Michael Martin Murphey Overview
In the early 1970s, Rolling Stone Magazine called Michael Martin Murphey “one of the best songwriters in America.” Since that time, Murphey has left an indelible mark on the American Music Landscape crafting and recording such iconic hits as “Wildfire,” “Carolina In The Pines,” “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” “Cowboy Logic,” “Cherokee Fiddle,” “Boy From The Country” and more. In the process, he has topped the Pop, Country, Bluegrass and Western Music charts, earned six gold albums and multiple Grammy nominations.
Through all the chart-jumping and genre-busting, Murphey has remained constant to an honest, sophisticated approach to his songwriting. In fact, it’s simply impossible to pigeon-hole Murphey to one specific genre. He is no more country than rock, no more bluegrass than classical. He is, rather, a true AMERICAN songwriter. “What I’ve written over the years has always reflected what was influencing me at the time,” says Murphey. “This album is a return to those days when I was influenced by everything. Right now, some really interesting, intricate melodies are coming to me.”
A native Texan, Murphey’s songs have always reflected his lifestyle, and are understandably seen through a Western lens, often built on outdoor themes with the sensibilities of his cowboy lifestyle.
At the core of his music is a stubborn determination to be the best songwriter he can be, a focus that has led to his songs being covered by such artists as Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Hoyt Axton, The Monkees and more.
“I spend a lot of time on the road listening to all kinds of music,” he says. “I grew up in Texas, the world’s number one musical crossroads where anything goes musically. Texas has produced great artists from every genre.
You can wake up and say ‘today, I think I’ll write a symphony’ and you can find an audience for it there. The same can be said about any genre in music. Texans love music. They enjoy opera and they enjoy bluegrass. I am a product of that, and I am the Number One fan of all types of music.”
It is an approach that has worked well for Murphey. According to BMI, Murphey has 5 million-performance songs — “Wildfire” (3.9 million), “Cherokee Fiddle” (1.92 million), “Carolina In The Pines” (1.65 million), “Talking To The Wrong Man” (1.21 million), “Still Takin’ Chances” (1.2) — and a total of 11 award-winning BMI songs (6 in Country and 5 in Pop). Also, according to BMI, repeat, back to back performances of his award winning songs alone, with each song averaging 3 minutes each, would amount to 64 years of continuous airplay.
Red Dirt Nation
Michael Martin Murphey returns to his roots
By Julie Wenger Watson
A prolific singer songwriter, Michael Martin Murphey has been an integral part of the American musical landscape since the early ‘70s. Penning and performing perennial favorites “Wildfire”, “Carolina in the Pines” and “Geronimo’s Cadillac”, Murphey’s songs have also been covered by artists like Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Hoyt Axton, Kenny Rogers and The Monkees. His music has topped the pop, country, bluegrass and Western music charts, earning him six gold albums and multiple Grammy nominations over the years.
A native Texan, Murphey grew up in Dallas, part of an extended ranching family. Cowboy songs and Western music have always been a part of his life and he’s been a longtime proponent of Western culture, wilderness and wildlife, as well as the “cowboy lifestyle.” On his latest release, High Stakes: Cowboy Songs VII, Murphey returns to his roots with 13 songs that celebrate that cowboy culture.
"Cowboy music and country music and the music of the plains were brought here in the 1800s, late 1700s colonial period. That is Americana music. That is the original American music,” Murphey commented.
Murphey believes that his home state of Texas, due to its geography and history, was at the center of the creation of this sound. “[Texas] is the crossroads of black music and Hispanic music and country music and cowboy music, and in many ways, cowboy music from Texas is probably the original American music because it’s so influenced by these,” he commented.
Murphey’s new album is a mix of original songs and covers. He and his son Ryan co-wrote several of the tunes.
“Working with your own flesh and blood is great, and that’s what’s great about the cowboy culture and about the ranchers too, so it fits right in with my tradition,” Murphey noted.
