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Michael Martin Murphey
Born Dallas, Texas, United States
March 14, 1945 (1945-03-14) (age 65)
Genres Western, Country, Folk, Pop
Occupations singer, songwriter
Instruments vocals, guitar
Years active 1965 – present
Labels A&M
Epic
Liberty
Warner Bros.
Real West Productions
Wildfire Productions

Michael Martin Murphey (born March 14, 1945) is an American singer-songwriter. He is best known for writing and performing Western music as well as country and pop. Murphey has become a prominent musical voice for the Western horseman, rancher, and cowboy. A Western Music Association Hall of Fame inductee, Murphey has six gold albums, including Cowboy Songs, the first album of cowboy music to achieve gold status since the career of Marty Robbins. He has recorded the hit singles "Wildfire", "Carolina in the Pines", "What's Forever For", "A Long Line of Love", "What She Wants", "Don't Count the Rainy Days", and "Cowboy Logic". Murphey is also the author of New Mexico's state ballad, "The Land of Enchantment".

Contents

Early life

Michael Martin Murphey was born on 14 March 1945 in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, the son of Pink and Lois (Corbett) Murphey. He grew up in Dallas, Texas. His love of the outdoors began at an early age when his parents took him and his brother Mark (who was three years Michael's junior) on regular trips to the country to visit relatives. When he was six years old, Murphey started riding horses on his grandfather's and uncle's ranches. Years later he would remember sleeping on his grandfather's porch under the stars listening to the older man's stories and cowboy songs. He also enjoyed being around these men of the land as they went about their work. These experiences made a deep impression on the young boy.[1]

During these early years, Murphey developed a special love for cowboy songs and stories. He was also an avid reader, especially drawn to the books of Mark Twain and William Faulkner. As a youth, he enjoyed writing poetry and loved listening to his uncle's old 78 rpm records — particularly the music of country and folk artists such as Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and Woody Guthrie. In junior high school, he began performing as an amateur. At the age of seventeen, he took his first "professional" music job, playing western songs around the campfire at a Texas ranch. By the early 1960s, Murphey was playing the clubs in Dallas, performing country music, folk music, and rock music. He won over the conservative Texas audiences with his charm and talent, and soon formed a band that developed a significant following in the Dallas area.[2]

Songwriting success

After graduating from W. H. Adamson High School in Oak Cliff, Michael Murphey moved to California, where he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, majoring in medieval history and in literature. He signed a publishing contract with the Sparrow Music company, and soon he made a name for himself in the Los Angeles folk music scene. By 1964, he formed a musical group with an old Texas friend, Michael Nesmith, and John London and John Raines, under the name the "Trinity River Boys".

In 1967, Murphey formed the "Lewis & Clarke Expedition" with Owen Castleman and recorded one self-titled album for Colgems Records. They had a modest hit with "I Feel Good (I Feel Bad)."[3]

Michael Murphey's first big break came through his friend Michael Nesmith, who had become part of the popular television musical group, The Monkees. Nesmith asked Murphey to write them a song for the next Monkees album, and Murphey composed "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round." The album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. sold over five million copies.[4]

In 1968, Murphey moved to the part of the San Gabriel Mountains adjacent to the Mojave Desert of California to work on his songwriting. Based on the success of his songs, he signed a contract with the Screen Gems company, the publishing arm of Columbia Pictures. Some of his songs were recorded by Flatt and Scruggs and Bobbie Gentry. Kenny Rogers recorded an entire album of Michael Murphey songs called The Ballad of Calico, about a Mojave Desert ghost town.[3] Murphey wrote some additional songs for The Monkees, but he grew disillusioned with the poor financial rewards and the Los Angeles / Southern California music scene, and he departed.

The outlaw years

In 1971, Murphey returned to Texas and became part of the so-called "Outlaw Country" movement, playing alongside other maverick performers such as Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. He created a unique sound that combined his country, rock, and folk influences. It was during this period that Murphey wrote "Geronimo's Cadillac," a song about Indian rights that later became an unofficial anthem for the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s.[5]

In 1971, Murphey was signed to A&M Records by Bob Johnston, who discovered him in a Dallas club, the Rubiayat. Johnston had produced some of the country's biggest recording artists, including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Simon and Garfunkel. In 1972, Johnston produced Murphey's first album Geronimo's Cadillac in Nashville, Tennessee. The sound of the album reflects Murphey's love of folk, country, and blues music. Murphey's early gospel influences are also evident throughout the album. The title track was released as a single, and reached the Top 40 on the U.S. pop charts. Rolling Stone Magazine proclaimed, "On the strength of his first album alone, Michael Murphey is the best new songwriter in the country."[6]

In 1973, Murphey followed up with the album Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir, which continued the urban cowboy theme of the first album.

