It’s September, 1972. The legendary Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, TX is hosting two nights of sold-out shows with headliner Michael Martin Murphey and his opening act Willie Nelson. Until now, the Armadillo has presented mostly rock acts.
Rolling Stone magazine has heard the shows might be special so it sends their top man in Texas, Chet Flippo, to cover the event. Flippo soon declares in Rolling Stone that Murphey is “the best new songwriter in America.”
Murphey has just released his acclaimed genre-bending Geronimo’s Cadillac, and on this night he and Nelson present their unique fusions of pop, rock, folk, cowboy ballads, hard-core country, jazz and reddirt bluegrass. It is a night that defies all the music norms of the time; a night that some will call “the birth of modern Americana music."
“Murphey was a key player in the Austin phenomenon,” Craig Havighurst of WMOT — The String recently observed. “Murphey, along with Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and others forged a country-rock hybrid that became the foundation for the progressive folk music field we now call ‘Americana’.”
Now 50 years after he began pioneering that music scene and laid the foundation for what we now call Americana music, Murphey presents Austinology: Alleys of Austin. It is both a celebration of that era and a look at the seminal period that turned Austin into one of the music capitals of the world.
Native Texan Murphey already had songwriting success in Los Angeles when he returned to Texas and landed in Austin in the late 1960s. Still, Murphey says moving to Austin made him a better songwriter and a better performer due to the friendly association with other writers and performers who followed him to Austin and gave birth a burgeoning creative community that included Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Gary P. Nunn and other soon-to-be legends like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
For Austinology: Alleys of Austin, Murphey chose music styles that defined the period as he explores why it perpetuated itself. He is joined by several artists who were part of that era as well as those influenced by the work the originators created:
• Willie Nelson (on “Alleys of Austin” and “Cosmic Cowboy”)
• Steve Earle (on “Geronimo’s Cadillac”),
• Lyle Lovett (on “Alleys of Austin,” “Cosmic Cowboy” and “Drunken Lady of the Morning”)
• Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison (on “Little Bird”)
• Jerry Jeff Walker (on “Cosmic Cowboy,” “Alleys of Austin”)
• Amy Grant (on “Wildfire”)
• Randy Rogers (“Backslider’s Wine”)
• The Last Bandoleros (on Guy Clark’s “LA Freeway”)
“This album is not just about my songs,” Murphey said. “It’s about style and substance that makes a song that stands the test of time, a song that has a chance of living on in the Great American Songbook.
“So I did my personal take on songs by Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Allan Damron as well as songs made popular by Willie and Waylon,” he continued. “I stayed with songs that came out when I was there – between 1968 and 1974 — because I personally experienced what the impact of that songwriting style was on the culture. [Laughs] Because I was there, you know? And I grew up with the mix that created the original American music: African- American Blues and Spirituals, Tejano/Irish/ German/ Cowboy Ballads and Dance tunes including Native American music.
Murphey has traveled extensively and engaged in ranching throughout the West, but remained a Texas resident through it all, even as he topped the International and National Pop, Country, Bluegrass and Western music charts with such huge crossover hits as “Wildfire,” “Carolina In The Pines,” “What’s Forever For,” “Long Line of Love,” “Geronimo’s Cadillac” and “Cowboy Logic.”
Through all the chart-jumping and genre busting, Murphey has remained constant to an honest, sincere approach to his songwriting. He is no more country than rock, no more bluegrass than classical, no more folk than jazz. He is, rather, a true AMERICAN songwriter. His stubborn determination to be the best songwriter possible has led to his songs being covered by such artists as Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Hoyt Axton, Cher, Manfred Mann, Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, and more.
Murphey came of age in the local Southwestern folk music scene, starting with a Bohemian club called the Rubiyat in Dallas and other acoustic venues in Austin, Houston, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Denver.
After briefly attending the University of North Texas (which had its own thriving music school), Murphey transferred to UCLA and worked his way through college as a singer / songwriter while excelling as a student of poetry, songwriter and performer.
But a growing family and the pull of his Texas Cowboy roots brought him back to Austin in 1968 – where he began a new musical movement with the help of Rod Kennedy (founder of Kerrville Folk Festival), Segle Fry (club manager and folksinger) and UT ethnomusicologist Roger Abrams. In May of 2018, the Country Music Hall of Fame honored Murphey’s contribution as a founding member of the Austin music scene as part of their three year Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit. He’s come full circle to his Cowboy roots, having recently been given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Perhaps most striking about Austinology: Alleys of Austin is how good songs weather the years, which is precisely why such celebrated songwriters as Earle, Grant, Walker, Nelson, Lovett and as artists like Garth Brooks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Ray Wylie Hubbard and more cite Murphey as a major influence on their own craft.
With the release of Michael Martin Murphey’s Austinology: Alleys of Austin, his legacy is impacting new generations.