadn’t been any albums of authentic cowboy songs in twenty years. It contained his versions of old cowboy songs from the public domain along with his own “Cowboy Logic” This was also released as a single and became a hit, which boosted the album. It achieved Gold status, the first since Marty Robins No. 1 Cowboy.
The success of Cowboy Songs led to forming Warner Western, a label for western music and cowboy poetry. In 1998 he left Warner Bros. And started his own record label West Fest/Real West Productions.
In the 1990’s he had a series of provisional concerts called “Cowboy Logic” and toured throughout the United States. In the 2007 he released through Wildfire Productions Inc. DVDs about the American West.
Michael Martin Murphy not only had a successful career with country music songs and writer of country music lyrics, he worked with many country music singers in the outlaw movement and other places. His biggest contribution, I think, is to the revival of Cowboy songs. His Cowboy Album I think led to other folk and country music performers to also start singing old cowboy songs. And put western back into country western music.
Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund
© 2010 Don A. Hoglund