Throughout this period, Murphey was associated with the outlaw country music movement that began in Austin, Texas in the 1970s. His band during these years included Bob Livingston and Gary P. Nunn, the author of "London Homesick Blues." He performed a number of times at the Armadillo World Headquarters, and his photo was even used for the original cover of Jan Reid's book, The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock.[7] But Michael Murphey's musical vision was expanding beyond the confines of the outlaw sound and moving toward a much more ambitious musical tapestry.

"Wildfire" and the Epic years

In 1973, Murphey signed to Epic Records and released his album Michael Murphey that same year. In 1975, he released his seminal album, Blue Sky, Night Thunder, which contained the hit "Carolina in the Pines" and what is perhaps his masterpiece, "Wildfire", a sentimental song about the ghosts of a woman and her horse. As a boy, he first heard from his grandfather the story of a ghost horse rescuing people in the desert. Years later, Murphey had a dream about this ghost horse and wrote the words and music the same day with songwriter Larry Cansler.

In May 1975, "Wildfire" reached No. 1 on the Radio and Records charts, No. 3 on Billboard's Pop Chart, and No. 1 on all Adult Contemporary Charts, giving Murphey a new level of commercial success and exposure. The song's success was due, in large part, to the unique harmonies supplied by Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Ibbotson from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the beautiful piano introduction, which is also heard in the ending coda of the piece, before it fades out, based on a classical piece by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, played by master jazz pianist Jac Murphy. The Scriabin piece was not credited on the album, but it is most likely Scriabin's Prelude in D-flat, Op. 11 No. 15.

Murphey followed up with four additional albums during the late 1970s: Swans Against the Sun (1976), Flowing Free Forever (1976), Lone Wolf (1978), and Peaks, Valleys, Honky Tonks & Alleys (1979). The album Swans Against the Sun produced his first country hits "A Mansion on the Hill" and "Flowing Free Forever," as well as "Cherokee Fiddle," which was a modestly successful single. But none of these albums generated the enthusiasm or sales of Blue Sky, Night Thunder.

In 1981, Murphey made his first film appearance in Hard Country, which he cowrote. To distinguish himself from another well-known actor named Michael Murphey, the singer began using his middle name for film and music credits. To this day, he is known to the world as Michael Martin Murphey.[8]

Mainstream success

In 1982, Murphey signed with Liberty Records and produced two original albums, Michael Martin Murphey and The Heart Never Lies, and a compilation of re-recorded versions of his A&M, Epic, and Liberty hits. During the early 1980s, Murphey had significant commercial success with hits like "Still Taking Chances," "Disenchanted," "Don't Count the Rainy Days," "Will It Be Love By Morning," "Radio Land," and the No. 1 hit "What's Forever For", written by Rafe VanHoy, that also reached No. 19 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart.

In 1983, Murphey was voted Best New Male Vocalist of the year by the Academy of Country Music. In 1985, his rerecorded version of "Carolina in the Pines" reached the Top 10.

In 1985, Murphey signed a new recording contract with Warner Bros. Records and continued his streak of successful recordings. In 1987, he achieved a No. 1 country hit with the song "A Long Line Of Love." He had additional hits with his duet with Holly Dunn "A Face In The Crowd," which was nominated for a Grammy Award, and "Talkin' To The Wrong Man," which featured his son Ryan. In 1988, he had two hits that reached No. 3 on the charts, Jesse Winchester's "I'm Going to Miss You, Girl" and his own "From The Word Go" from the album River of Time.

In 1985, Murphey performed with the New Mexico Symphony in a show called A Night in the American West, which led to many subsequent performances with American and Canadian symphonies, including the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. These western shows, and the songs he was writing and recording at the time, presaged a major change in Murphey's career — a change that would lead the artist down the unlikely trail of Cowboy Music.

Cowboy songs

In 1990, Murphey released the album Cowboy Songs — a project he'd been working on for several years. This was a pure labor of love, since no one had recorded an album of authentic cowboy songs in more than twenty years. The album contained Murphey's versions of old cowboy songs from the public domain such as "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", "The Old Chisholm Trail", the beautiful "Spanish is the Loving Tongue", the classic "The Streets of Laredo", and his tip of the hat to Roy Rogers, "Happy Trails". The album also contained Murphey's own "Cowboy Logic".