This father-son collaboration dates back decades.
“My son and I have worked together since he was about six years old,” Murphey said. “He may have even been five when he first went on ‘Austin City Limits’ with me. He played guitar and sang a Hank Williams’ song with me. As a teenager, he became my lead guitar player, and over the years, he just became a creative force in my life, including producing a lot of my albums.”
“Three Sons”, a song written by Australian musician John Williamson, is also included on Murphey’s latest release.
“It’s about the pride that [Williamson] has in working with his son on his ranch in Australia,” Murphey explained. “It’s all part of the culture and the way we do business.”
Family ties are important to Murphey.
“My dad and I were very close until the day he died,” Murphey recalled. “My family’s all been involved in my business in one way or another – all my kids, all my grandkids – in the business of making music and helping me get through it all.”
In addition to family, this album also celebrates the land, as well as the people who work it.
“It has a mission,” Murphey said of High Stakes. “This album is about the struggle of people in the cattle business to be recognized for what they do... The mission of this album is to bring out the struggles and the victories. The pride, the joy, the pain, the tears. It’s a set of cowboy songs all about the big human emotions and experiences. It’s about life and death. It’s about outlaw-ing and keeping the law. It’s about love and about forgiveness and about honor – all wrapped up in these songs and seen through the prism of cowboy life.”
Elmore Magazine Review
Best known for the series of chart hits he wrote for others and sang himself in the early ‘70s — “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” “Cosmic Cowboy,” Wildfire,” “Carolina in the Pines,” “What’s Forever For” et. al. — Michael Martin Murphey’s been creating musical magic ever since, having become the singular voice of the singing cowboy for a new generation of fans and admirers who still admire the rugged individualism which that particular label implies. However, Murphey’s cowboy persona isn’t simply some lone and distant romantic figure, but rather a representative of those who see the vast expanse of prairies and plains shrinking as it succumbs to the squandered resources and an industrialized society that takes those treasures for granted. On High Stakes, Murphey sings about this perilous predicament, while celebrating a lifestyle that is in danger of vanishing too fast.
“We must never let ‘em take this life away,” he implores his listeners on the beautiful Australian cowboy ballad “Campfire on the Road.” “Old stock routes belong to one and all/Drovers, dreamers all agree/Poets, Aborigines/We have a right to light a campfire on the road.”
Indeed, it’s clear those sentiments aren’t simply confined to this country. While Murphey’s choice of a pair of Marty Robbins gunfighter songs — “Running Gun” and “Master’s Call” — inform the legend and affirm the narrative, the celtic strains of “Emila Farewell” and “The End of the Road” expand the message as part of a universal theme, not only adding to the overall allure, but underlying its potency as well. It is, in fact, a remarkable mosaic, possibly the most sumptuous set of songs Murphey has ever offered in his entire 40 year career. High Stakes offers a message that needs to be heeded, as well as a sound that’s all but impossible to resist.
– Lee Zimmerman
Roots Music Report Review
Michael Martin Murphey’s career-wide cowboy crusade is energized anew with these celebrations of hard working family folk, not un-charming rustlers and rebels, and, most of all, the traditional culture of the American West. The rousing title track- which should quickly find its way to the airwaves- is counterbalanced with the heart-tugging ballad “The Drover Road to Amulhee” and the warm-hearted “Three Sons.” Things get good and rousing again with a cover of Roger Creager’s “I’ve Got The Guns.”
Music Row Magazine Review
by Robert K. Oermann
MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY/Campfire on the Road
Writers: John Robert Williamson; Producer: Bobby Blazier; Publisher: none listed, APRA/Emusic PTY LLD; Murphey Kinship
-Murphey’s seventh Western-song collection is titled High Stakes. It includes this lovely Australian cowboy ballad that echoes the style of the late John Denver. The beauty of the great outdoors is something I never tire of hearing poets and songwriters convey. This one’s a keeper.