Murphey was reluctant to promote the project, but he eventually released "Cowboy Logic" as a single and it quickly became a hit. Soon after, the album caught on and sold much better than expected. Cowboy Songs earned widespread praise from country and folk music critics, such as Jack Hurst from the Chicago Tribune who wrote, "[This is] not only one of the finest albums of [the] year but also one of the finest of the last decade. Its 22 riveting cuts represent a labor of not only love but also scholarship; it raises a cult musical genre to the level of mainstream art."[5] Cowboy Songs went on to achieve Gold status, the first western album to do so since Marty Robbins' No. 1 Cowboy in 1980.

In 1991, Murphey followed up with two additional albums of cowboy songs. His innovative concept album Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs II contained wonderful versions of traditional and original western Christmas songs, including "The Christmas Trail," "The Cowboy Christmas Ball," and "Two-Step 'Round the Christmas Tree." An accompanying video was later released of one of Murphey's Cowboy Christmas Ball concerts, which included many of these songs. Cowboy Songs III contained a mix of traditional and original cowboy songs, including a virtual duet with Marty Robbins, "Big Iron," which used an early Marty Robbins' vocal track.

Cowboy Songs and its followup albums were so successful that they inspired the formation of Warner Western, a new label devoted to western music and cowboy poetry.[citation needed] In 1992, Warner Western issued albums by Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, and the Sons of the San Joaquin. All three records were produced by Michael Martin Murphey.

In 1995, Murphey further demonstrated his musical ambitions with the concept album Sagebrush Symphony, recorded live with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, Herb Jeffries, and the Sons of the San Joaquin.

In 1997, Murphey released the album The Horse Legends, a musical tribute to this majestic animal. The album included several new Murphey songs, a new version of "Wildfire," and covers of some well-known songs, such as Dan Fogelberg's "Run for the Roses" and Gordon Lightfoot's "The Pony Man."

In 1998, Murphey left Warner Bros. Records and started his own record label, WestFest/Real West Productions. That year, he released Cowboy Songs Four, which contained both traditional and original cowboy songs, including "Utah Carroll," "Little Joe, the Wrangler," and Murphey's "Song from Lonesome Dove." In 1999, he released Acoustic Christmas Carols: Cowboy Christmas II, which included Murphey's quiet renditions of traditional Christmas songs, and featured his son Ryan and daughter Laura.

In 2001, Murphey released a very successful compilation of some of his best-loved songs, Playing Favorites, which included rerecorded versions of such songs as "Carolina in the Pines," "Cherokee Fiddle," "Cowboy Logic," "What's Forever For," and "Wildfire." He followed this up in 2002 with Cowboy Classics: Playing Favorites II, which again included re-recorded versions of some of his best-loved cowboy songs. That same year, Murphey released Cowboy Christmas III, which contained a new original song "The Kill Pen," as well as original cowboy poetry written and recited by his daughter Karen.

In 2004, Murphey released Live at Billy Bob's Texas, and in 2006, he released Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs, Vol. 5.

During the past twenty years, Michael Martin Murphey has been a champion of western cowboy culture and the western wilderness. In 1986 he founded WestFest, an annual music festival held at Copper Mountain, Colorado that celebrates western art and culture. The festival has attracted the biggest names in Country Music as well as Western Music.

Murphey almost singlehandedly resurrected the cowboy song genre and its image throughout the country. Molly Carpenter, writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, noted, "Murphey's love for the American West clearly comes through in his songs, painted with vivid images of the rugged mountains and vast deserts of southwest landscapes, all evidence of his travels from his native Texas to California's Mojave Desert, Colorado's Rockies and the wild diversity of New Mexico, his home for the past 10 years."[9]

During the 1990s, in a further effort to preserve the traditions of the West, Murphey led a group of performers — including cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and western music historian and troubadour Don Edwards — in a series of improvisational concerts called "Cowboy Logic," which toured throughout the United States, including such unlikely locations as New York City and Las Vegas. Waddy Mitchell is the co-founder of the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Murphey met Mitchell there in 1986, the first such event he had ever attended. Murphey later described the transforming event as "a religious experience," noting, "I'd been collecting cowboy music and performing it among my friends. But when I saw a lot of other guys like me and also women performing this music and enjoying each other's company, it was the most important thing that had happened to me in years in my musical life."[10]

On May 22, 2007, Murphey made a rare appearance in New York City to perform "Wildfire" on the Late Show with David Letterman. The song had become one of Letterman's favorites and was included regularly on the show.

Also in 2007, Murphey, through his Wildfire Productions Inc. released 3 DVDs detailing his love of the cowboy ways, life, and preservation of the American West traditions. This includes trail rides, cattle drives, and Cowboy Poetry gatherings. One of Murphey's Cowboy Christmas Ball concerts, recorded in Oklahoma City, was included on the combination CD/DVD (4th DVD) set as well. The releases of the DVDs were made mid to late 2007.[11]

That same year, Murphey co-wrote "A Soldier's Christmas" based on a poem by Michael E. Marks, a soldier serving in Iraq. Marks sent the poem to Murphey, who was so moved he sought permission to set it to music, which he did. Murphey started including the song in all his concerts, including his Cowboy Christmas Ball concerts, to long standing ovations after its performance, which prompted its release in December 2007. It soon became a hit single on the country charts.[12]

Legacy

Michael Martin Murphey has had a successful music career that has spanned four decades and included such musical genres as folk, country, rock, popular, western, and cowboy music. As a singer, songwriter, and producer, he has contributed some of the best-loved songs of his generation. His songs have been recorded by Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Cher, Lyle Lovett, Flatt and Scruggs, Claire Hamill, Hoyt Axton, Roger Miller, Bobbie Gentry, Michael Nesmith, and the Monkees. Murphey is the narrator of the short film Spirit of the Cowgirl at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas

Murphey played a major role in the resurrection of the cowboy song genre, recording and producing some of the most successful cowboy music of the past forty years. His album Cowboy Songs inspired a whole series of albums. For his accomplishments in the Western and Cowboy Music field, Murphey received five awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, formerly known as the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Honors and awards

  • Texas Country Music Hall Of Fame - 2009 Inductee - August 15th - located in Carthage, TX
  • Western Music Hall of Fame — Inductee
  • 2007 Wrangler Awards — Best Song from National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame for "Long and Lonesome Road to Dalhart" from Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs 5
  • 2007 Texas Music Awards — Best Song for "Close the Land (America's Heartland)" from Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs 5
  • Letter of Commendation from the President of the United States — For Murphey's involvement producing John Wayne's 100th Birthday Celebration in 2007
  • Rolling Stone Magazine Best New Singer-Songwriter in the Nation — For the album, Geronimo's Cadillac
  • BMI Award, Gold Record — For "Wildfire" one of the most played songs in radio history in all formats
  • Gold Record — For Cowboy Songs the first Gold album in Cowboy Music since Marty Robbins
  • The Golden Smokey Award for Outstanding Public Service in Wildfire Prevention 1997 — presented by U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, National Association of State Forests and the Advertising Council
  • "King of the Cowboys Award" for "Outstanding Contribution to Western Family Entertainment" by the Cody Order of Scouts, State of Nebraska
  • Cody Order of Scouts, Nebraska — Inductee
  • Nebraska Country Music Hall of Fame — Inductee
  • Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame — Inductee
  • Best Album and Song — Academy of Western Artists, 2000
  • Best New Male Vocalist — Academy of Country Music, 1983
  • Golden Smokey Award for Outstanding Service to the U.S. National Park Service, 1998
  • Western Heritage Awards from the Cowboy Hall of Fame (six-time winner)
  • International Charley Russell Western Heritage Society Red Sash Award for outstanding Service in Preservation of Western Heritage, 1999–2000
  • The New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000
  • Will Rogers Cowboy Philosopher Award, Will Rogers Memorial Commission, 1997
  • Honorary Lifetime Membership: American Quarter Horse Association
  • CMA Award (three-time nominee)

Discography

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Studio albums

Year Title Chart Positions Label
US Country US US Blue-grass CAN
1972 Geronimo's Cadillac 160 82 A&M
1973 Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir 196
Michael Murphey Epic
1975 Blue Sky - Night Thunder 18 6
1976 Swans Against the Sun 47 44 92
Flowing Free Forever 130
1978 Lone Wolf 99
1979 Peaks, Valleys, Honky Tonks & Alleys
1981 Hard Country
1982 Michael Martin Murphey 14 69 Liberty
1983 The Heart Never Lies 27 187
1986 Tonight We Ride 46 Warner Bros.
1987 Americana 32
1988 River of Time 11
1989 Land of Enchantment 33
1990 Cowboy SongsA 25
1991 Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs II
1993 Cowboy Songs III - Rhymes of the Renegades
1995 Sagebrush Symphony
1997 Horse Legends
1998 Cowboy Songs Four West Fest
1999 Acoustic Christmas Carols
2001 Playing Favorites Real West
2002 Cowboy Classics: Playing Favorites II
Cowboy Christmas III Wildfire
2004 Live at Billy Bob's Texas Smith
2006 Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs, Vol. 5 ACME
2009 Buckaroo Blue Grass 6 Rural Rhythm
2010 Buckaroo Blue Grass II: Riding Song 15
  • ACowboy Songs has been certified Gold by the RIAA.

Compilation albums

Year Title US Country Label
1982 The Best of Michael Martin Murphey 20 Liberty
1990 The Best of Country Curb
1992 What's Forever For Cema
1998 Wildfire 1972-1984 Raven
2001 Ultimate Collection Hip-O
2006 Cowboy Christmas Gift Set Wildfire

Singles

Year Title Chart Positions Album
US Country US AC US CAN Country CAN AC CAN
1972 "Geronimo's Cadillac" 37 30 Geronimo's Cadillac
1973 "Calico Silver"
"Cosmic Cowboy" Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir
1974 "Holy Roller" Michael Murphey
"Fort Worth I Love You"
1975 "Wildfire" 3 1 1 Blue Sky - Night Thunder
"Carolina in the Pines" 21 4 25
1976 "Renegade" 39 48 Swans Against the Sun
"A Mansion on the Hill" 36 20
"Rhythm of the Road"
1977 "Cherokee Fiddle" 58 Flowing Free Forever
"Changing Woman"
1978 "Nothing Is Your Own" Lone Wolf
"Paradise Tonight"
1979 "Chain Gang" 93 Peaks, Valleys, Honky Tonks & Alleys
"Backslider's Wine" 92
1981 "Take It As It Comes" (w/ Katy Moffatt) 83 Michael Martin Murphey
1982 "The Two-Step Is Easy" 44
"What's Forever For" 1 19 1 7
"Still Taking Chances" 3 28 76 17 9
1983 "Love Affairs" 11 18
"Don't Count the Rainy Days" 9 16 106 22 The Heart Never Lies
1984 "Will It Be Love By Morning" 7 5
"Disenchanted" 12 12 11 22
"Radio Land" 19 30
"What She Wants" 8 6 The Best of Michael Martin Murphey
1985 "Carolina in the Pines" (re-release) 9 11
1986 "Tonight We Ride" 26 28 Tonight We Ride
"Rollin' Nowhere" 15 14
"Fiddlin' Man" 40
1987 "A Face in the Crowd" (w/ Holly Dunn) 4 7 Americana
"A Long Line of Love" 1 1
"I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl" 3 4 River of Time
1988 "Talkin' to the Wrong Man" (w/ Ryan Murphey) 4 1
"Pilgrims on the Way (Matthew's Song)" 29 *
"From the Word Go" 3 *
1989 "Never Givin' Up on Love" 9 21 Land of Enchantment
"Family Tree" 48 81
1990 "Route 66" 67 44
"Cowboy Logic" 52 71 Cowboy Songs
1991 "Let the Cowboy Dance" 74 71
"What Am I Doing Here"
1993 "Big Iron" 62 Cowboy Songs III

References

  1. ^ Robinson, Lana. "Michael Martin Murphey" in Texas Agriculture. 2 September 2005.
  2. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Michael Martin Murphey" in Allmusic.
  3. ^ a b Eder
  4. ^ Johnson, Anne Janette. "Michael Martin Murphey" in Musician Guide.
  5. ^ a b Johnson
  6. ^ "Bio" in Michael Martin Murphey Official website.
  7. ^ News reports at the time suggested that Murphey was upset that his image was used on the book's cover, and his photo was removed in subsequent editions.
  8. ^ Michael Murphey the actor co-starred with Woody Allen in several films, including Annie Hall and Manhattan.
  9. ^ Carpenter, Molly. Richmond Times-Dispatch
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Pop/Jazz; Cowboy Revue in the Sky At Rainbow and Stars" in The New York Times, May 22, 1992.
  11. ^ Simmons, John Bret. "Wildfire Productions".
  12. ^ Simmons

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